Canadian Rocky Mountains

The Canadian Rocky Mountains are located along the Alberta/British Columbia provincial border and supply vital source waters to the Saskatchewan River Basin. The mountain snowpack and glaciers serve as a storage facility for water – trapping it as snow in the fall and winter and releasing water throughout the spring and summer melt. Research is needed to study the effects of climate change on cold regions hydrology and model the impacts these changes could have on the Saskatchewan River Basin.

The University of Saskatchewan Centre for Hydrology conducted research in the Canadian Rockies since 2004 and has a well-established research program in Marmot Creek Research Basin in the Kananaskis Valley. In addition, the Centre for Hydrology has been gathering data on glacier melt and retreat at Peyto Glacier in Banff National Park.  The recently awarded Canada Foundation for Innovation Grant for the Canadian Rockies Hydrological Observatory is allowing a substantial expansion of this research with focal high altitude observational areas to include Marmot Creek and Burstall Pass in Kananaskis Country and Peyto Glacier and the Bow Summit area in Banff National Park. 

The Global Institute for Water Security is investing in the Canadian Rockies Hydrological Observatory research at Marmot Creek and Peyto Glacier, as well as establishing new research sites in the Canadian Rockies to gain a better understanding of wetland and beaver activity influence on river flows and carbon storage. Modelling includes development of the Cold Regions Hydrological Model Platform (CRHM) to test and develop hydrological process descriptions that are particularly suited for Canada’s snowy mountains and prairie. CRHM is being used to simulate the hydrological impact of climate change, pine beetle, forest harvesting and fire, wetland drainage and agricultural management practice and is being evaluated for operational flood prediction.

Marmot Creek Research Basin

The U of S Centre for Hydrology re-established the Marmot Creek Research Basin in 2005.

Marmot Creek Research Basin is located in the Rocky Mountain front ranges in Kananaskis Country, Alberta. The basin is a tributary to the Kananaskis and Bow Rivers and covers an area approximately 10 km2 in area, at an elevation of 1600 to 2800 m. It is instrumented with twelve permanent meteorological stations at elevations from 1450 to 2500 m, covering a variety of surface cover types and slope orientations.

Marmot Creek was used as a research basin by the Government of Canada from 1962 - 1986 to study the hydrological effects of forest management. In 2004, the U of S Centre for Hydrology, Environment Canada and the Biogeoscience Institute at the University of Calgary re-established a monitoring and research program. The Global Institute for Water Security is supporting continuation of this program and associated hydrological model development.

Current scientific focus:

  • Mountain snow processes, hydrochemistry, groundwater and hydrological modelling (including climate change sensitivity analysis and hydro-climatic trends). 
  • Impact of forest cover change on mountain hydrology.
  • Mountain hydrological model development and testing.  
Research group members: John Pomeroy, Cherie Westbrook, Warren Helgason, Andrew Ireson, Howard Wheater, Jeff McDonnell, Keith Musselman

Peyto Glacier

The Peyto Glacier has retreated significantly since monitoring began in 1966.

Peyto Glacier is located near the continental divide in Banff National Park, Alberta. The research area is approximately 24 km2, is located at 2100 to 3150 m elevation and is mostly covered by Peyto Glacier. The glacier-fed Peyto Creek flows into the Mistaya and North Saskatchewan Rivers. The glacier has undergone considerable negative net mass balance, downwasting and terminal retreat over the past 50 years. 

A glacier mass balance program was established at Peyto by the Government of Canada in 1966 and operated by Environment Canada and now by Natural Resources Canada. The site remains a focal point for a wide range of glaciological and hydrological research and reports to the World Glacier Monitoring Program. 

Current Scientific Focus

  • Primarily glacier, hydrology and climate studies.
  • Single meteorological station within basin adjacent to Peyto Glacier and three stations located on the glacier surface representing different elevation zones.

 Research group members: John Pomeroy, Howard Wheater, Warren Helgason

Sibbald Research Wetland

Sibbald Lake Research Basin Sibbald Research Wetland is located in Kananaskis Country, Alberta in the front ranges of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, and is a 0.63 km2 valley wetland with substantial peat deposits. The peatland is drained by Bateman Creek, a tributary of Jumpingpound Creek, which flows into the Bow River. Beavers are active throughout the peatland, and a number of different sized beaver dams and ponds exist.

Beaver dams impede upstream flows and flood adjacent riparian areas. Ponds created by beaver dams function as efficient sediment traps, filling with sediment and organic materials, which can remain in the pond area even after dams are abandoned. Once abandoned, dams degrade and the water table recedes, leaving behind a “beaver meadow”, which becomes buried by more peat.

Through Global Institute for Water Security-funded research, scientists hope to determine how present and historical beaver ponds affect modern-day peat characteristics and hydrology. This will assist the institute model how different climate future will affect these important source areas for the Saskatchewan River Basin.

Current Scientific Focus

  • Use of remote and ground mapping technology to quantify the spacial extent and distribution of mountain peatlands, specifically those with current or historical beaver activity.
  • Beaver paleopond groundwater mapping, measurement and modelling.
  • Mapping of watershed-scale soil properties.
  • Measurement of the biochemical properties of peat and characterization of nutrient dynamics and organic matter quality.
  • Environmental manipulation of peat cores to determine how decomposition affects nutrient dynamics, greenhouse gas emissions and carbon sequestration/release.
Research group members: Cherie Westbrook, Angela Bedard-Haughn