NEW BOOK IMPELS APPRECIATION FOR COLUMBIA ICEFIELD'S SOPHISTICATED BEAUTY
When Bob Sandford was 20 years old, he plunged right into glaciology.
Sandford, now one of Canada’s most respected mountain historians and experts on water, was a chemistry student who wanted to be a mountaineer. He was at the tail end of his first ever expedition when, exhausted after two days of traversing the Columbia Icefield, he tried to shortcut across a meltwater stream that was gushing down the Saskatchewan Glacier. The torrent of water picked him up off his feet and washed him into a crevasse.
“The water cascaded down a millwell and over a series of ice steps,” he recalled. “It was total darkness. I was in the interior plumbing of the glacier.”
Miraculously, instead of succumbing to an icy death, Sandford was spit out at the toe of the glacier. With that accident, his life had changed forever.
“It had a transformative effect on my life,” he said. “I realized much later how important that experience was.”
Like the Saskatchewan glacier itself, Sandford’s career path took an imperceptible turn that, when analyzed with the benefit of time, is remarkable for not only its scope, but for its downstream effects. The author of more than 20 books, Sandford is the Chair for Water and Climate Security at the United Nations Institute for Water. He has been called one of Alberta’s most influential people. Through speaking engagements, writing, and by translating hard science into language that the public and policy makers can understand, Sandford has been leading the discussion on the importance and uniqueness of Canada’s rich water resources.
Now, with the release of the most recent edition of The Columbia Icefield, Sandford is once again imploring people to see the sophisticated beauty of the most accessible ice age feature in the world.
“Visitors should know the absolute glory of what exists now before us,” he said.
As an introduction to one of the earth’s most incredible, and threatened, mountain environments, the 143-page book incorporates the latest research on climate change, glacier loss and what scientists have learned about the ever-shifting hydrological cycle: namely, that’s it all related.
“Everything’s connected—the oceans, the atmosphere, our mountains, our rivers,” Sandford said. “And you can see the earth’s system functioning in its most magnificent way at the Columbia Icefield.”
Sandford specializes in making this science accessible. He said people living in the Rockies have a unique responsibility to share what they see with the rest of the world.
“We’re at the front lines of what’s happening in terms of glacial change and what implications that has for larger earth system changes, but we’re also at the headwaters in terms of attitude toward what this means to the future,” he said.
Most visitors to the Columbia Icefield are shocked that such a place even exists. Sandford believes Jasper National Park should be leveraging that interest and leading the charge in creating a new water ethic in the world.
“We still have these icefields which can be the baseline of understanding for what’s happening elsewhere in the world,” he said.
At the very least, he hopes readers of The Columbia Icefield will make an effort to learn not only where their own water is from, but how it’s used.
“Water is going to be more precious than people can imagine in the future,” he said. “We need to act accordingly.”