Warning signs in the alpine 

Alpine Club of Canada to host mountain-focused climate change workshop in Banff

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“We of all people should be more aware, we see the glaciers diminishing right before our eyes,” Mortimer said. “The ACC has always relied on glaciers. If we lost all the ice on the Wapta, for instance, that would totally change everything we do. Changes in glaciation might make (climbing) approaches really different.”

At Lake Louise, changes to the “Deathtrap,” the historically popular route up Victoria Glacier providing access to Abbot Pass and climbs on Mounts Lefroy and Victoria, have already rendered the route pretty much impassable.

Montana’s Glacier National Park, Sauchyn said, was estimated to hold 150 glaciers in 1850. That number dropped to 50 in the 1960s, and dwindled to 26 in 1998 — all mere remnants of their original Icefields.

“The same phenomenon is happening Alberta, just at a slightly lesser rate because we started with bigger glaciers,” Sauchyn said. “It’s the clearest evidence of climate change. Mountains are like the canary in the coal mine — the high altitudes and the high latitudes.”

While the Rocky Mountains comprise a relatively small area of Alberta, it is nonetheless a very significant area; virtually all drinking water for all the major cities in Alberta and Saskatchewan comes from the Rockies. As well, there are ecological and biodiversity factors to consider.

“The alpine is a unique ecosystem with unique issues, both from a scientific and management perspective,” Sauchyn said, adding climate change has reduced the role of the Rockies’ glaciers to one of simply sustaining summer flow.

“We don’t get much water from glaciers anymore, we get it from snow,” Sauchyn said.

But, he added, winter snowfall patterns are also changing.

One thing that’s certain, Sauchyn said, is that the debate is essentially over.

In early 2007, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will issue its fourth assessment, followed by Canada’s second national assessment next spring.

The first national assessment in a decade, and the first international one since 2001, Sauchyn said the impact of both would be huge.

“You don’t find any scientific articles being written today saying there is any doubt, not just about whether climate change is happening, but also whether man has helped cause it,” Sauchyn said. “There is complete consensus on both points. These assessments will have profound impact because they will present that consensus.”

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