The Canadian Glacier Variations Monitoring and Assessment Network
Status and Future Perspectives


Michael N. Demuth
National Hydrology Research Institute, Environment Canada


Studies of glacier fluctuations (annual and seasonal mass balance, volume change and glacier margin variations) are a well recognized foundation for understanding changes in the energy and water fluxes at the surface of the earth (e.g., Haeberli 1994, Haeberli 1995). In general, mass balance fluctuations represent a direct response to climate forcing and shifting equilibrium line (limit of permanent glaciation) while the advance or retreat of the glacier margins represents a delayed/cumulative response. As such, glacier fluctuation records can provide both short and long-term perspectives on the nature of climate fluctuations and related influences on water resources (Appendix A).

Glaciers and other forms of perennial ice represent a significant portion of the world's freshwater resources (e.g., Meier and Roots 1982). Notably, the general past-century pattern of strong deglaciation has implications for global sea-level rise (Meier 1984, Dowdeswell 1995). Moreover, deglaciation and headwater extension will modulate the regulatory role of glaciers. Human activities in semi-arid lands contiguous to regions where glaciers are extensively found, rely heavily on the seasonality of glacier contributions to streamflow (e.g., reservoirs for water supply and electrical production needs) (Young 1985, Demuth 1996a); as do the fast-response biota which reproduce in low-order, base-flow dependent habitats (Ward 1994, Milner and Petts 1994).

Observations, Assessments and Reporting

The Canadian Glacier Variations Monitoring and Assessment Network (CGVMAN) resides at the National Hydrology Research Institute (NHRI), an Environment Canada research laboratory. CGVMAN is a new effort which hopes to revitalize glacier-related environmental monitoring and assessment in Canada. Currently, CGVMAN is a joint government-university effort centered around studies at four principle mass-balance network sites (remnants of the IHD network). The sites include: i) White Glacier (Axel Heiberg Island in the eastern high Arctic; see abstract by Koerner); ii) Peyto Glacier (Canadian Rockies-Eastern Slopes); iii) Place Glacier and Helm Glacier (Southern Coast Mountains of British Columbia) (Figure 1).

Figure 1 Benchmark glacier mass balance monitoring and assessment sites for western Canada, Alaska and the coterminous USA.

Operated by NHRI (Principle Investigator (PI) Demuth, except for Axel Heiberg area where PI Cogley and Adams), the current "benchmark" sites also provide infrastructure and support for university researchers and the opportunity for students to perform work towards their thesis project. In return, university staff assist NHRI in making routine mass balance observations. Current co-operation has been realized at Peyto Glacier between NHRI and Wilfrid Laurier University (PI Young) and the University of Toronto (PI Munro). Similarly, NHRI-CGVMAN and the NRCan - Polar Continental Shelf Project provides logistical support to Trent University for the White/Baby Glacier work. Similar partners are to be developed for operations at Place and Helm Glaciers. The applied methodology at these sites follows that of Őstrem and Brugman (1991) with the network safe-guarded by ablation tapes installed using a hot-water drilling apparatus. Data reduction is largely automated using an image analysis framework and pc-based water-equivalent mapping routines. The methodology is augmented by remote sensing (ERS-1 and RADARSAT SAR acquisition) at the close of summer-balance season.

While now a small fraction of a once more extensive network (e.g., Table 1a,b), CGVMAN represents a basic cross-section of mass balance gradient, equilibrium line altitude, mean annual air temperature and humidity as manifested by latitude and continentality (e.g., Figure 2). The discontinuation of an inner montane site (Woosley) and a humid central coastal site (Berendon) in the mid-70's, however, has been a significant setback. In 1995, work at Sentinel Glacier was minimized (terminus position only). Other work by Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) - Geological Survey of Canada, continues in the eastern Arctic (see abstract by Koerner). Notably, mass balance and mass balance-elevation band reporting had involved up to 22 glaciers nation-wide as recently as 1985 (e.g., Ommanney 1988). Reporting of data and assessments for the CGVMAN "benchmark" glaciers continues in the WGMS Glacier Mass Balance Bulletin (GMBB) through the WGMS Canadian Correspondent (White and Peyto will be new additions to GMBB#4).

Glacier variation observations (terminus position) and reporting had involved up to seventeen sites as recently as 1985 (e.g., Ommanney 1988). An unknown number of measurements continue (e.g., Ricker (personal communication 1996), has indicated that his efforts at Wedgemount Glacier are likely to come to a temporary hiatus). Some recent work by Brugman (personal communication 1994) has re-established quasi-regular measurements on Athabasca, Saskatchewan and Illecillewaet. Reporting these efforts and their resulting data through the WGMS Canadian Correspondent, however, has slowed considerably because of resource restrictions. With the departure of C.S.L. Ommanney, the entire WGMS reporting load has fallen on the shoulders of one individual (the current WGMS Canadian Correspondent). In the recent past, mass balance reporting to the GMBB was conducted by the principle investigator, while Ommanney would have provided the quadrennial reporting on variations, volume changes, hydro-meteorological observations and special events. The current WGMS Canadian Correspondent is investigating the possibility of again sharing the data reporting duties.

The need to co-operate, build partnerships and make wise use of diminishing research dollars, is illustrated by the observation that, for the numerous projects headed by Canadian glacier researchers, little consideration is given to operating process-based studies, for example, out of basins for which there are established facilities, geodetic benchmarks, baseline data, climate stations, accommodation, etcetera. Herein lies the basis for CGVMAN as described earlier; for re-establishing a critical mass and, moreover, for realizing network re-vitalization.

Appendix B provides a summary of recent CGVMAN activities and related contributions.

Table 1a. Cordillerian glaciers in Canada having significant hydrological records (1940-1960's)
(updated and modified** from Young 1990).

Table 1b. Cordillerian glaciers in Canada having significant hydrological records (1970-1990's)
(updated and modified** from Young 1990).

Figure 2 A precipitation-temperature representation of Global glaciation (after Ohmura et al. 1992) showing the current mass balance network in the Canadian/U.S.A. cordillera, Alaska and the Canadian Arctic (* represents discontinued IHD sites in western Canada).

Data Archive/Retrieval

A review of the status of cryospheric observing systems and data sets in Canada has been provided by Barry (1995) in which he summarizes "The present status is considered to be unsatisfactory in a number of respects for the different cryospheric variables important for global change research.". One of the recommendations coming out of recent reviews of glacier related activities in Canada (Munro 1995, Demuth and Munro 1995) was the need to improve access to data bases concerning themselves with glacier variations. Munro (1995) goes on to summarize that despite a general concurrence that the quality of glacier related work coming from Canada was high, the conduct and organization of such efforts was sporadic and improvements towards co-operation and inter-disciplinary study need to be made.

A recent proposal under CRYSYS has investigated the feasibility of augmenting a cryospheric data node with a "new" sub-node for glaciers. The feasibility study was centred around having the sub-node established at a university. The need for an effective cryospheric node to assist global change research has been demonstrated (e.g., Barry 1995) and is generally supported. While re-establishing the "glacier node" to another geographic location is an option, it is clear that what is required first and foremost is an infusion of capital and human resources to modernize the present node and improve access (the current node resides at the NHRI-Canadian Glacier Information Centre (CGIC).

One perspective on the current status of the CGIC is provided in the abstract by Ommanney. The results of the aforementioned CRYSYS feasibility study are not yet published. Appendix B describes several recent activities initiated by the author to improve (re-establish) the effectiveness of the CGIC.

Response and Future Perspective

In general, fiscal restraint continues to severely challenge the monitoring and assessment of freshwater resources in Canada. Moreover, ongoing efforts by Environment Canada (Canada's lead agency on surface water monitoring) to rationalize federal monitoring networks (e.g., Pilon et al. 1996), have not acknowledged the need to develop cooperative approaches with partners who are currently responsible for monitoring and assessing Canada's perennial snow and ice resources (NHRI and NRCan-GSC). When considering the utility of a national surface water data collection strategy for Canada, numerous observers feel that the data/analysis basis for assessing the impact of global change and being able to make informed water management decisions, is being acutely compromised by not considering the integration of programmes that monitor and assess the significant perennial snow/ice resource in Canada. Furthermore, while Canada must be able to address its own freshwater issues (e.g., those related to biological integrity, altered hydrological regimes and quality of life/human health), not having the ability to effectively assess the state of its perennial snow and ice resources will have a profound impact on Canada's contribution to the international study of global change (e.g., understanding historical and modern climate variations, global sea-level rise). Notably, Environment Canada made an announced commitment to UNESCO and the International Association of Hydrological Sciences/International Commission on Snow and Ice in 1965 (start of the International Hydrological Decade (IHD)) to monitor glacier variations as part of the global surveillance of glacier trends. This commitment was renewed in 1975 at the start of the International Hydrological Programme (IHP).

The general decline of support for glacier-related studies in Canada is complicated by eastern biases and the geographical isolation from the decision making table experienced by project scientists and science managers. Cuts in the budgets of numerous government departments, including those most active in scientific work (Environment, Fisheries and Oceans, Natural Resources), have resulted in a troublesome deficit of expertise and mentorship (for glacier related work, the departure of numerous key contributors- Ommanney, Holdsworth, Alt, Perla). Currently, CGVMAN remains entirely funded by A-base dollars, however, at levels which barely sustain basic data collection and severely hamper efficient analysis/assessment, QA/QC and reporting activities. The increasing use of industrial-based 3rd party resources can further exacerbate the above situation. A recent runoff modelling study, supported by significant 3rd party hydro-authority money (e.g., Brugman et al. 1996), gave no consideration to co-lateral planning for the support of related national data collection and assessment activities- activities which, historically, established the regional data basis that ultimately provided relevance to the work.

To be effective and productive in contributing to related eco-system science and global change/water management research, CGVMAN may have to undergo additional transformations, beyond those related to efficiency and philosophical re-design. The operational aspects of CGVMAN and related management of the Canadian Glacier Information Centre may need to be aligned with other partners outside of NHRI and its confines as a research science institute. Koerner and others (1997), in a review of National Research Council and Environment of Canada glacier monitoring and research strongly recommended that the Federal Government Glacier Science Programme be an amalgamation in Ottawa at the Geological Survey of Canada of the two remaining Federal glacier science activities at the Geological Survey of Canada and the National Hydrology Research Institute. To ensure that CGVMAN's important contributions continue into the future, it must align itself with those elements in government, the universities and the private sector that have a broad philosophical interest in global change. It will then be pivotal for the sustainability of Canada's contribution to global environmental monitoring and assessment to: i) establish a foundation of short- and long-term, societal- and science-based issues; ii) recognize that, for geophysical and environmental systems undergoing unknown future change, monitoring, because it must remain flexible, is neither trivial nor routine; iii) broaden the relevance of glacier-related research and monitoring to other disciplines.

NHRI and CGVMAN hope to take a leadership role in bringing Canada's glacier and water resource community together to define a strategic direction for glacier-related work. Useful conceptual templates for such direction may be found in The Freshwater Imperative: A Research Agenda, (Naiman et al., 1995). Here, traditional approaches to the monitoring and assessment of freshwater eco-systems are challenged to revitalize linkages between research and management; linkages that enable policy, politics and socioeconomics to be based on basic curiosity-driven research, sound freshwater science/modelling capabilities, and predictive understanding. Pivotal will be the re-affirmation of the role of science and the assurance of informed public input through integrated monitoring, information and research pathways (Figure 3).

Figure 3 A basic framework whereby science and the public form a substantive component in the process of identifying and promoting sustainable water resource and ecosystem qualities. Monitoring and research activities serve as a foundation for the ability to deal with unknown future changes to environmental and geophysical systems (adapted from Stanford, personal communication, 1995).

On a final note, as commented in an article reviewing the study of natural evaporation by Philip (1987), "... public research bodies are under increasing pressure to orient their research commercially. The politicians fail to grasp the consequent inefficiency for science and the loss to all mankind.". For global change research in Canada, the same consequences will come true for those who orient such work around short-term flagship and 3rd party studies only, without consideration for the longevity and vitality of long-term monitoring and assessment programmes.

Literature Cited

Barry, R.G. 1995, Observing systems and data sets related to the cryosphere in Canada: A contribution to planning for the global climate observing system: Atmosphere-Ocean, v. 33, no. 4, p. 771-807.

Brugman, M.M., Pietroniro, A., Adam, S., and Troka, J., 1996, Report on glacier runoff component model and application to Illecillewaet and Columbia River Basins: Draft final report to B.C. Hydro and Power Authority, unpublished report, 239 pp.

Cogley, J.G., Adams, W.P., Ecclestone, M.A., Jung-Rothenhausler, F., and Ommanney, C.S.L., 1995, Mass balance of Axel Heiberg Island glaciers 1960-1991: A reassessment and discussion: National Hydrology Research Institute Science Report No. 6, 169 pp.

Demuth, M.N., 1996a, Effects of short-term and historical glacier variations on cold stream hydro-ecology: A synthesis and case study: National Hydrology Research Institute Contribution Series CS-96002, 14 pp.

Demuth, M.N., 1996b, The significance of glacier contributions to reservoirs in the eastern-slopes montane eco-zone, Canadian Rocky Mountains: National Hydrology Research Institute Contribution Series (in prep.).

Demuth, M.N., and Munro, D.S., 1995, Review of glacier-related activities in Canada: Rapporteur summary. Glacier breakout session, International GEWEX Workshop on Cold Season/Region Hydrometeorology: National Hydrology Research Institute Contribution Series CS-95011, 4 pp.

Dowdeswell, J.A., 1995, Glaciers in the High Arctic and recent environmental change: Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond., A, v. 352, p. 321-334.

Haeberli, W., 1995, Glacier fluctuations and climate change detection--Operational elements of a worldwide monitoring strategy: Bulletin, World Meteorological Organization, v. 44, no. 1, p. 23-31.

Haeberli, W., 1994, Accelerated glacier and permafrost changes in the Alps: in Beniston, M., ed., Mountain Environments in Changing Climates, London and New York, Routledge.

Koerner, R.M., Fisher, D.A., and Demuth, M. N., 1997, Review of National Research Council and Environment Canada glacier monitoring and research. Recommendations for delivery of a Federal Government Glacier Science Programme: Ottawa, Geological Survey of Canada, 3 November 1997 report.

Meier, M., 1984, Contribution of small glaciers to global sea level: Science, v. 226, p. 1418-1421.

Meier, M., and Roots, E.F., 1982, Glaciers as a water resource: Nature and Resources, v. 18, p. 7-14.

Milner, A.M., and Petts, G.E., 1994, Glacial rivers: Physical habitat and ecology: Freshwater Biology, v. 32, no.2, p. 295-308.

Munro D.S., 1995, Glacier research in Canada: National Hydrology Research Institute Contract Report KW504-5-0069, 33 pp.

Naiman, R.J., Magnuson, J.J., McKnight, D.M., and Stanford, J.A., eds., 1995, The Freshwater Imperative- A Research Agenda: Washington, D.C., Island Press, 165 pp.

Ohmura, A., Kasser, P., and Funk, M., 1992, Climate at the equilibrium line of glaciers: Journal of Glaciology v. 38, no.130, p. 397-411.

Ommanney, C.S.L., 1988, 1980-1985 quadrennial report to the world glacier monitoring service on Canadian glacier variations, mass balance and special events: National Hydrology Research Institute Contribution Series CS-88014.

Őstrem, G., and Brugman, M.M., 1991, Glacier mass-balance measurements: A manual for field and office work: National Hydrology Research Institute Science Report No. 4, 224 pp.

Philip, J.R., 1987, Advection, evaporation, and surface resistance: Irrigation Science, v. 8, p.101-114.

Pilon, P.J., Day, T.J., Yuzyk, T.R., and Hale, R.A., 1996, Challenges facing surface water monitoring in Canada: Canadian Water Resources Journal, v. 21, no. 2, p.157-164.

Ward, J.V., 1994, Ecology of alpine streams: Freshwater Biology, v. 32, no. 2, p. 277-294.

Young, G.J., 1985, Chapter 1 - Overview: in Techniques for Prediction of Runoff from Glacierized Areas, International Association of Hydrological Science Publication, No. 149, 3-23.

Young, G.J., 1990, Chapter 6 - Glacier Hydrology: in Northern Hydrology: Canadian Perspectives, Prowse, T.D., and Ommanney, C.S.L. eds., National Hydrology Research Institute Science Report, No. 1, 135-162.

Appendix A:

Glacier Mass Balance - A Foundation

Appendix B:

Recent CGVMAN and Related Contributions/Activities

  1. An analysis of the mass balance record for White and Baby Glaciers (Cogley et al. 1995), is now available as an NHRI Science Report. The publication of this work was the turning point with respect to continued NRCan - Polar Continental Shelf Project logistical support for the CGVMAN-Trent University operation. The work in its own right will likely serve as a useful template for future reassessments and discussions of long-term glacier-related environmental time series.

  2. On May 10-11, 1996, in Banff, Canada, the 100th anniversary of Peyto Glacier studies was celebrated at a workshop sponsored by NHRI and Wilfrid Laurier University - Cold Regions Research Centre. The workshop was held in conjunction with the Canadian Geophysical Union-Hydrology Section annual meeting. Invited speakers addressed a wide variety of topics related to Peyto as a glacier specifically and its broader context. Invited speakers including, Őstrem, Ohmuru, Young, Holdsworth, Collins, Morris, Luckman, Petts, Munro and Demuth are now in the midst of preparing written contributions towards a 100th anniversary publication to be edited by Young, Munro and Demuth.

  3. A research team led by Professor Gordon Young at the Cold Regions Research Centre, Wilfrid Laurier University, is currently under contract to Alberta Environment to study the impact of glacier fluctuations on the flow regime of the Bow River.

  4. CGVMAN has proposed to meld its efforts with ecological monitoring protocols in low order pro-glacial streams and lakes. These efforts will examine the nature of glacier fluctuation influences on habitat for keystone biota such as salmonids, the response of the zoobenthic community and its structure within the kryal and rhithral stream segments and associated riparian zones (e.g., Demuth 1996a, Milner and Petts 1995). This work will have ties with a European Union study (AASER) based out of the Environmental Studies programme at the University of Birmingham, UK.

  5. The CGVMAN project is currently examining the contribution of glacier melt to the reservoir infra-structure of the Canadian portion of the eastern-slope montane eco-zone. Contributions to reservoir live storage and annual throughput are estimated at a scale larger than considered in most traditional investigations (Demuth 1996b). It is intended that these efforts, inpart, will generate support from Trans-Alta Utilities and Alberta Environment for CGVMAN activities.

  6. A WWW site is being constructed from which information on facilities at CGVMAN sites, data view/retrieval services and links to CGVMAN partners will be provided. It is hoped that in the future, the CGVMAN WWW site will provide a destination for Canadian WGMS data describing glacier variations, volume changes, hydro-meteorological observations and special events.

  7. At the NHRI - Canadian Glacier Information Centre, initiatives have begun to restore the GLADYS glacier inventory and PAPYRUS bibliographic data bases. NHRI and the USGS is co-operating to have the Glacier Atlas of Canada (GAC) reproduced in digital form. These initiatives, while moving forward, will likely progress slowly. Local funding for the work is currently limited to that remaining in the CGVMAN project budget after the annual logistical, observation and assessment tasks are completed. Notably, some significant support inkind for the GAC initiative has been discussed with USGS (Hugh Kieffer).

  8. Brugman et al. (1996) have completed a comprehensive glacier runoff modelling study for the British Columbia Hydro and Power Authority. The study is centred around the historical and modern fluctuations of the Illecillewaet Glacier (Columbia River Basin). An algorithm simulating glacier melt is driven by coupling turbulent and radiation heat exchanges (measured in-situ), with glacier topographical and facies data derived from remote sensing imagery. Notably, the work has permitted the continuation of glacier variation observations for the Illecillewaet Glacier, supplementing a discontinuous, but never-the-less, substantial record dating back to the late 1800's.
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