New search of the University of Alberta says the Canadian Rockies could lose one of their most iconic features – those brilliant turquoise alpine lakes.
“This summer, the thermal domes of Western Canada really accelerated the rate of melting glaciers in the… Rockies,” aquatic ecology professor Rolf Vinebrooke told CBC Radio. Dawn South Tuesday.
Vinebrook explained that the lakes contain glacial flour, a rock sediment that slowly erodes into the water. But as glaciers are melting faster than ever, less meltwater contains rock meal, which traps sunlight and gives lakes their milky turquoise glow.
He said it could also lead to deterioration in water quality and harm the unique species that live in the lakes.
“I don’t think it really caught people’s attention until this summer, when it was really something deep,” Vinebrooke noted, referring to the noticeable lack of turquoise in the water.
Vinebrook said nitrogen-rich precipitation from recent air pollution, along with notable amounts of phosphorus found in ash from forest fires, also helped make the water green rather than blue, as these chemicals encourage plant growth.
The research comes after a 2020 study that found similar results, particularly around Lake Zigadenus, northeast of Lake Louise.
Another 2018 study predicts that 80% of western Canadian mountain glaciers will disappear over the next 50 years.
“The disappearance of the chandelier could harm aquatic species”
Vinebrook said that although turbid glacier-fed alpine lakes are “not so well studied or documented ecologically or biologically”, they have become unique environments for a number of endemic species since the retreat of the glaciers. 12,000 years ago – species that could lose their habitat with increased light exposure.
“Health is changing,” he said. “These alpine sites are relatively clean and pristine… [but] we might start to see things that haven’t happened yet, [like] formation of blue-green algae. “
He said alpine systems can be very sensitive to larger atmospheric changes, such as global warming, and that once glaciers shrink “to a certain small size, they’re not coming back anytime soon.”
The Vinebrooke Research Lab documented the “clarification” of the Alpine lakes near Banff and Jasper by taking core samples from the bottom of the lakes and using archival photos.
The most prominent examples of the phenomenon, he said, are found in Geraldine Lakes west of the Icefields Parkway, McConnell Lake near Banff and Curator Lake in Jasper National Park.
Vinebrook said if humans were successful in controlling greenhouse gas emissions in the near future, some of the larger glaciers could remain in place.
“But it’s going to take a lot of effort on our part because it’s probably the most difficult environmental problem humans have faced so far.”
LISTEN | Rolf Vinebrook explains the changing color of the lakes in the Canadian Rockies, on CBC radio Dawn South.
Dawn South7:54Lakes in Canadian Rockies are losing their turquoise luster as glaciers recede, University of Alberta researcher says