Glacial research boosted by donor support

Glaciers around the globe are continuing to melt so fast that many will disappear in the next 50 to 100 years. Such conspicuous evidence of climate change indicates growing challenges that affect more than polar bears and weather forecasts.

Enter U of L associate professor Dr. Hester Jiskoot: a glaciologist leading efforts to understand what's happening to Earth's ice masses, and what those changes mean for southern Alberta and beyond.

"Glaciers are beautiful and intriguing, and are situated in one of the most pristine landscapes: the high mountains and the polar regions," says Jiskoot, who has been a member and leader on glaciological expedition teams on and around glaciers and ice sheets in Greenland, Iceland, the Yukon, Alaska, the European Alps, the Canadian Rocky Mountains and the Himalayas. "Even if you can't go see them yourself, they are fascinating natural systems to learn about."

Dr. Hester Jiskoot
Dr. Hester Jiskoot's glacial studies take her to the world's high mountains and polar regions.

Collectively covering an area the size of South America, glaciers are ancient rivers of compressed snow that creep through the landscape, shaping the planet's surface and holding about 70 per cent of the world's freshwater.

"Global warming has caused widespread accelerated glacier retreat, which has negative effects on the fresh water available for humans and in ecosystems, and which has caused and still causes global sea levels to rise," explains Jiskoot, who conducts her research in the Alberta Water and Environmental Science Building on campus. "By being informed about natural systems such as glaciers we can learn why some changes in nature happen so fast while others take longer, but also what our own influence on these systems is. All systems in our world are connected, and a small change on one side of the globe can have a large effect in other parts or even on our entire world."

Understanding the large-scale impact of the research taking place at the U of L, former director of research services, Dr. Einard Haniuk and his wife Kay were happy to support water research at the University.

"In working at the University of Lethbridge, I got to know people here and understand their research," explains Einard, who worked in research settings across the United States and Canada. "Because of the importance of water and its widespread impact, particularly in relation to agriculture in this area, we were pleased to contribute to the water building and water research."

When matched by the Government of Alberta's Access to the Future Fund, the Haniuks's gift helped equip the Glaciology and Geoscience Lab where Jiskoot and her research team conduct their research.

"Good facilities and tools are essential to doing research," says Jiskoot, looking around appreciatively at a lab full of equipment. "The Haniuks's gift helped provide the finishing touches to my lab and has enabled me to build an exceptional research environment and phenomenal learning opportunities for myself and the students who work with me."

This story first appeared in the Legend. For a look at the Legend in a flipbook format, follow this link.