Investing in a Thriving Community

Whistler Naturalists Glacier Ice Monitoring Project

Since the mid-1970s, glaciologist and local naturalist Karl Ricker and retired BCIT glaciologist Bill Tupper have monitored ice volumes on Wedgemount and Overlord Glaciers.

The value of this long-term data cannot be overstated since it has both local and global significance. Glacial ice volumes reflect changes in local weather and together with other data are essential in calculating changes to stream flow which affect fish habitat, industrial uses (e.g. snowmaking and run-of-river power projects), and domestic water uses.

The full value of the data, however, has not been realized because: (a) air photography has been available from the past 15 years to calibrate on-the-ground measurements; and (b) the data has not been published in a format easily accessible to the Whistler public.

CFOW funding has addressed both of these issues. It has paid for excellent-quality air photos, to ensure the accuracy of the data. Second, and perhaps more importantly, it has allowed the data to be produced in a digital format, which will be included on the RMOW's community mapping website (currently under development; to be launched fall 2007).   In its final form, Whistler students, resource agencies, and interested community members will be able to track changes in glacier positions from 1880 to today.

Aerial photographs were taken in late September 2003 in perfect conditions on Wedgemount Glacier. Additional government photos have been requisitioned for the Overlord Glacier. On-the-ground measurements were taken for both glaciers in the Fall of 2003 by Karl Ricker. The photos have now been digitally scanned for both glaciers.

A surprising outcome of the measurements was discovering twelve mountain goats at the snout of the glacier, rolling in the dust bowls on the recently exposed ground moraine. From the observation, we have learned that the goat population appears to be increasing but probably not yet back to the historical herd size of 30-40 animals counted around Russet Lake and Fissile Mountain 1965. This kind of observation, while not a direct goal of this project, reflects the importance of glacial position to wildlife habitat.

The ultimate goal is to have exact positions for 1880, 1929, and 1947 (from archival data and photos), and annually from 1975 (from Bill Tupper’s and Karl Ricker’s work).  As a result of the Glacier Ice Monitoring Project, the Whistler Naturalists have expanded their ability to monitor the local environment and to educate community members about local natural history.

For more information on this project, please contact Bob Brett, member of the Whistler Naturalists at