Glacier monitoring has a long history in the Whistler area. Karl Ricker has been monitoring Wedgemount Glacier for over 45 years, a project instigated by Bill Tupper and that also included Don Lyon on the original crew. The team’s first sighting of Wedgemount Glacier was from Wedge Mountain in 1965, when the glacier was floating on Wedgemount Lake.
Why monitor glaciers? Glaciers grow and shrink in response to changing climate, so their movements mark changes. Monitoring data allows researchers to assess ecological and hydrological effects on species (including humans) living in the area or downstream. Researchers can also use the data to predict future changes and effects—like how shrinking glaciers will affect water availability.
Monitoring on Sept. 6, 2020, revealed that Wedgemount Glacier receded 30 metres between 2019 and 2020, which is almost five metres more than the 10-year average. The continued enlargement of Tupper Lake at the base of the glacier was also monitored. Born by glacier recession in 2013 as a small puddle but quickly enlarging, this year the area of Tupper Lake was about four hectares—an increase of 18 per cent from 2019.
And the reason for this large recession? We would need to go back 10 to 12 years to look for answers. That’s the approximate time it takes for snow that accumulates at the highest part of Wedgemount Glacier (headwall) to make it to the bottom of the glacier (toe/snout) in an annual cycle of winter snowfall accumulation, glacier movement under the force of gravity and summer melt. The recession recorded this year is likely due to lower than average snowfall or higher than average summer temperature around 2008 to 2010, or a combination of both.
Looking back at 40 years of research, recession during each decade varies considerably and has been steadily growing. In the 1980s total recession was 56 m; in the 1990s it was 108 m; in the 2000s it was 143 m and in the 2010s total recession was 252 m (see chart). The increased rate of recession has significant implications for local hydrology and species that depend on glacier meltwater.
There are now three generations of researchers that are involved in Wedgemount Glacier Monitoring, a testament to how passion for the natural world can be passed from one generation to the next. In September, the crew included Karl Ricker (original team member), Rob and Ellie Tupper (son and granddaughter of Bill Tupper) and Dave Lyon (son of Don Lyon). In previous years Graham Lyon (grandson of Don Lyon) has also been a part of the team.
After over 45 years of surveying, Karl is near retiring and will be handing off this monitoring project to a younger generation of researchers. The contribution Karl has made to our understanding of the natural world is unmatched. He has explored the mountains, valleys and regions around Whistler perhaps more than any other person alive. A remarkable naturalist, Karl has not only contributed glacier-monitoring data but has also studied the flora and fauna of our region. He has contributed in huge ways to our knowledge of the animals and plants that inhabit and surround our community. He has also been a tireless advocate for responsible development and sustainable practices that protect these spaces.
Thank you, Karl!
Upcoming Whistler Naturalists’ AGM: Wednesday, Nov. 25 at 5:30 p.m. via zoom. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to register.