(The Canadian Press)

Scientists think B.C.’s volcanoes hold the key to understanding its climate

They want to understand how ice sheets have behaved in British Columbia in the past

Scientists are trying to reconstruct what the environment and climate of southwest British Columbia looked like over the past two million years by studying volcanoes that erupted under the glaciers.

Alex Wilson, a University of British Columbia PhD student and part of the research team, said in order to make predictions about the climate in the future, scientists need to understand the past.

He uses a combination of field analysis and radiometric dating to calculate when an eruption occurred and if it was beneath ice to infer what was happening with the climate going back millions of years.

“We want to understand how ice sheets have behaved in British Columbia in the past because we want to know how the glaciers in British Columbia grow and retreat in relation to the glaciers of the rest of the world,” he said.

Research so far has shown that large ice sheets have expanded or melted many times over two million years, said Wilson, who is conducting the study with his supervisor at the university, volcanologist Kelly Russell.

Wilson said most existing climate records using ice cores in Greenland and Antarctica only go back 400,000 years but earlier information could help predict what’s in the future as Earth’s climate changes.

“One reason that we are so worried is that we don’t know what will happen. But there are clues in the ancient history of the Earth. The climate has fluctuated in the past, many times in the past. It has been colder and warmer than it is now.”

Wilson said the Garibaldi Volcanic Belt, along B.C.’s Sea to Sky corridor north of Vancouver, has seen warm periods and times when the volcanoes were buried under ice sheets.

More than 100 volcanoes have erupted either close to or under the ice over the last two million years, he said.

And when volcanoes erupt beneath glaciers the surrounding water causes them to behave in strange ways. Volcanoes are more explosive and ice can freeze the flow of lava, creating unique geological features. he said.

“The rocks that we see are a little different. They are complicated,” he said. “They show evidence for interacting with a lot of water when they erupt.”

By looking at the rock formations, Wilson and Russell have been able to provide evidence of at least three ancient so-called glaciations over the past one million years, where large ice sheets covered the southwest part of B.C.

“We have very special volcanoes that there aren’t examples of these anywhere else in the world. They are unique to British Columbia.”

One of the best examples of these strange formations is the flat-top, steep-sided volcano known as The Table, not far from Garibaldi Lake. It erupted about 100,000 years ago, he said.

“There aren’t any other examples of The Table anywhere else in the world,” Wilson said. ”It doesn’t look like a typical volcano, like a cone or a crater.”

The warming climate has also uncovered new information for researchers, Wilson said.

“A lot of the glaciers are melting very rapidly in B.C. They are retreating back and those glaciers are exposing rock that we haven’t seen before,” he said. “We have actually discovered a number of new volcanoes we didn’t know about.”

READ MORE: Ice volcanoes erupting on Okanagan Lake

READ MORE: Hawaii volcano shoots lava into sky; evacuations ordered

Wilson is also trying to understand if growing and retreating ice sheets could trigger or cause volcanic eruptions.

Ice sheets are extremely heavy, which can stress the Earth’s crust and influence how magmas move through the crust, he said.

“There was once two kilometre of ice loaded on southwestern B.C.”

There is compelling evidence in Iceland to suggest that melting glaciers cause an eight-fold increase in volcanic eruptions, he said.

“Could this be the case for southwest B.C.? We think it might be and we are trying to prove it. Here’s another catch, could melting glaciers that currently exist in B.C. cause more volcanoes to erupt? We are trying to find out.”

The last eruption in the Garibaldi Belt was 2,360 years ago, relatively recent in geological terms, but still indicating the area is dormant, he said.

“But it’s by no means an extinct volcanic area,” Wilson said. “I’m not saying there’s going to be an eruption tomorrow but more than likely there will be eruptions in the future.”

Hina Alam, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

More B.C. ambulance service needed in the North: Hospital chief of staff

Fort St. James physicians talk about the need for easier access to healthcare

Broken axle caused New Hazelton train derailment: TSB

It could happen again without a different way to inspect trains

Cullen remains uncertain about political future

Says he’ll make decision in early March

Terrace resident’s bill banning single-use plastics introduced in Ottawa

MP Nathan Cullen’s presented Ben Korving’s private member’s bill Wednesday

B.C. BUDGET: Surplus $374 million after bailouts of BC Hydro, ICBC

Growth projected stronger in 2020, Finance Minister Carole James says

National Energy Board approves Trans Mountain pipeline again

Next step includes cabinet voting on the controversial expansion

Girl heard saying ‘Help my Dad’ in suspicious radio message on Vancouver Island

Police asking for help following mysterious signals from somewhere between Comox and Sayward

Reports of rashes prompt closure of all Harrison Hot Springs pools

Public pool available after Fraser Health shut down all five mineral pools until further notice

No treatment for highly infectious measles, says doctor

10 cases of measles confirmed in Vancouver as of Friday

Two more measles cases confirmed in Vancouver

It brings the number of total cases within the city connected to the outbreak to ten

B.C. Special Olympics officially underway in Vernon

Athlete’s Oath: “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

Vancouver Aquarium wants your help to name a baby killer whale

The public helped name Springer’s first calf, Spirit, and is being asked to help with the second

Guards protest firing of fellow officers charged with assault at B.C. prison

Corrections officers demonstrated in Maple Ridge on Friday afternoon

Skier dies at Revelstoke Mountain Resort

Cause of death for young man has not been released

Most Read