The Athabasca Glacier has receded more than 1.5 kilometres and lost half its volume in the past 125 years. Perhaps it is the most popular of the receding glaciers in the Canadian Rockies due to its access. Viewable from the Icefields Parkway, the toe of the glacier can be reached by the general public via a short hiking trail, along which signs mark the location of the glacier at various eras in the past.
Yet the Athabasca Glacier shows us a small fraction of the changes we have seen in the mountain environment due to climate change. The changes are vast, but there is a distinct group of people who are perfectly situated to report on them: people who spend the most time in and, literally, on the mountains: mountaineers.
Stewards of the Alpine
Building upon its commitment to act as a steward of the alpine environment, in 2009 the Alpine Club of Canada set forth on a mission to provide its members and the general public with a report that would expose and explain changes due to climate change. Being both a writer and mountaineer, and with the support of the ACC’s Access and Environment and Mountain Culture Committees, I took up the challenge of rounding up a team of contributors to tell this important story.
The end goal was not to produce a scientific paper, but rather a resource that any person who cares about the mountains could understand. Considering the valuable scientific research already being conducted, the intention was to provide a fresh perspective by combining the anecdotes and observations of well-known mountaineers, such as Barry Blanchard, Chic Scott, and Glen Boles, with the responses of some of Canada’s leading scientists. The resulting document, The State of the Mountains Report: The Impacts of Climate Change on the Alpine Environment and Glaciers of Southern Alberta and British Columbia, was published in July 2011.
What Does Change Look Like?
The results in the report are downright unnerving. Comparative photographs reveal a quickly changing landscape. Anecdotes speak to increased rock fall and objective hazards for mountaineers. Scientists speak to a lack of funding, and other factors inhibiting their research on climate change. And while not all is lost, the report calls those who love the mountains into action and encourages us to think seriously about how our behaviour today influences the landscape of the future.
If you’re keen to read the results of this report for yourself, The State of the Mountains is available in PDF and Flash versions on our website, and hard copies are available for free (plus shipping) through the ACC online store.
Contributors to the report include: Barry Blanchard, Brad Harrison, Dr. Brian Menounos, Chic Scott, Don Serl, Glen Boles, Helen Sovdat, Jen Olson, Dr. John Pomeroy, Dr. Michael Demuth, Nancy Hansen, Pat Morrow, Robert Sandford, Roger Laurilla, Sean Isaac, Dr. Shawn Marshall and Will Gadd.
What changes have you noticed in the alpine environment? We’d love to hear from you in our comments.