Athabasca Glacier and the Water Cycle

Last week's post was a brief summary of the water cycle, this week's post will engage more directly with glaciers, their role in the water cycle and how humans are impacted by their services. 

It’s difficult to overemphasise the role of glaciers when it comes to water. Glaciers hold approximately three quarters of the earth's freshwater (USGS). In the summertime the glacial runnoff is a crucial supply of water for rivers, streams and lakes. Glaciers act as reservoirs or water towers for the lands beneath them, providing perennial water habitats to ecosystems that otherwise wouldn’t have access to water, especially during the summer. In Canada, the summer melt of the Athabasca glacier supplies water to the far reaches of North East Alberta, feeding the Athabasca River Basin that eventually drains into the Arctic Ocean (ARBRI). The route of the melt of Athabasca glacier is significant and cannot be overstated, as it provides the water required for agricultural and farming practices in Alberta. As an example, without the glacier melt, the water needed to sustain the grass required to feed the beef raised in Alberta would be unavailable.

Glacial feed also manages the climate and temperatures of these ecosystems, which is significant because water temperatures are critical in supporting the aquatic species integral to the food web that familiar and treasured fish like trout and salmon rely on (USGS).

More information about glaciers and their significance in ecosystems can be found at the Athabasca River Basin Research Institute and the USGS website

Rachael Thomas

Rachael is an Urban Planning and Sustainability student at Concordia and a concerned, sometimes anxious and curious global citizen with regards to climate change. Also a former visitor of the Athabasca glacier, the experience of leaving the walking tour left her both amazed and concerned with a sense of dread for the future of the glacier and the ecosystems it interacts with. Together with the generous funding of ECO Canada, the mentorship of Megan Lohmann and the power of a Concordia University library card, this series will explore what a glacier is, the role of the Athabasca glacier as a water source, how the glacier is impacted by climate change and what concerned climate citizens like you can do to mitigate the damage of climate change in our everyday lives.

Experience the Columbia Icefield on Foot!

Join us on a guided glacier hike on the Athabasca Glacier! Trips depart daily from late May to early October.

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