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Beautiful B D Significant changes are occurring in the glacier; what this means for us is The Weather Network


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Published on Oct. 20, 2023, 3:08 PM

The Weather Network's Mia Gordon takes a look at the changing Wedgemount Glacier and how it will impact Canadians.

Jeremy Postal is a guide with Mountain Skills Academy and Adventure, a local Whistler-based mountaineering adventure company. He also volunteers his time with Search and Rescue, and so no one knows these mountains better than him.

“I have been working and playing in the South Coast Mountains for about 25 years or so. I love the Wedgemount hike...I love this whole basin. But we are seeing changes; we are seeing the glacier receding before our eyes,” Postal said while hiking up to Wedgemount Lake in Garibaldi Provincial Park.

The hike itself is just a 12-kilometre round-trip, but there is over 1100 metres of elevation, making it one of the most challenging hikes in the South Coast. The reward for the trek though is breathtaking turquoise lake surrounded by drastic mountain ridges and peaks. 

Once we arrived at the top, Postal pointed out how much the mountain had changed in a short period of time.

“Two years ago, within a week, the ice was actually floating in Tupper Lake,” he said as we look out to a glacier sitting metres above Wedgemount Lake.

Beyond Wedgemount Lake, the trail leads to Tupper Lake, a smaller lake. It is located directly below the Wedgemount Glacier.

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Mia Gordon: Wedgemount glacier, British Columbia

The exposed rock at the glacier was once covered by thick ice creeping up the mountain (Mia Gordon/The Weather Network)

The next day, we had a chance to see the Wedgemount Glacier from a different perspective, a bird's-eye view, with the help of Blackcomb Helicopters.

Blackcomb Helicopters is actually the world’s first carbon-neutral full-service helicopter company. They offset 100 per cent of their operations by supporting local companies in B.C. that focus on protecting, researching, and expanding conservation areas in the province.

As we flew over the glacier, we could see the exposed rock that was once covered by thick ice creeping up the mountain.

"The glaciers are exposing the rock beneath them, and then that solar heating from the sun just radiates through the rock and expedites that melting process from the bottom up,” explained Brookelyn Mercer, a pilot with Blackcomb Helicopters.

Brookelyn adds that her friends and coworkers had shown her pictures of the glacier back in the 1970s actually touching the lower Wedgemount Lake, and in fact there was no upper lake just 50 short years ago.

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RELATED: Record nine metres of melt observed on Alberta’s Athabasca Glacier

Monitoring the glacier

VIDEO: This Picturesque B.C. Glacier is Undergoing Dramatic Changes, What it Means for Canadians
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Rob Tupper’s father, Bill, first summited the mountain in the 1970s. He taught photogrammetry at the British Columbia Institute of Technology, which uses photography for surveying and mapping. They used a technique called terrestrial photogrammetry, which is making maps from photos taken on the ground, and the photos were shocking.

“When you would have hiked up to the upper, call it Tupper Lake, that was covered by 120 metres of ice,” said Tupper, who started making the trek with his dad when he was 12 years old.

Since his dad’s passing, he continues to climb the gruelling mountain each summer to monitor change, and he says the receding really started to pick up in the 2000's.

“Sort of 2020 to 2023 has been the most dramatic. There has been a consistent about 2.5-metre thickness difference per year.”

Mia Gordon: Wedgemount glacier, British Columbia 2

A study conducted by UBC in 2015 found that B.C. and Alberta will lose 70 per cent of glacier ice by 2100 (Mia Gordon/The Weather Network)

But what does all this mean, and why does it matter to us?

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“Glaciers are thought of as the canary and the coal mine; we can see the changes that are happening to them,” explained Dr. Michele Koppes, a geology professor at the University of British Columbia (UBC).

“These glaciers are water towers, so they are providing fresh water to all the communities living downstream. So as we start to see these glaciers shrinking, we can start to think, 'OK, what does that mean for access to fresh water? What does that mean for our reservoirs that we use for drinking water? What does that mean for hydropower since 90 per cent of our energy comes from hydropower in British Columbia? And that is all the energy that is coming out of these glaciers.”

A study conducted by UBC in 2015 found that B.C. and Alberta will lose 70 per cent of glacier ice by 2100. Koppes says we will need to be ready to adapt to these changes.

On top of the physical changes that are happening in front of our eyes, there are also emotional ones that come along with this loss.

Koppes calls it soulistalgia, which she describes as this loss and longing for home environments that are changing.

On our hike with Postal, it is clear that this is a real impact. At one point, he turns around to us and says that talking about it is making him feel sad.

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“It is hard to see. I have kids, and I want my kids to experience the mountains and to see these glaciers in their grandeur and not in their final days.”

Explore

VIDEO: Glaciers are rapidly disappearing in B.C.
CBC Vancouver

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