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Glacial melt and potential impacts on water resources in the Canadian Rocky Mountains

Abstract : As a result of global climate change, glacial melt occurs worldwide. Major impacts are expected on the dynamics of aquifers and rivers in and downstream of mountain ranges. This study aims at quantifying the melt water input fluxes into the watersheds draining the Canadian Rocky Mountains and improving our knowledge about the fate of meltwater within the hydrological cycle. To this end, we use (1) time‐variable gravity data from GRACE satellites that is decomposed into water storage change; (2) an ensemble of glacier information: in situ observations, geodetic measurements, and a mass balance model and (3) in situ surface water and groundwater level observations. The glacier mass balance model estimates a total ice mass change of ~43 Gt for the period 2002‐2015, corresponding to an average of ‐3,056 (±2,275) MCM/yr. 78% of the meltwater total flows West of the continental divide (to the Pacific Ocean), while 22% flows East of the continental divide (to the Arctic Ocean and Hudson Bay). However, the GRACE‐derived total water storage increases, suggesting that groundwater storage compensates for the glacial melt with an increase of 3,976 (± 2,819) MCM/yr. A plausible explanation is that meltwater is not immediately flowing down in rivers but rather stored locally in aquifers. This hypothesis is supported by in situ river base flow observations, showing base flow increase in basins draining the ice melt, mostly west of the continental divide. Direct in situ evidences such as well water level time‐series are not sufficiently available to fully support this hypothesis.
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Pascal Castellazzi, D. Burgess, Alfonso Rivera, J. Huang, Laurent Longuevergne, et al.. Glacial melt and potential impacts on water resources in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Water Resources Research, American Geophysical Union, 2019, 55 (12), pp.10191-10217. ⟨10.1029/2018WR024295⟩. ⟨insu-02369819⟩

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