Recent Troubles in Thermal Spring Flows
Since the Banff Springs Snail Research and Recovery Program began in the fall of 1995, a new and troubling trend has emerged. Some of the thermal springs have been drying.
While it is normal for flow rates of thermal springs along Sulphur Mountain to decrease as underground reservoirs are depleted of water during late winter and early spring due to little melting and infiltration of water into the underlying rocks, the frequency of thermal spring drying has increased. The only historically recorded instance of any Sulphur Mountain thermal spring drying was at the Upper Hot, when no water flowed from 12 March through 11 May 1923. Since 1996, the Upper Hot Spring has dried nearly every winter. Water has ceased flowing at the Upper Hot for durations from approximately one to 32 weeks. A lower than normal amount of precipitation in 1922 was the proposed cause of the 1923 flow stoppage. Similarly, below normal precipitation may be the cause of the recent flow anomalies. The lowest precipitation year on record (2001) was followed by the most extensive period of drying at the Upper Hot, and, for the first known instance, Kidney Spring also dried. While it is expected that the topographically highest springs along the Sulphur Mountain Thrust Fault will stop flowing first, inexplicably, the Upper Middle Springs dried for at least 12 weeks during the winter of 1995-1996 and Gord’s Pool Spring dried during the fall and winter of 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 when all other Sulphur Mountain thermal springs except the Upper Hot continued to flow.
Timing and duration of thermal spring water flow stoppages, 1 January 1996 through 31 December 2010, Banff National Park. The line between the uprights indicates when no thermal spring water flowed as indicated by observation and temperature loggers. Monitoring of Gord’s did not begin until January 2001.
Scientists, including those on COSEWIC (Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada), the group which assesses the status of plants and animals in Canada, has determined that the cessation of water flow in the thermal springs is one of the biggest threats to the continued survival of the Banff Springs Snail. Furthermore, it is believed that climate change is the ultimate cause of the increased frequency of thermal springs drying.