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Things To Do In Western Canada: Columbia Icefield

By: ameenmk
This is an experience of a lifetime. It was exciting, educational, and fun.

The Icefield is a place where there are acres and acres of snow that is hundreds of years old.

Canada has experienced four major Ice Ages. The Athabasca Glacier and the Columbia Icefield once formed part of an enormous ice sheet that ground and carved the landforms that you see today thou rout the Rocky Mountains. At one time, the Athabasca Glacier flowed north to the present site of Jasper, and joining other glaciers, moved east to the prairies and south past Calgary. Its journey of hundreds of kilometers took many centuries. The most recent Ice Age ended only 10,000 years ago. Most glaciers in North America are still in retreat, as the summers melt is greater than the winters accumulation.

An alpine icefield is formed when snow that falls on high mountain peaks and plateaus accumulates year after year with the little summer melt. When the snow attains a depth of about 30 meters, the bottom layers become pressurized into ice. More snow falls on top and the depth of ice increases, eventually overflowing into the surrounding valleys and starts flowing downhill a glacier is born! Although most of the Columbia Ice field is not visible from the Ice Explorer road, its edges cap the surrounding mountains like icing on a cake.

The Athabasca Glacier us one of the many glaciers fed by the Columbia Icefield. It is the only one that you can actually walk on. There are tours that take you onto the glacier to walk on the ice.

When you go there, you will get a complete education on glaciers, how they are formed, how they move and how global warming is melting them.

If you are staying in Banff, Canmore, Lake Louise, Jasper, or Calgary you can go on a tour that will take you to the glacier via motor coach. Or if you have a car you can drive there yourself. Just take Icefield Parkway. If you drive yourself you will get to spend as much time at the glacier as you want. Otherwise most of the day is spent just getting to the glacier and coming back.

Once you get to the glacier you can pay for a ride on an Ice Explorer to take you all the way onto the ice itself. Stand on ice that is hundreds of years old and marvel at how amazing the view is.

If you have time, you can actually walk up the glacier for free. If we had the time we would have loved to hire a guide and walk up to the top of the glacier. It was already an experience we will never forget but walking the glacier would have been even better.

The Columbia Icefield and its glaciers form a gigantic, frozen reservoir, providing fresh, clean water for a variety of uses to hundreds of thousands of people. It moderates local summer temperatures and increases the severity of winter, profoundly affecting the areas plants and animals. Icefields provide our scientists with a frozen record of atmospheric and climatic conditions of the past, while providing all of us with a spectacular glimpse of what was much of North America looked like as the surface of this continent was being shaped, tens of thousands of years ago.

Mans accelerating use of fossil fuels, destruction of the planets forests and release of industrial gases like chlorofluorocarbons, are causing a global warming trend, commonly called the Greenhouse effect. This phenomenon is hastening rates of he glaciers retreat and the icefields loss of volume.

Water now melting from ice that fell as snow up to 150 years ago, is the purest natural water known. More recent snowfalls carries an increasing amount of mans airborne pollutants.
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