PUBLISHED: 14 August 2012

Alberta Glacier Inventory and Ice Volume Estimation

The icefields and mountain glaciers of Alberta are situated on the continental divide and the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Alberta’s glaciers are concentrated here for two primary reasons:

  • They form at the highest elevations, where temperatures are coolest
  • The continental divide and adjacent slopes receive large amounts of moisture from the Pacific air masses that flow in from B.C.

Approximately 37 peaks rise above 3,400 m along the spine of the Rockies, making this the highest obstacle that Pacific air masses encounter as they traverse southwestern Canada. These glaciers act as natural reservoirs, with snow and ice melt contributing significantly to summer flow in some of Alberta’s major rivers: the Bow, Red Deer, North Saskatchewan, Athabasca, and Peace. Glaciers in northeastern B.C. also contribute to the headwaters of the Peace River.

Shawn Marshall and Eric White’s report titled Alberta Glacier Inventory and Ice Volume Estimationmakes an accurate estimate of glacier types, counts, area, and volumes given current knowledge of glaciers in the Rockies. The pair estimate glacier volumes to be 55km3 (± 15km3) for all of the glaciers in the eastern slopes, with 47km3 (± 15km3) in Alberta and the remainder in the eastward-draining ice masses of the Peace River Basin in B.C. More than 75% of Alberta’s ice is contained in the headwaters of the North Saskatchewan and Athabasca Rivers, where the largest icfields are clustered.

Western Canada lost about 11% of its glacier area between 1985-2005, with area loss exceeding 20% on the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rockies. Ice volume losses in the eastern slopes during 2000-2007 represented 3% and 4% of the mean annual discharge of the North Saskatchewan and Bow Rivers (and 7% to 8% of their late summer runoff during July to September). Projections indicate that glaciers on the eastern slopes will lose about 40% of their volume by 2100 if climate stabilizes near its current state, and 80-90% of their volume under more realistic scenarios for future climate change.

We encourage you to learn more about Alberta’s glacier resources, by clicking the links below:

Module 1: An Introduction: Glaciers

Module 2: Glacier Hydrology

Module 3: Rockies Glaciology and Climatology

Module 4: Inventory of Glaciers in the Canadian Rockies

Module 5: Historical and Future Glacier Retreat

Module 6: Climate Model Scenarios and Glacier Projections

Module 7: Summary and Recommendations

Author and purpose summary: To meet the challenge of gaining a better understanding and appreciation of our glacier invientories and ice volumes, the Alberta Water Research Institute (now known as Alberta Innovates Energy and Environment Solutions) commissioned Shawn Marshall and Eric White of Crowfoot Ice Research and Consulting to assess the area and volume of the glacier water resources in the glaciated water resources in the glaciated river basins of Alberta (the Bow, Red Deer, North Saskatchewan, Athabasca and Peace), and eastward-routed meltwater from glaciers int he northern Rockies of British Columbia.

Please contact us if you have a question for Shawn Marshall and Eric White on the report Alberta Glacier Inventory and Ice Volume Estimation.