By Lynn Martel
The Garibaldi glaciers are among the fastest
disappearing glaciers in the world, says Dr. Shawn Marshall, University of
Calgary associate professor in glaciology and climatology.
“The Coast Mountain glaciers are being
hammered — what’s happening in the Canadian Rockies times two,” Marshall
said. “That’s how much retreat is happening in the Coast Mountains.”
one of several speakers at a two-day workshop held in Banff Oct. 10
and 11, titled Climate Change and its Affects on the Alpine. Organized by the
Alpine Club of Canada as part of the club’s 2006 centennial celebrations, and
running in conjunction with the general assembly of the International
Mountaineering and Climbing Federation (UIAA), the workshop drew 40
participants from as far as Kimberley, Vancouver, Edmonton, Montreal and even
South Africa and the Netherlands.
“Glaciers in the Coast Mountains are really
vulnerable,” Marshall said. “Even a small change in temperature can change snow
to rain. Some have lost 70 per cent of their size in this century. The Helm,
Sentinel and the Garibaldi glaciers are among the most threatened in the world.
“There are many more glaciers scientists know
little or nothing about, he added. But they do know the glaciers are
“Scientists are witnessing profound changes in
glaciers around the world, and from what we understand, these changes can be
expected to continue and accelerate,” Marshall said. “Bigger icefields should
hang in for a while, but with smaller outlet glaciers, we can’t give a number.
Every glacier has its own story. Some pocket glaciers might melt back quickly,
then retreat into sheltered cirques that never see the sun, which could stall
their retreat. Others could disappear altogether.”
While scientists still have plenty of
questions about how much and how fast glaciers around the world are melting,
most agree on two things — glacial retreat is global, Marshall said, in
both mountain and polar regions, and humans have been instrumental in causing
While western Canada’s glaciers aren’t
retreating as quickly as those in other mountain ranges, such as Russia’s
Caucasus, Peru’s Andes or Patagonia in Chile, Marshall said, there are very few
places in the world where increases in snow accumulation are sufficient to
offset warming temperatures and extend the life of glaciers, and Canada is not
on the short list.