(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

DFO announces openings for chinook

Opportunities are few between widespread closures

Lost Lake closed for fishing due to goldfish invasion

Pet fish is considered an invasive species to B.C. wild

Skeena Voices | Designing a strong identity

Kelly Bapty is the province’s first Indigenous female architect from a B.C. nation

Northwest couples compete at His and Hers golf tournament in Prince Rupert

Kitimat and Smithers couples take home the hardware

Feds announce funds to replace Kitimat’s Haisla River Bridge

Bill Morneau said Ottawa’s $275 million will also help fund high energy-efficient gas turbines

VIDEO: Killer whale steals fisherman’s catch off North Coast

Fishing duel results in eager orca snagging salmon in Prince Rupert

Fate of accused in Canadian couple’s 1987 killings in jury’s hands

William Talbott’s lawyer says DNA doesn’t prove murder

Child killed after being hit in driveway on Vancouver Island

The driver of the vehicle remained at the crash scene and is fully cooperating

Eating sandwiches, putting on makeup behind the wheel could land you a fine

RCMP say if you cause an accident while eating you could be penalized

Cat badly hurt in animal trap was likely stuck for days, B.C. owner says

Blu, a three-year-old house cat, suffered severe damage to his hind leg after being stuck in trap for days

40 cats surrendered in apparent hoarding at B.C. home

Officers found the cats living among piles of garbage and feces, suffering from fleas

Vancouver Aquarium drops cetacean ban lawsuit in new lease agreement

Ocean Wise CEO Lasse Gustavsson called the updated lease an exciting new chapter for the aquarium

Thieves steal two $40K chairs featuring gold serpents from B.C. furniture store

Chairs believed to be the only two of its kind in Canada, police said

Rising gas prices force B.C. residents to rethink summer road trips: poll

63 per cent of respondents reported gas prices are impacting their day-to-day finances

Most Read