The ‘lobe lovers’ research in Jasper

Mt. A students research climate change effects on rock glaciers.

The Lobe Lovers research group are researching the specific movement patterns of Hilda Creek Rock Glacier in Banff National Park. This study attempts to establish whether or not there is a relationship between recent climatic changes in alpine areas of the Rocky Mountains and the movement of rock glaciers.

A rock glacier is formed in one of two ways: either by debris or talus falling onto pre-existing ice, or through a process of ice forming within a large pile of rock. These processes allow rocks to move in a similar pattern to those of ice glaciers. Some research has been completed regarding the movement patterns of these features on a general scale, but little has been studied involving specific movements on the rock glacier itself. The Lobe Lovers have identified this gap in knowledge, and have been attempting to understand the movements of different parts (termed lobes) of the Hilda Creek Rock Glacier.

Over the course of two days, group members used a differential GPS unit to map the perimeter of ten lobes that were visually identified after extensively studying all parts of the rock glacier. Two group members simultaneously measured lichen species that had colonized on the surfaces of rock surfaces on the different lobes. The lichen’s ages were determined by comparing the measurements of thallus size (the diameter of the entire lichen) to pre-existing growth curves. This data allowed the researchers to understand the relative stability of the lobes through time.

“Since lichen species colonize on stationary rocks, their different sizes and ages can help us understand the times at which the lobes became stable, slowed, or stopped moving,” said Zoe Walker, a member of the Lobe Lovers, “We are then going to take this data and determine whether or not the lobes are active or inactive.”

Thus far, this research group has developed many preliminary results and are now in the process of analyzing different relationships that may exist in the data after taking into account both angle and elevation of specific lobes. Researchers hope that through the use of these multiple techniques, a real representation of the movement patterns within a rock glacier will be predicted, illustrating the potential effects of climatic warming in alpine regions. The Lobe Lovers hypothesize that an increase in temperature could cause a melting effect of ice under specific lobes, allowing for stagnation to occur that, in turn, could cause the lobe to become inactive.

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