3. Wapta Icefield / Peyto Glacier, AB

The terminus of the Peyto Glacier, where a small proglacial lake has recently formed (photo: John Pomeroy)

The Wapta Icefield is located on the Continental Divide in the Rocky Mountains.  It has a total surface area of roughly 80 km2 and is one of the largest icefields in the Rockies.  From the central icefield, a number of outlet valley glaciers extend outwards, feeding into tributary streams of the Columbia River to the west, and the North and South Saskathewan Rivers to the east.  Of particular scientific importance is the Peyto Glacier, which descends from the north-eastern portion of the icefield and is a benchmark mass balance glacier with a long history of research.  CCRN research efforts in the vicinity of the Wapta Icefield are focused on the Peyto Glacier. 

Location and Physical Characteristics

  • Located within the Park Ranges of the Rocky Mountains along the continental divide in Banff and Yoho National Parks;
  • Peyto Creek flows into the Mistaya and North Saskatchewan Rivers;
  • Basin area of Peyto Creek roughly 24 km2, elevation range from 2100 m to 3150 m, and basin mostly covered by Peyto Glacier;
  • The glacier has undergone considerable negative net mass balance, downwasting, and terminal retreat over the previous 50+ years.


  • A glacier mass balance programme was established here in 1966 as part of the International Hydrological Decade, and observations of surface mass balance and runoff carried out by Natural Resources Canada (NRCAN) since that time;
  • The site remains a focal point for wide range of glaciological and hydrological research.

Current Science Focus and Instrumentation

  • Research efforts here are led primarily by Mike Demuth of the Gelogical Survey of Canada, and Professor John Pomeroy of the University of Saskatchewan;
  • Primarily glacier, hydrology, and climate studies;
    • Glacier mass balance programme by NRCAN, and other investigators focusing on surface meteorology, remote sensing techniques for mass balance and glacier change detection, and hydrological modelling;
  • Single meteorological station within basin adjacent to Peyto Glacier, and two stations located on the glacier surface representing different elevation zones (accumulation and ablation zones);
    • Measurements of hourly solar radiation, air temperature/humidity, wind speed, precipitation, snow depth;
    • Shorter records of surface energy and flux profiles using eddy covariance;
  • Streamflow records collected for Peyto Creek, but gauge destroyed in July 1983. Streamflow measurments have resumed by the Centre for Hydrology, University of Saskatchewan.

Links and Other Resources

For further information contact:  

Mike Demuth, P.Eng., P.Geo.
Head of Glaciology Section, Geological Survey of Canada
Natural Resources Canada
601 Booth Street
Ottawa, ON, K1A 0E8


Professor John Pomeroy
Canada Research Chair in Water Resources & Climate Change
Centre for Hydrology,
University of Saskatchewan,
12 Kirk Hall, 117 Science Place,
Saskatoon, SK, S7N 5C8