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Rising rivers in the Shuswap raise alarm about accelerated glacier melt

Thompson Rivers University professor says current melting scenario linked to climate change
The recent rising water in the Adams River, pictured two kilometres north of Adams Lake, is being attributed to glacier melt. (Lorn McCausland photo)

Rising waters in Shuswap rivers has heightened concern for the state of glaciers in the region and elsewhere.

According to glaciologists and others who closely monitor the state of glaciers, the recent extreme heat wave has resulted in accelerated glacier melt in in B.C., Alberta and Washington state.

“This is very serious,” said Jim Cooperman of the Shuswap Environmental Action Society, which has been tracking the size of local glaciers as part of an ongoing study.

Based on what’s been happening since June 30, Cooperman expects the glaciers measured in the study will be reduced in size.

Cooperman referred to the Shuswap Lake Watch website which, in addition to graphing the lake level, shows local snowpack levels. Graphs for Silver Star, Celista and Park mountains show snowpack having gone down to zero by June 18 at the latest.

“The difference here is the snow finished melting off the mountains two weeks ago now,” said Cooperman, explaining the recent rise in river levels is not related to snowpack melt.

Cooperman said local glaciers appear to be melting faster than anticipated, and he is concerned with the implications this will have on the local watershed.

Dr. Thomas Pypker, a hydrologist with Thompson Rivers University who teaches courses on watershed management, and has taught classes on climate change as well, suggested the heat dome accelerated what’s been happening with glaciers over the past 50 or so years.

“Most of our glaciers – in fact, I think all now, are receding, and it’s expected about 90 per cent in our mountains locally will be gone by the end of the century,” said Pypker.

Pypker referred to glaciers as a kind of water bank that as of late, are being withdrawn from more then they’re being replenished.

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“They’ve been largely oversupplying our summer water supply because they’ve been melting,” said Pypker.

Pypker said the recent heat dome accelerates what’s already a melting scenario, and the melting scenario is connected to climate change.

“This naturally occurs every year but climate change has resulted in the melt happening faster,” said Pypker, warning we can expect a similar trend for the occurrence of extreme heat and heat domes.

“In the past we’ve had extreme heat waves. The reality is we’re going to have them more frequently, and those more frequent heat waves are going to then cycle back and feedback into melting the glaciers faster,” said Pypker, adding all of this will have serious implications on everything from the agricultural industry to salmon migration.

Pypker admits to being taken aback by the intensity of the recent heat wave, and said their increasing frequency in the world should be a wake-up call.

“That’s the litmus test – one-off heat waves are not a proof of climate change,” said Pypker. “But the fact we’re starting to see an acceleration and a repetition of them is the alarm bell. I’m hoping the only good thing to come out of this heatwave is maybe we, as a country, recognize, OK, this is a problem, and we need to actually do something about it. Our governments talk a lot about it, but they don’t, up to this point, do a lot.”

Cooperman said the local glacier study will continue later this year.

“We’re going to graph it this fall. We’ll have a better idea, but it’s going to be likely an exponential graph, just like the old hockey-stick graph that describes climate change,” said Cooperman. “The amount of melting is going to increase every year.”
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