Slow melt of heavy snow better for the environment

Mar 20, 2008
Slow melt of heavy snow better for the environment
Lesley Warren, associate professor in the Department of Geography & Earth Sciences.

Water is on the minds of many Canadians at the moment, and not just because this Saturday is World Water Day. The record level accumulation of snow laden with imported moisture brought up from the Gulf of Mexico has resulted in snow packed with water: This kind of snow takes longer to melt than the usual lake effect, dry, fluffy snow typically seen around southern Ontario.

This year's melt has so far occurred gradually, which is good news for people worried about flooding, and for the environment, says Lesley Warren, associate professor in the School of Geography & Earth Sciences.

"A spike in temperature can cause the snow to melt quickly, and that in turn means that not only is there greater risk for flooding, but a larger spike in contaminants being released into our waters and streams, which has a greater toxic effect than when contaminants are introduced more gradually in a slower melt," says Warren. "Snow contains toxins such as heavy metals, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and brominated fire retardants (BFRs) as well as high levels of road salt in urban areas."

If runoff coincides with ground thaws, contaminants can also make it into groundwater supplies, she adds, impacting aquatic life as well as humans through the consumption of fish. Further degraded water quality is linked to increasingly drug-resistant bacteria and the incidence of pathogens in water supplies.

Warren says the projected volume of water associated with this year's record snow levels will help water levels recover in the Great Lakes from the below-average levels observed in the last few years, though she cautions that it will take a few more winters like the one Ontario experienced this year to raise levels significantly in Lake Superior.

"Superior is the canary in a coal mine for the Great Lakes when it comes to water levels," she says. "This year's snow accumulation is forecasted to raise Superior's water levels somewhere between 15 and 30 cm, which is still 45 to 50 cm below average."

Source: McMaster University

Explore further: Deciphering clues to prehistoric climate changes locked in cave deposits

Related Stories

The advance of Hubbard Glacier

May 21, 2015

Since measurements began in 1895, Alaska's Hubbard Glacier has been thickening and steadily advancing into Disenchantment Bay. The advance runs counter to so many thinning and retreating glaciers nearby in ...

Remote assessment of avalanche risk

May 05, 2015

In cooperation with a Swiss research team, geographers of Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich have developed a novel measuring system relying on two different physical methods that promises to enhance forecasting ...

Winter runoff into streams on par with ocean salinity

Apr 02, 2015

Examining nearby creeks and outflows, Cornell students have found that the amount of road salt in winter and spring runoff that flushes into streams is of near-oceanic salinity levels, according to a new, unpublished report ...

Recommended for you

Image: Cambodian rivers from orbit

May 22, 2015

A flooded landscape in Cambodia between the Mekong River (right) and Tonlé Sap river (left) is pictured by Japan's ALOS satellite. The centre of this image is about 30 km north of the centre of the country's ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

zevkirsh
1 / 5 (2) Mar 20, 2008
if you don't like snow, move south you dopes.
mikiwud
1 / 5 (2) Mar 21, 2008
The Press in Europe has not reported the heavy snow and,in some places record,low temperatures in Canada.USA,India,China,etc incase it shows the lie of continued global warming.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.