Ben Pelto

PhD Candidate
Brian Menounos
Funding Period: 
2014 to 2017
Planning for climate-induced changes to the Columbia Basin's Freshwater Resources

In recent decades, a warming climate and shifting precipitation patterns have affected water resources of the Pacific Northwest.  Glaciers across the region are in retreat, and annual snow cover has decreased over the Northern Hemisphere.  Understanding the magnitude and timing of runoff from glaciers to the Columbia River is vital for water resource management, and will be integral information for potentially reshaping the Columbia River Treaty, which expires as written this year (2014). 

In order to quantify glacier change on a large scale, and entire mountain range will be studied in British Columbia with the following methodology:
1. Run a helicopter-mounted Lidar system to detect seasonal glacier change, as well as quantifying accumulation-zone changes--normally overlooked in field work (#2).
2. Measure field based glacier mass balance; without which the previous and following methods are devalued and not properly calibrated.
3. Assess satellite altimetry to determine glacier mass balance (a powerful tool, one that if calibrated with ground-truth data and Lidar, on a few carefully selected glaciers in a particular mountain range, can then be used to evaluate an entire mountain range, and really dig into the question of water resource changes in the future).
4. Conduct Be10 dating at Lamont Doherty to constrain the dates of moraines aged 100-300 years old to understand past glacier mass balance and runoff (i.e. when the first Columbia River Treaty was written).

This multi-pronged approach will allow for the calibration of satellite imagery for the mountain range of interest.  The first step will be to carefully select a suite of glaciers that best represent the variability seen in the range.  The relationship between the field data + Lidar and satellite altimetry will be explored, and once constrained, we will be able to scale up our diagnostics to the entire mountain range without having to collect physical data on each glacier.  This will allow for the big picture view of an entire mountain range that is vital to making an accurate assessment of the mountain range-scale hydrologic budget.
I believe it is important to work closely with the stakeholders of a region, whether they are the Native Americans, local communities, hydropower interests, or government organizations.  I learned this by working with the Nooksack Indian Tribe to examine impacts of glacier change on salmon population health, while studying glaciers that drain into the Columbia River. I look forward to additional cooperative efforts while examining changes in streamflow due to glacier change in the Pacific Northwest of North America.