Lethbridge researcher studying snow melt 0
Along with graduate students, Sarah Boon-an assistant geography professor at the University of Lethbridge-is researching how pine beetles and wild fires affect downstream hydrology in the Crowsnest Pass.
Boon, who studied the effects of pine beetles on northern British Columbia forest canopies, has now expanded her research to how wild fires affect mountain hydrology in the Pass. Natural agents, according to Boon, such as wild fires and pine beetles are known as forest disturbances.
Although pine beetles are affecting how much snow falls to the ground due to loss of needles and lower branches, she said wild fires have more of an effect on forest canopies and snow accumulation.
"With wild fire, you are taking off all of the needles," she said. "You are burning off the needles, you are burning off a lot of the branches. In some cases, you are having trees fall over because of fire. Again, you can get more snow on the ground because the canopy is gone; it can't catch the snow anymore."
She explained that once there is no canopy left, more energy in the form of sunlight filters through, melting the increased amount of snow much faster. Thus, the amount of water received downstream is changed, she said.
Boon, who has her Phd in glacier and snow hydrology, said most of her work since 2005 has dealt with post disturbance snow hydrology stemming from both pine beetles and wild fires.
Boon, who is working in collaboration with the Southern Rockies Watershed Project in the Crowsnest Pass, is working with an individual out of the University of Alberta studying the effects of fires such as the Lost Creek wild fire on forest canopies.
Boon said she thinks he observed increased run off in the rivers following the devastating fire. Although she is not sure if they saw localized flooding after the fire, it is a concern.
"Part of that is because the wild fire was so severe that it burned off a lot of the organic material on the surface," Boon said. "If you go up into the burned area of the watershed, you can see there isn't really much organic material in those burned areas. It gets down to this gravelly kind of soil fairly quickly."
Without the organic layer, Boon said, the water can't make it into the gravelly clay so there is increased run off. These processes would affect the rivers in the Crowsnest Pass, she said.
"If you consider that you have this large area that has been burned, you have more snow collecting on that large burned area," Boon explained. "Then you can melt it faster in the spring. That's going to change the time that you get a peak in your stream flow and also the size of that peak."
One of Boon's graduate students is currently working in an area of the burned watershed and she is looking at the differences between areas that were burned and those that weren't.
As well, a graduate student is studying stream temperature in the Crowsnest Pass. A decreased forest canopy will increase the stream temperature, while on the other hand; increased snowmelt will decrease the temperature, Boon said.
One of the reasons they are interested in stream temperature is the affect that it has on different aquatic organisms including cutthroat trout and bull trout in the area. Boon said rates of natural disturbances have been slowly increasing.