International Kananaskis gathering a success

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Nearly 40 scientists and researchers from 10 countries gathered recently at the Barrier Lake Field Station in Kananaskis for the inaugural meeting of INARCH, the International Network for Alpine Research Catchment Hydrology.

Co-created by Canmore-based Dr. John Pomeroy, Canada Research Chair in Water Resources and Climate Change and director of the University of Saskatchewan’s Centre for Hydrology, INARCH is a collaborative network of scientists who seek to better understand the hydrological processes that occur in alpine regions. The network’s purpose is to improve prediction of those processes, and to find consistent measurement strategies with an aim to enable scientists to better predict and manage mountain water resources around the world as the climate changes.

Its approval earlier this year by GEWEX, the Global Energy and Water Exchanges Hydroclimate Panel, granted INARCH formal recognition as a globally significant core project of the World Climate Research Programme.

And hosting the inaugural meetings right here in the Canadian Rockies, said Pomeroy, represents a long aspired opportunity to showcase the Rockies’ own world-class network of research stations.

“Having this international network of mountain snow and ice hydrologists meet in the Bow Valley was the culmination of our hope for many years to showcase our local network of weather, glacier, snow and streamflow stations in the Canadian Rockies, and the scientific advances we have made in understanding and predicting snow, glaciers, water supply and flooding in the region,” Pomeroy said.

As well, he added, the meeting provided opportunities for all the delegates to learn how such research is carried out elsewhere in the world and also to learn what scientific problems exist in mountain snow and ice around the planet.

Delegates included academics and researchers from Spain, Germany, Chile, Nepal, France, China, Switzerland, Austria, the U.K., NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, and Boulder, Colorado-based National Center for Atmospheric Research. Canadian participants included scientists from the Universities of Calgary, Northern British Columbia and Saskatchewan and Alberta Agriculture.

Among the international who’s who of prominent snow and ice hydrologists was Dr. Georg Kaser from the University of Innsbruck’s Institute of Meteorology and Geophysics, and one of the primary authors of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report (IPCC) dealing with glaciers, and also the University of Saskatchewan’s Dr. Howard Wheater, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Water Security and a director of the Global Institute for Water Security.

The meetings included presentations by Masaki Hayashi, Shawn Marshall and Stephen Déry whose projects focus on glaciers at Lake O’Hara, Haig Glacier in Kananaskis Country, and in B.C.’s Cariboo Mountains.

Other presentations tackled such topics as the roles of snow, groundwater and glaciers in alpine hydrology, the importance of mountain headwaters to the province of Alberta, advances in snow modelling in Switzerland, and glacier change modelling in Canada, Spain, the French Alps, Chilean Andes and the tropics.

The purpose of this first INARCH workshop was fourfold, Pomeroy said. First, a global review of alpine observations was conducted so the network could recommend common measurement strategies, promote collaboration and assess progress in archiving and providing open access to datasets; second, to review the role of groundwater, glaciers and snow in alpine hydrology so that persistent uncertainties would be identified, and then to determine how they might be reduced; third, to assess predictive modelling to see how researchers test and might improve model physics, downscaling and parameterisation and lastly, to predict changing alpine hydrology and climate to determine the degree of sensitivity of alpine snow and ice regimes around the world to global change, and then determine future activities.

Overall, all those goals were well achieved, Pomeroy said.

“We had a tremendously talented group of scientists from around the world attending, and their enthusiasm and capability suggest we are on track to deal with the difficult issue of changing mountain snow and ice hydrology,” he said.

The members of INARCH’s science steering group, of which Pomeroy is chair, are now preparing to report on the outcomes of the Rockies’ gathering to the upcoming World Climate Research Programme meeting in Uganda. Following that, INARCH members will participate in two scientific sessions at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco in December.

As well, the group will report its findings to the UN, UNESCO and World Meteorological Organisation in the lead-up to the 2015 Paris Climate Conference.

“The high quality and energy of the Rockies workshop exceeded my most optimistic expectations,” Pomeroy said. “That bodes very well for this initiative.”

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