Collecting valuable data for high elevation monitoring program

On March 1 and 2, Living Lakes Canada team members Claire Pollock-Hall and Kyle Prince along with volunteer Kaylenna Olynyk were recruited to complete the monthly snow survey at one of the North Kootenay Lake Water Monitoring Project (NKLWMP)’s snow survey courses on the northeast end of Kootenay Lake, BC. This work was conducted to assist with the NKLWMP Snow and Climate Monitoring Program, which is under the umbrella of Living Lakes Canada. The NKLWMP snow courses are situated at an elevation that is higher than all the other provincial snow courses within the area, highlighting their value in providing data otherwise outside the range of existing monitoring sites.

Background: The context for this monitoring program are two Columbia Basin Trust reports authored by hydrologist Dr. Martin Carver — Water Monitoring and Climate Change in the Upper Columbia Basin: Summary of Current Status and Opportunities, and Guidance Information for Planning Monitoring Programs  — which have identified knowledge gaps in the scientific understanding of where water resources and aquatic ecosystems in the Columbia Basin are changing as a consequence of land use and climate change. High elevation data, peak glacial melt, and snow trends were among the high priority water-related knowledge gaps identified, which the NKLWMP Snow and Climate Monitoring Program seeks to address. 

This monitoring trip to the Kootenay Joe snow survey course began with an early morning scenic drive along the water with an epic mountain backdrop as the group made their way to the trailhead at the northeast end of Kootenay Lake. The three snow surveyors had their work cut out for them, having to self-propel up the mountainside close to 1300 m on an old logging road using ski-touring gear to access the backcountry survey area and their accommodation for the night.

The first day was very pleasant and the group was treated to patches of sun, blue skies and mountain peak views as they gained elevation. A drastic difference in the snowpack and snow condition was observed throughout the day, changing from exposed ground cover and a spring feel at the parking area level to a winter wonderland experience at their destination.

Once the group reached the cabin where they would be spending the night, they dropped some weight from their packs, gathered the monitoring equipment, and clipped back into their skis to initiate the snow survey. Working together, the team of three were able to collect the snow data efficiently. The survey involved orienteering to each sample site, measuring snow height, removing a core snow sample, and weighing it to determine water equivalency. This was repeated ten times to complete the snow survey course. 

After a cozy night at the cabin, the group headed back down to civilization the next day. Conditions were much different, with cloudy skies, falling snow and blowing winds. The hard work from the day before paid off as the group travelled swiftly down the old logging road back to the parking area, once again experiencing the stark contrast in weather and snow conditions. 

Living Lakes Canada has the mandate to mainstream water monitoring in the Canadian Columbia Basin and beyond, and encourages any interested individuals or groups to contact us to find out more. 

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