For the Record – BC volcanoes and glaciers are providing clues about climate change

Ali Pitargue – May 15, 2019

A flat-topped volcano known as “The Table” at the Garibaldi Volcanic Belt near the sea-to-sky corridor. Alex Wilson / CANADIAN PRESS

The dormant volcanoes in the B.C.’s Garibaldi Volcanic Belt are one of the most unique in the world. Studying the history of their distinct rock formations makes Southwest B.C. a prime location to diagnose climate change patterns.

UBC Volcanologist Kelly Russell and a team of researchers headed to the Garibaldi Volcanic Belt to map out how the B.C. climate has behaved for the past two-million years. They do so by studying glacial volcanoes—or how volcanoes erupt during icy conditions.

Russell is aiming to provide a stronger linkage between volcanism and glaciation—the formation, movement, and retreat of glaciers.

Volcanoes that erupt under glaciers could cause them to be more explosive; the eruption could freeze the flow of magma, and it results in landforms and deposits. Scientists can then diagnose when and how a volcano has erupted.

Russell says that the volcanoes in this region have erupted frequently over the past two-million years (by ancient dating standards). In particular, the eruptions that occurred during ice periods could be key to denoting how the climate will fluctuate in B.C.’s future.  

Russell says that even though the current climate is warming, there could be a return to another ice age in B.C.’s future. They are tracking the frequency of glaciation periods (intervals of time within ice ages that saw to high glaciation activity) and another glaciation period is on the horizon.

“In the last 10,000 years, the glaciation period (in B.C.) has completely retreated. We’ve already gone through the peak of volcanism that you would expect from the unloading of the ice sheet and we’re fully recovered. We’re ready for another period of glaciation in 150,000 years.” – Kelly Russell, UBC Volcanologist

Kelly Russell says that the team plans to make a map in time of how ice comes and goes in Southwest B.C. They also plan to compare these land-based water chemistry findings with the oceanographic records.

A map pinpointing the number of volcanoes in the Garibaldi Volcanic Belt @GRC2001 / Twitter

Garibaldi Volcanic Belt Aerial Tour in a Cessna 172

A video showing a flyover view of the Garibaldi Volcanic Belt in Southwest B.C.

Listen to the full ‘For The Record’ interview with Kelly Russell: