Posted by: Dave Neads | June 24, 2011

Water Towers


The ice fields found in the mountains of the central Ark are part of the largest mid latitude glacier field in the world.  This in itself is impressive, but the full implications of the location and size of these interlocking systems of glaciers, snowfields, and mountain peaks is not so obvious.

As global climate change proceeds apace, warmer average temperatures are generally moving northward.  Foresters and habitat ecologists are using the latest computer models to predict upcoming changes in climate and species composition in their attempt to plan for new conditions.  In some cases different tree types are being planted; in other areas land use planning advocates are trying to map suitable habitat for animals such as Polar bears or Mountain caribou.

These predictive models show that as early as mid century, temperature regimes coupled with rainfall changes will result in the Rocky mountains losing most of their  snow and ice, with the Columbia ice fields a mere remnant of their present size and the high peaks of the Canadian Rockies no longer snow capped, dressed in their postcard finery.

High mountain ice fields are often referred to as “water towers”.  Just like the water towers in many rural communities are the local source for water,  alpine snowfields are the source of water for the streams and rivers flowing out onto the plains and down to the ocean.  If these water towers run dry, the source for that life-giving water is gone.  This affects drinking water, irrigation, river volumes and flows that affect salmon and a host of other water dependant species.

The high mountain snowfields also allow a slow release of water throughout the year, avoiding the flash flood effect during times of high rainfall.

The Himalayas already are experiencing a dramatic reduction in their glacier/snowfield volumes, so much so that there is mounting concern how the great rivers such as the Yellow and the Ganges will be able to continue to support the millions of people who live in their watersheds.

In this context the Mt. Waddington centered group of ice fields in the central Ark become extremely important.   Rising directly from the ocean shore to a height of over 4,000 meters, these high peaks receive huge amounts of snow from the Pacific ocean.  The rivers that flow from them support major salmon runs in the along the B.C coast as well as the Bella Coola system. The importance of these fisheries to North American salmon markets cannot be over stated.

But the issue goes far beyond salmon.  Water for the Chilcotin/Chilko watershed, water for irrigation in the dry interior, water for drinking–all this moisture  comes from the high mountains of the Ark.

Beyond that mid-century prediction for the Canadian Rockies,  by the end of this century it may well be that the Waddington  water tower located in the central ARK will be the world’s largest remaining source of fresh water in the temperate latitudes.

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