How a former ski hill in southern Alberta has turn into an essential key to local weather examine

How a former ski hill in southern Alberta has turn into an essential key to local weather examine

Just about each snowflake that falls on Fortress Mountain within the Kananaskis area is recorded and watched.

“We’re in a time once we get excessive climate and a altering local weather,” mentioned John Pomeroy, director of the College of Saskatchewan’s Centre for Hydrology.  “We attempt to comply with each drop of water, each flake of snow, and see the place it is going.”

The Centre for Hydrology’s Coldwater laboratory is made up of stations with devices positioned on the ridges, glaciers, valleys, and creeks within the Alberta Rockies. 

Knowledge collected, and numbers crunched, are forming new and extra dependable local weather prediction fashions for flood, drought, and water provide forecasting. These days they’re primarily based on physics as an alternative of historic observations. 

This data is changing into more and more essential, Pomeroy mentioned, as a altering local weather modifications the norm within the mountains.

The formulation they develop are advanced, however have confirmed to be sturdy, he mentioned. 

“If in case you have a mannequin that is primarily based on physics, you’ll be able to throw at it a climate sample or a climatic situation that we have by no means seen and the legal guidelines of physics nonetheless maintain,” Pomeroy mentioned. 

Pomeroy checks in on the lab’s stations as a lot as a few of us scroll via Twitter. Within the morning, the very first thing he desires to know is what’s occurring at Bonsai or Fortress Ledge or Canadian Ridge. 

The bones of this former ski hill, Pomeroy mentioned, make the right partnership for local weather analysis. Key workers nonetheless work on Fortress, caring for avalanche management and sustaining the highway resulting in the previous day lodge. 

Fortress mountain
Fortress Mountain has been a fantastic place for researchers to gather essential information. (Helen Pike/CBC)

With out these two issues, Pomeroy mentioned researchers would not be capable of make it as much as their stations that host varied experiments. 

Caring for these stations is tough work carried out by folks like analysis technician Kieran Lehan, who says his essential position is managing 35 hydrometric stations — not simply on Fortress Mountain, however in different elements of Kananaskis, and the Icefields Parkway.

“Caring for all of those little robotic infants, the entire sensors and the information loggers,” Lehan mentioned.

It is typically a troublesome job of determining find out how to maintain stations and sensors operating via some rugged and freezing temperatures. 

“When you could have this many stations and this many sensors … issues simply go unsuitable, particularly within the winter,” Lehan mentioned. “I’ve no scarcity of labor.”

John Pomeroy stands on Fortress mountain located in Kananaskis.
John Pomeroy is a Distinguished Professor with the Division of Geography & Planning on the College of Saskatchewan. He’s additionally the director of the Coldwater Laboratory, Canmore, Alta. (Helen Pike/CBC)

A day of testing the entire stations on Fortress means hopping on a Skidoo with a sled, a bagged lunch from house, and a few snowshoes in case of deep snow. 

There’s a whole lot of floor to cowl, and infrequently it is a windy and chilly job. If temperatures dip low sufficient, batteries at a few of the stations must be swapped out. And that is a heavy carry: a tenting cooler stuffed with automotive batteries must be dragged to the location and buried in deep snow as a backup if wind and solar energy fail.

Knowledge is not simply collected from the bottom.

Madison Harasyn, who’s a analysis technician, pilots drones outfitted with varied sensors, together with a Gentle Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) sensor.

“We do take snow surveys over totally different areas within the Fortress Basin simply to confirm snow depth and density in these areas,” Harasyn mentioned.

“It is principally like taking 1,000,000 samples of snow depth over the fortress basin in in the future versus, you understand, going and doing it your self after which disrupting the snow as effectively whereas bodily measuring it.”

Researchers load up snowshoes and other supplies for a day on Fortress Mountain.
John Pomeroy, Kieran Lehan and Madison Harasyn load up snowshoes and different provides for a day on Fortress Mountain. (Helen Pike/CBC)

At each station, Pomeroy has a laundry checklist of ongoing experiments and analysis tied to the gear you see round you, and discoveries researchers with the Centre for Hydrology and consultants from different establishments have made right here.

“It has been a extremely good collaboration web site,” he mentioned.

Discoveries like how the tree line in Kananaskis is creeping up the Alpine. Timber maintain snow in place however the snow that shrouds the tops of bushes and is caught in branches typically evaporates into the ambiance — by no means making it down the streams as meltwater. 

And to watch that you will discover a tree within the forest that is in contrast to others. It has been chopped from its roots and suspended within the air by some steel scaffolding, a pulley, and a few wire. 

Kieran Lehan is a University of Saskatchewan Research technitian.
College of Saskatchewan Analysis technician Kieran Lehan, left, and Coldwater Lab Director John Pomeroy examine on one of many 35 hydrometric stations the group maintains. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Lehan climbed up the system final fall by climbing the tower with a harness on. Pointing cameras in varied instructions in order that the location may be watched remotely — he mentioned this helps in case there’s one thing humorous happening with the information.

The tree is weighted at 15-minute intervals and close by horse watering troughs catch the snow that is blown from tree tops, incorporating that measurement as effectively. 

“The quantity that unloads the quantity of water vapour that leaves this space by evaporation after which the buildup of snow on the bottom,” Pomeroy mentioned. “It is sort of a snowy ecosystem up right here.” 

John Pomeroy explains the various instruments at a station on Fortress Mountain.
As a part of what’s referred to as the Canadian Rockies Hydrological Observatory, these stations gather close to real-time information that the general public can view on the Centre for Hydrology web site. (Helen Pike/CBC)

He mentioned they’ve realized how avalanches transport snow into decrease elevations the place good, slow-melting reservoirs are created. 

One lake he is certain to level out, a water basin is empty in winter — within the spring, he mentioned, it is stuffed with water that is not fed by a stream, however from groundwater saved inside the mountain.

All of those discoveries imply extra understanding, and extra information to plug into the advanced formulation the Coldwater lab develops to create forecasting fashions and shares brazenly with governments right here in Canada and the world over.

With new expertise, like supercomputers, he mentioned scientists are actually capable of handle advanced calculations shortly. 

“There might be extra floods sooner or later and hopefully we’ll be capable of predict them higher than we’ve up to now and that is that that is my hope,” Pomeroy mentioned.