Metro Vancouver’s last remaining glacier is disappearing fast


Metro Vancouver’s last surviving glacier, a supply of native contemporary water, will disappear in lower than 30 years, in line with native scientists.

Scientists say local weather change is accelerating the demise of the Coquitlam Glacier. The ice pack, positioned 40 kilometres north of Vancouver, sits on a mountain greater than 1,400 metres excessive.

During the hotter months, runoff from what’s left of the glacier gives about two p.c of the water within the Coquitlam Reservoir. Although not a major supply of water, for scientists surveying its decline, the glacier’s disappearing act is a symptom of the stress local weather change is placing on native sources of contemporary water.

“It’s one in all our greatest local weather indicators of change, and I do not count on it to last previous 2050,”  mentioned Dave Dunkley, a geoscientist with Metro Vancouver.

The higher part of the Coquitlam Glacier on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022. Scientists count on the glacier to vanish fully by 2050. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The Coquitlam Glacier is the last of the glaciers that fashioned within the Metro Vancouver space throughout the Little Ice Age, a interval of regional cooling in Europe and North America that started within the 1300s and lasted till about 1850.

According to Dunkley, it has been the one glacier within the area for about 100 years. He estimates there have been as soon as about six to 10 smaller glaciers within the area throughout the ice age.

Dunkley says the place of the Coquitlam Glacier protected it from disappearing like the opposite glaciers that fashioned throughout that interval. It has two pockets — a sheet of ice sloped over the mountaintop and the decrease glacier nestled in a bowl of rock. Over the years, the rock formations shading the ice bowl have offered relative safety in opposition to fierce daylight.

Peter Marshall, a discipline hydrologist with Metro Vancouver, is measuring the glacier’s retreat. He says despite the fact that its contribution to the reservoir is not substantial, it is a harbinger of the water-planning challenges the area could face sooner or later.

Geoscientist Dave Dunkley stands close to the Coquitlam Glacier on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

“This is our last remaining glacier in Metro Vancouver’s water provide areas, and it is disappearing rapidly. Once it is gone, we rely strictly on precipitation and runoff from snowmelt,” mentioned Marshall. 

Metro Vancouver introduced this month that water ranges within the area’s reservoirs are decrease than ordinary as summer season circumstances lengthen effectively into October. The area says the low water ranges are the results of a scarcity of precipitation since Aug.1, mixed with a 20 per cent enhance in water use throughout a hotter fall season. 

Marshall says the glacier’s decline additionally impacts water ranges in creeks and rivers, impacting fish and wildlife. 

“Water working off from the glacier is the water we’re seeing in a number of our dry creeks and rivers. Without these glaciers, some creeks may run dry in durations of climate like this.”

WATCH | Metro Vancouver scientists present how the glacier is retreating:

Metro Vancouver’s last glacier is melting away

The Coquitlam Glacier’s disappearing act is a symptom of the stress local weather change is placing on our sources of contemporary water.

‘An endangered species’

Dunkley has been photo-documenting the ice pack for greater than 15 years and says it is shrunk significantly proper earlier than his eyes. 

“When I first got here right here in 2006, this was lined in ice,” he mentioned, referring to the dry, rocky terrain overlooking the glacier’s higher pocket. He says the thinning ice is turning into extra uncovered to the solar and predicts that now “it is going to decay pretty quickly.”

The Coquitlam Glacier in 2006 exhibits a better elevation of ice resembling a bulge. Scientists from Metro Vancouver say it has since flattened. (Submitted by Dave Dunkley)

Peter Marshall, with Metro Vancouver’s Environment and Watersheds Group, discovered the ice had receded by two to 5 metres in a matter of two weeks since his last journey to the glacier. 

“Plenty of that is seasonal snowmelt on the high of the glacier, nevertheless it’s definitely struggling in these heat and dry circumstances.” 

As for the decrease glacier, not solely has it retreated, Dunkley says the ice mass has misplaced elevation since he first began surveying it in 2006.

“The glacier is flattening. We’ve misplaced as much as 10 metres in thickness since I first got here right here.”

He says the decrease glacier used to have a bulge, however he likened its present form to a pancake. 

Georgia Dixon, left, and Peter Marshall, a discipline hydrologist, stand close to the Coquitlam Glacier on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Since the top of the Little Ice Age, Dunkley estimates the decrease glacier has retreated by roughly 720 metres. 

Official estimates offered by Metro Vancouver present the decrease glacier’s elevation between 2018 and 2022 has decreased between about 4 to twenty metres, whereas the higher glacier has receded by eight to 10 metres. 

“It’s an endangered species, and it is an iconic picture of what is occurring within the area,” he mentioned.

A depleting water supply

Warmer October climate has resulted in a heavier circulate of downstream runoff from the glacier, however Marshall says it is not sufficient to adequately complement the reservoir’s decrease water provide.

As the stream flows out of the glacier to make its technique to the Coquitlam River, he says a lot of the water will soak into the bottom earlier than making it into the river, with some trickling into the reservoir.

Marshall says water ranges within the reservoir rely closely on precipitation.

“And we all know, our precipitation patterns are altering with local weather change.”

He says the area really lucked out this 12 months with a deeper snowpack, which resulted in delayed snowmelt into the reservoir. 

“That was the saving grace of the summer season. If we had poor snowpack or no snow, it could be very difficult occasions proper now.”

Field hydrologist Peter Marshall stands in entrance of the decrease pocket of the Coquitlam Glacier on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Given drought circumstances in areas throughout the province, the B.C. authorities says it is growing a watershed safety technique for protected contemporary water. 

“We’re serving to to enhance planning for scarce water assets and rising our understanding of glacial soften by increasing monitoring networks for stream circulate, groundwater and snow,” it mentioned in a press release, referring to the Climate Preparedness and Adaptation Strategy (CPAS)

For Marshall, the glacier’s vanishing act is a wake-up name.

“I believe it is necessary to have a look at this and notice how rapidly these assets are disappearing,” mentioned Marshall. “We can take into consideration how we are able to preserve our ingesting water as we transfer into the longer term.”


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