(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

Khan Michael Bourne, of Sechelt, shot dead in Surrey

Bourne found in the 13300-block of 114th Avenue Tuesday, suffering from gunshot wounds. He died in hospital.

VIDEO: Surrey stabbing leaves man with ‘potentially life altering injuries’

Police believe an altercation between two people led to the incident, in the 13700-block of 97A Ave.

Semiahmoo Totems past and present celebrate basketball success

Reigning provincial senior girls hoops champs meet members of school’s 1953 championship team

Earth Day-inspired exhibit focuses on reclaimed fabrics

Semiahmoo Shopping Centre hosts Our Social Fabric display

VIDEO: Surrey RCMP investigating after ‘sudden death’ of man found with critical injuries

Police say a man is dead after being found laying on the ground in the 13300-block of 114th Avenue

VIDEO: ‘Alarm bells’ raised by footage allegedly from B.C. pig farm, SPCA says

PETA released video Wednesday showing dead and injured piglets next to nursing piglets

SPCA investigating after newborn kittens found in Vancouver dumpster

The kittens were found suffering from hypothermia and dehydration

‘B.C. cannot wait for action’: Top doctor urges province to decriminalize illicit drugs

Dr. Bonnie Henry says current approach in ‘war on drugs’ has criminalized and stigmatized drug users

Many teens don’t know they’re vaping nicotine, Health Canada finds

Canadian Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey finds youth unaware of nicotine product risk

Murder on B.C. property didn’t need to be disclosed before sale, court rules

Buyer had tried to break contract after learning a man with ties to crime had been murdered there

Tofino beckons Trudeau for quiet Easter vacation

Environmental group hopes latest Pacific Rim vacation inspires change in prime minister

B.C. man turned to dating site for pimp operation, court hears

In court the details of how Simon Rypiak lured 4 women into prostitution revealed

5 to start your day

Death in Surrey being probed by homicide investigators, FOI offers top dog names in White Rock and more

VIDEO: Vancouver Giants fall in overtime

Team still leads WHL series against Spokane

Most Read