Lessons from Glaciers: EOAS PhD candidate publishes opinion piece in the Globe and Mail

June 27, 2022

"What we observed during and after the heat wave in June 2021 underscores this fundamental truth about life in Western Canada: ice matters" writes EOAS PhD candidate Sam Anderson in an opinion piece published in the Globe and Mail on Saturday.

Anderson studies how climate-induced glacier melting impacts streamflow in Western Canadian rivers, and what the loss of glacier ice means for community water supplies. The heat wave, which ravaged Vancouver almost one year ago to the day, was an uncomfortable reminder of the significance of his research.

“Glaciers played an important role in determining how rivers fared both during last summer's unprecedented heatwave, and also in the hot and dry months that followed” says Anderson. Streamflow in rivers fed by glaciers remained within a normal range, compensating for the otherwise dry conditions through enhanced glacial melt, whereas rivers fed only by snowmelt dwindled and dried up. However, the resilience of water supplies provided by glaciers is no given; climate change is altering this dynamic.

“As the ice disappears, so does its ability to act as a buffer to the extremes of our times, and we are barrelling toward a less familiar, less stable and less resilient future because of it”

Anderson’s research, which uses a mixture of historical stream data and deep learning techniques to model regional streamflow, identifies communities whose water supplies are endangered due to the effects of climate change. Identifying communities at risk is a first step toward planning for a stable and resilient water supply in the future.

In his Globe and Mail piece, Anderson outlines another key step. “Talking about climate change with friends, neighbours, leaders and family, as simple as it seems, is an essential action” – one that Anderson takes to heart. He was a recent participant in the Climate Crisis Colloquium Series held at the department this January, a guest on the department podcast On Earth, and often shares videos describing his research and the lessons that glaciers offer us about stability and resilience.