Melting ice is a hot topic 

By Kevin Damaskie

RMOW Policy and Program Development

Last winter, standing atop the Whirlwind Col amidst the Spearhead Range, I peered down the Overlord Glacier following a half-day ski tour around the backside of Fissile. Below me, 800 glorious metres of glacial fall-line, crevasse-ridden knee deep pow. As close to heaven as I think I’ll get. As I prepared to descend, I took a final look around and thought, “What a gift.”

Then I skied and smiled. Now, I wonder if the gift certificate our local glaciers hand us annually has one of those sneaky expiry dates… In Whistler, it’s easy to appreciate glaciers. We ski and ride on them in winter, hike on them in summer and drink water and swim in local lakes directly derivative of glacial ice. Just look up, these “permanent” fields of ice and snow dominate our alpine landscape, a crucial part of who we are and where we live.

But just how permanent are they?

We are mountain people and these glaciers populate these mountains we call home. But while the earth is seeing massive growth in wealth and ecological understanding, glaciers around the world are shrinking — global science has proven this unequivocally. Glaciers are a vital, valid and valuable part of how we live, work and recreate. Massive, minutely moving and diversely dynamic, glaciers are a stunning component of mountain architecture — a combination of wind, snow crystals, alpine temperatures and time. They are also being looked at as vast blue and white “canaries in the coalmine” of the mountain environment.

One of the hottest topics surrounding the climate change debate is the effect melting polar ice caps, receding glaciers and rising snowlines will have on mountain and oceanside resorts. Last week, 19 Resort Municipalities from Banff in the Rockies to Tofino on the Pacific Coast met in Whistler and mitigating the effect of diminishing glaciers, skyward snowlines and rising waters on the coast were topics of conversation. In Whistler, snowflakes and their granddaddy glaciers are a huge part of our economy, our community and our identity.

This Tuesday, June 5 is World Environment Day, commemorating the anniversary of the opening of the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment. The 2007 celebrations will take place in Tromsø, Norway and the theme is Melting Ice - A Hot Topic. This presentation will also kick off the International Polar Year, a large scientific program focused on the Arctic and the Antarctic from March 2007 to March 2009.

Whistler will take part in the June 5th kickoff during the RMOW Council meeting at the TELUS Whistler Conference Centre. Jaime Webbe, who works with the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, will be in Whistler to launch the "Global Outlook on Ice and Snow,” a United Nations Environment Program report on predicted changes in ice and snow cover due to climate change, and the consequences of those changes to communities globally. Anyone interested is invited to attend the council meeting, starting at 6:30 p.m., to hear the presentation.

Since the mid-1970s, glaciologists have monitored ice volumes on Wedgemount and Overlord Glaciers. The value of this long-term is important as it has local and global significance. Glacial ice volumes reflect changes in local whether and with other data are essential in calculating changes to stream flow which affect fish habitat, industrial uses such as snowmaking and run-of-river power projects, and domestic water uses. To add to this data, Johannes Koch, of the Simon Fraser University Department of Earth Sciences has been studying glaciers throughout Garibaldi Park over the past five years.

This year, during the Whistler2020 action planning brainstorm sessions, Task Forces from Visitor Experience, Natural Areas, Water and Economic strategies all discussed, debated and created actions to positively assist our community in mitigating and managing melting ice on our environment, economy and community. Whistler-Blackcomb is working hard to create educational programming to integrate into the mountain environment which would showcase a number of the lift areas’ glaciers and the effects changing climate will have on them over time and is in the process of designing a Climate Change primer for ski areas. The Natural Areas Task Force is investigating the creation of a valley-based “sustainability tour” showcasing local glacial lessons as a major component. Finally, the Economic Task Force identified Climate Change, in general, and the effect it could have on our winter alpine business, in particular, as a key challenge for local business.

In the same way Whistlerites share an identity premised on snow-covered mountains, we all need to share a common will to do dedicate ourselves to measures which will keep them here, forever. They certainly are not disappearing at a glacial pace.

Thanks to everyone who is helping to make Whistler an increasingly sustainable and successful community. To KNOW MORE about other actions that are moving our community toward Whistler2020, or to find out how we’re performing visit www.whistler2020.ca. To suggest a story idea, get involved with Whistler2020, or to suggest actions for task force consideration, email whistler2020@whistler.ca .

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