From the Mountains to Our Tables: Freshwater Security in Three Canadian Eastern Rocky Mountain Watersheds

From the Mountains to Our Tables: Freshwater Security in Three Canadian Eastern Rocky Mountain Watersheds

Principal Investigator: Vincent St. Louis (University of Alberta)

Opportunity: Climate change and the release of contaminants into the atmosphere are currently two of the most pressing issues facing the critical, but vulnerable, water resources that originate in mountains. Because snow and glaciers cover high-altitude regions, climate change profoundly affects downstream hydrology and water temperature, with consequent effects on biodiversity and ecosystem function. Volatile organic contaminants, historically used at lower elevations for pest control and industrial applications, have also cold-condensed into high-altitude snow packs and glaciers, where they have remained archived as glaciers have grown.

Objectives: While recent work has highlighted the hydrological implications of accelerated glacial melt, the extent of glacial influence on downstream biogeochemistry, contaminant release, biological communities and their function remains largely unknown. Few studies have considered glaciers as integral components of the watersheds in which they are located or examined how downstream freshwater resources and services are affected by changes in glacial melt intensities.

Research Plan: This multidisciplinary and multisector project will focus on the headwaters of three glacierized watersheds in Banff and Jasper National Parks (the Bow, North Saskatchewan and Athabasca) to enhance and build upon existing provincial and federal monitoring programs further downstream in these watersheds. We will track Changing glacier surface temperatures using 8-day Global LST and Emissivity (MOD11A2) and daily Snow Cover (MOD10A1) data from Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) satellite imagery (, contemporary nutrient deposition via ice cores, Runoff biogeochemistry by nutrient and chemical composition at the origin and up to 50km downstream, Ecosystem metabolism by measuring diel changes in O2 concentration at two water quality monitoring sites on each river, Biodiversity and function using phylogenetic (16S) sequencing to characterize microbial community composition, and metagenomics and metatranscriptomics to gain insight into both metabolic potential and in situ metabolic activity.

Key Outcomes & Impact: The above information will be used to develop and test physical and process-based eco-hydrological and water management models to assess risks and opportunities to various water use sectors with changing mountain hydrology regimes. A detailed understanding of the effects of spatial and temporal changes in mountainous water flow regimes on various water-use sectors and water-food-economic security.  

February 2020 Presentation: 

Other Team Members: Rolf Vinebrooke (University of Alberta), Martin Sharp (University of Alberta), Alison Criscitiello (University of Alberta), Cora Young (York University), Suzanne Tank (University of Alberta), Colin Cooke (University of Alberta), Maya Bhatia (University of Alberta), Mark Poesch (University of Alberta), Monireh Faramarzi (University of Alberta)