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Glaciers: Nature's Faithful Responders to Changes in Climate

Spotlight On:

Brian Menounos
University of Northern British Columbia
Department of Geography

Glaciers are known to faithfully respond to changes in climate. They react to climate variability through adjustments in width, length, area, thickness, and volume, making them sensitive indicators of climatic change. For Brian Menounos, Associate Professor of Earth Sciences in the Geography Program at the University of Northern British Columbia, glaciers play a larger role than just indicators of climate change.

"In Canada, glaciers also represent a substantial source of renewable energy, contribute to the sustainability of ecosystems, and bolster the economy through tourism," says Menounos.

In British Columbia and Alberta alone, glaciers cover 25,000 square-kilometres of the landmass and serve as frozen, freshwater reservoirs that supplement snowmelt runoff during summer and early autumn when seasonal snow cover is depleted. Electricity produced from surface runoff accounts for approximately 90% of BC’s and 17% of Alberta’s current power demand. In order to better understand the links between climate change and glaciers, Menounos and his research team are using WestGrid and Compute Canada resources to produce high resolution (1 km) climate fields for study sites in British Columbia and Patagonia.

Using a state-of-the-art weather research forecasting model, these climate fields will be used to drive a glacier mass balance model and will also simulate the demise of the Cordilleran ice sheet and latest Pleistocene advances using a numerical ice sheet model. The results from Menounos’ research will contribute to documentation of past climate change and will also be vital in helping predict how alpine glaciers may change in the future.

"The sustainability of glacier runoff in the face of future climate change remains uncertain, but advanced computing resources such as those provided by WestGrid and Compute Canada - Calcul Canada is helping us to learn more about the intricate relationships between glaciers and climate and what impact glacier change will have on our natural environment," said Menounos.