Articles | Volume 18, issue 12
Research article
12 Dec 2014
Research article |  | 12 Dec 2014

Meltwater run-off from Haig Glacier, Canadian Rocky Mountains, 2002–2013

S. J. Marshall

Abstract. Observations of high-elevation meteorological conditions, glacier mass balance, and glacier run-off are sparse in western Canada and the Canadian Rocky Mountains, leading to uncertainty about the importance of glaciers to regional water resources. This needs to be quantified so that the impacts of ongoing glacier recession can be evaluated with respect to alpine ecology, hydroelectric operations, and water resource management. In this manuscript the seasonal evolution of glacier run-off is assessed for an alpine watershed on the continental divide in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. The study area is a headwaters catchment of the Bow River, which flows eastward to provide an important supply of water to the Canadian prairies. Meteorological, snowpack, and surface energy balance data collected at Haig Glacier from 2002 to 2013 were analysed to evaluate glacier mass balance and run-off. Annual specific discharge from snow- and ice-melt on Haig Glacier averaged 2350 mm water equivalent from 2002 to 2013, with 42% of the run-off derived from melting of glacier ice and firn, i.e. water stored in the glacier reservoir. This is an order of magnitude greater than the annual specific discharge from non-glacierized parts of the Bow River basin. From 2002 to 2013, meltwater derived from the glacier storage was equivalent to 5–6% of the flow of the Bow River in Calgary in late summer and 2–3% of annual discharge. The basin is typical of most glacier-fed mountain rivers, where the modest and declining extent of glacierized area in the catchment limits the glacier contribution to annual run-off.

Short summary
This paper presents a new 12-year glacier meteorological, mass balance, and run-off record from the Canadian Rocky Mountains. This provides insight into the glaciohydrological regime of the Rockies. For the period 2002-2013, about 60% of glacier meltwater run-off originated from seasonal snow and 40% was derived from glacier ice and firn. Ice and firn run-off is concentrated in the months of August and September, at which time it contributes significantly to regional-scale water resources.