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Identification of local water resource vulnerability to rapid deglaciation in Alberta


Global glacier retreat driven by climate change will have major impacts on regional water availability, as many communities rely on glacier runoff for water supply during warm and dry seasons. A community whose water resources are potentially vulnerable is one that sources water from a glacier-fed river where that river is expected to substantially change if glacier contributions become negligible. However, regional assessments identifying which communities’ water resources are most vulnerable to such changes are lacking. Here we use observed streamflow measurements, gridded climate data and a database of municipal water sources for communities in Alberta, Canada, to identify the relative importance of glacier runoff at the local scale. In a scenario of negligible glacier runoff, we predict unprecedented streamflow lows at several communities. This approach provides a methodology to identify communities whose water resources may be vulnerable to glacier retreat and would benefit from more-focused research.

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Fig. 1: Study region of the province of Alberta, Canada.
Fig. 2: Results of PCA and clustering with SOM, showing the first two eigenvectors, the clusters in space and the SOM with clusters in PC space.
Fig. 3: The results of the regression models and the projected streamflow at the identified vulnerable communities.

Data availability

All data are publicly available. ERA-Interim reanalysis is available from ECMWF24. Glacier inventory is available from the RGI27. Topography is available from the SRTM34. Streamflow is available from the Environment Canada HYDAT database42. Municipal water source data, collected in this study, are available on Zenodo (

Code availability

Code to reproduce the main results in this study is available on GitHub (


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We thank Environment Canada for providing streamflow data, the European Centre for Medium-range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) for the ERA-Interim reanalysis data, the Randolph Glacier Inventory consortium for glacier inventory data and the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission for providing topographic data. We also thank M. Jellinek for providing feedback on the manuscript. Funding supporting this study was provided through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) of Canada.

Author information




S.A. gathered and processed the data. S.A. developed the analysis and made the figures, both with input from V.R. S.A. and V.R. shared the writing of the paper.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Sam Anderson.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Nature Climate Change thanks Shawn Marshall and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

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Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–9.

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Anderson, S., Radić, V. Identification of local water resource vulnerability to rapid deglaciation in Alberta. Nat. Clim. Chang. 10, 933–938 (2020).

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