Walks Along the Bow River: Climate Change on my Doorstep?

We sure have been seeing lots of foggy, frosty mornings here.  When we walk the dog in the morning, the Bow River is frequently steaming in the morning sun, lily pads of ice happily floating downstream to Calgary.

For photographers, this weather is very interesting and welcome, especially since the fog clears off around noon and our usual, brilliant winter day returns.  Perpetual fog is gloomy; periodic frost is beautiful.

But I was recently introduced to the possibility that this increase in moisture in our usual desert-dry winters may be part of a larger and disturbing trend.  I attended an event put on by our M.D. last Friday.   For $35.00, we ate a hearty dinner and heard the words of two distinguished Canadian scientists.  Dr. Dave Sauchyn spoke on the implications of climate change for southern Alberta, and Dr. Gord Stenhouse shared his research on grizzly bear numbers in the Rockies. 

Alberta weather is already unpredictable and capricious; songs have been written about its mercurial moods, and we all joke how the perfect job is the weatherman’s–never correct yet still employed!  Sauchyn revealed scientists’ best guess on the impacts of climate change for southern Alberta.  It looks like there may be warmer temperatures and more precipitation…sounds good, doesn’t it?  Except the climate change models couldn’t really tell when the water is going to fall.  We may have more rain in winter and less snow.  This has large impacts for farmers as snow is mostly what fills lakes and rivers, not glacier melt.  And snow is stored moisture, released in a timed way in springtime.  Rain is not stored as much.  It slides off surfaces, sinks into the soil and ultimately rushes away to the ocean.

Sauchyn also revealed that scientists think that Alberta’s fickle weather is about to get a whole lot more impetuous.  Sure, temperatures will be warmer, but our summers might be hot and dry, with more extreme precipitation events.  Instead of summer rain, think thundertorms and flash floods.  Rain  in winter, drought in summer.  Some of this warming, Sauchyn says, is natural.  But the sudden increase in the rate of warming is, safe to say, a product of human activity on earth.  And while humans are able to adapt quite well to overall changes in their environment, it is the extreme and sudden shifts in weather that will be harder to adapt to.  How would we handle a drought that stretched decades instead of years?  Natural cycles suggest one is coming…and it may be harsher due to the way we have changed the planet.

As a photographer taking images of this winter’s unusual high levels of winter fog and frost, I can’t help but wonder what this place is going to look like in the decades to come.


~ by Samantha on February 8, 2010.

4 Responses to “Walks Along the Bow River: Climate Change on my Doorstep?”

  1. Yet off we go burying our heads in the proverbial climate change sand. The disservice caused by scientific proponents of climate change recently is bad. But the perpetual myopic vision of those who refuse to act is much worse. I guess we need mother nature to bring catastrophe in order for us to truely act. Unless there is a compelling economic arguement to bring about change we can’t rely on altruism. Altruism is not profitable. So as photographers her in North America we will evolve from documenting glorious pastoral settings and landscapes, to photographing our own demise as photojounalists do in other impoverished countries in the world. Wonder what it will be like when the tables are turned and we are the ones waiting for airlifts and fresh water and not Haiti.

  2. Hi Sam,

    I worry about the environment too especially I often think of what will the world look like to my 5 year old daughter and her children years from now. I live in the Okanagan, this winter has been warmer than usual, in fact, it’s spring like weather here. Everyone says what a beautiful winter we are having and I know that warmer winters means less snow. With less snow, it will definitely affect our water supply. In the paper the other day, they mentioned that we haven’t had enough snow the past two years and that is something to worry about. Nonetheless, I am now more environmentally conscious. We are not perfect but we do try to do our part to decrease our carbon footprints in the environment. We definitely respect it and all the living things on this planet.

    P.S. I also laugh at people here when they say it’s getting colder it’s -1. I am originally from Saskatchewan and this seems like tropical weather to me. 🙂

  3. Well written and thought provoking. Great pictures to accompany your story as well.

  4. Wow Sam,

    What a great piece. It is interesting to me to think where we have come, what has been done to our environment in the past 50 -60 years. Even things like population has an effect. When JFK was elected (before my time I will add, lol) the earth population was about 50% of our current population. Just think of the impact that causes, consumption of all things carbon goes through the roof. I don’t claim to be an environmentalist but, I can see use spiraling out of control. Here in Yellowknife it has been unseasonably warm, we even got into the single digit minuses this week (in February that seems crazy). I hope we haven’t gone to far. It will be a different world for our kids and grandkids. Thanks for trying to bring it to everyones attention. Hopefully we all act and get this fixed.

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