With meltwater from the Columbia Icefield flowing to three oceans — the Pacific, the Arctic and the Atlantic (via Hudson Bay) — the Canadian Rockies form the hydrographical apex of North America.
Despite that fact, however, the number of stations in the region from which essential hydrometeorological measurements are recorded is so paltry that resulting predictions about the rate and volume of water flowing in the region's key rivers and creeks are effectively unreliable.
But now, thanks to $835,000 in funding, 40 per cent granted by the Government of Canada's Canada Foundation for Innovation, which supports cutting-edge research infrastructure, another 40 per cent by the province of Saskatchewan, with the University of Saskatchewan providing the balance, the Canadian Rockies Hydrological Observatory (CRHO) is being established in the Bow Valley region of Alberta.
"Hydrological observatories have been established in the United States, in China and by the European Union throughout Europe to better inform water management from mountain source areas," said Dr. John Pomeroy, director of the University of Saskatchewan's Centre for Hydrology and Canada Research Chair in Water Resources and Climate Change.
"But no comparable system exists in Canada. There are relatively few weather, snow or streamflow stations above 2,500 metres elevation where a large portion of the snow, ice and water resources originate. A logical environment to start improving Canadian understanding and measurement capacity for mountain water resources is the Bow River basin."
The CRHO will consist of a network of high-tech computerized hydrometeorology observation stations that will measure streamflow and other key data, including turbulent water vapour and heat fluxes over snow, ice and frozen ground surfaces.
The stations will be established in two clusters, with existing stations being enhanced and some new ones established. The first cluster will include Sibbald Research Wetland, the long-running Marmot Creek Research Basin and Burtsall Creek in Kananaskis Country. It will also include sites at Fortress ski area, Tent Ridge and Robertson Glacier, as well as a station set up by Kananaskis Public Safety.
"This cluster has a vertical range from valley wetlands to mountain tops and will provide an invaluable and unique dataset for calculating the seasonal flows and changes in snowpacks, glaciers, wetlands, groundwater, soil moisture and streamflow in Kananaskis Country," Pomeroy said. Co-investigators on the project are Dr. Cherie Westbrook, associate professor in Geography and Planning and Dr. Warren Helgason, assistant professor in Biological and Chemical Engineering, both with the U of S Centre for Hydrology.
The second cluster will be situated in the Bow Summit and Peyto Glacier area. This arm of the project includes adopting and enhancing stations on and near Peyto Glacier installed by Dr. Scott Munro of the University of Toronto and Mike Demuth of the Geological Survey of Canada. These stations will be augmented by the addition of new stations above the Wapta Icefield and near the Alpine Club of Canada's Bow Hut, which will be operated in collaboration with the ACC and BEES (Backcountry Energy Environmental Solutions).