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Scientists studying whether melting glaciers will affect Alberta’s drinking water

TThe Columbia Icefield, North America's most visited glacier, is shown in this photo taken May 5, 2015 from the Icefield Interpretive Centre.   THE CANADIAN PRESS/Bill Graveland.
TThe Columbia Icefield, North America's most visited glacier, is shown in this photo taken May 5, 2015 from the Icefield Interpretive Centre. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Bill Graveland.

A team of researchers at the University of Alberta will be studying whether or not melting glaciers will affect the quality of drinking water in Western Canada.

The research will focus on three watersheds in Alberta: the Bow River, which provides drinking water for Calgary; the North Saskatchewan River, which Edmonton gets its water from; and the Athabasca River, which serves Northern Alberta.

READ MORE: 80% of B.C., Alberta glaciers will disappear in next 50 years: expert

The five main scientists leading the project are Rolf Vinebrooke, Maya Bhatia, Suzanne Tank, Vincent St. Louis, and Mark Poesch. All four are professors at the U of A. They will be assisted by graduate students.

“The glaciers themselves, with increased melt, they actually are banks of contaminants that have accumulated for decades,” Vinebrooke said. “We’re trying to look at detecting what those levels of contaminants actually are.

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“Are they actually having biological imprints on the organisms that actually live in these rivers?”

They will be studying all levels of life: from microbes to larger animals like fish.

The team has set up 14 sampling stations around the three areas of focus, starting at the Columbia icefields.

“DDT that was used back in the 1950s has been deposited in these glaciers and locked in the ice,” said St. Louis.

“Now that they’re melting, there is the potential that DDT will be released into the drinking water.”

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The team hopes to continue the study long-term, with the goal of eventually collaborating with local First Nation communities adjacent to glaciers, such as the Stony Nation.

The project was launched as a part of the Canadian Mountain Network. 

Greta Thunberg visits receding Athabasca Glacier
Greta Thunberg visits receding Athabasca Glacier