Glacier water resources on the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rocky Mountains

Shawn J. Marshall, Eric C. White, Michael N. Demuth, Tobias Bolch, Roger Wheate, Brian Menounos, Matthew J. Beedle, Joseph M. Shea

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

98 Citations (Scopus)


Maps of glacier area in western Canada have recently been generated for 1985 and 2005 (Bolch et al., 2010), providing the first complete inventory of glacier cover in Alberta and British Columbia. Western Canada lost about 11% of its glacier area over this period, with area loss exceeding 20% on the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rockies. Glacier area is difficult to relate to glacier volume, which is the attribute of relevance to water resources and global sea level rise. We apply several possible volume-area scaling relations and glacier slope-thickness relations to estimate the volume of glacier ice in the headwater regions of rivers that spring from the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, arriving at an estimate of 55 ± 15 km3. We cannot preclude higher values, because the available data indicate that large valley glaciers in the Rocky Mountains may be anomalously thick relative to what is typical in the global database that forms the basis for empirical volume-area scaling relations. Incorporating multivariate statistical analysis using observed mass balance data from Peyto Glacier, Alberta and synoptic meteorological conditions in the Canadian Rockies (1966-2007), we model future glacier mass balance scenarios on the eastern slopes of the Rockies. We simulate future volume changes for the glaciers of the Rockies by using these mass balance scenarios in conjunction with a regional ice dynamics model. These projections indicate that glaciers on the eastern slopes will lose 80-90% of their volume by 2100. Glacier contributions to streamflow in Alberta decline from 1.1 km3 a-1 in the early 2000s to 0.1 km3 a-1 by the end of this century.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)109-134
Number of pages26
JournalCanadian Water Resources Journal
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2011


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