Dustin Bajer, drawing of the Edmonton urban glacier

Urban Glaciers In A Time Of Climate Change

In a world where glaciers are disappearing, could northern cities build them?

While travelling on Edmonton’s ring road, be on the watch for a mountain of snow – an urban glacier – made from the snow cleared from Edmonton’s city streets throughout the winter. Lasting well into summer, residents have taken to betting on when it will melt. But what if we could take this giant pile of snow, sand, and salt to its absurd conclusion? In a world where glaciers are disappearing, might it be possible to make one?

Glaciers form wherever snowfall exceeds melting, which is, unfortunately, increasingly rare. However, street snow-clearing efforts could accomplish this in northern cities like Edmonton

Lesley O'Neil, Well, I know it doesn't look like snow, but this "mountain" is snow with sand mixed in, all ploughed off our Edmonton roads during last winter. There are 'bets' on when it will melt; at this point, I'm certainly not holding my breath!
Lesley O’Neil, Edmonton Snow Mountain

Northern cities remove thousands of tons of snow from urban streets and pile it into giant mounds outside the city. Due to the sheer volume, the mounds last well into summer. If built in a depression (such as a ravine), urban glaciers could last until the following winter. Each winter, fresh snow is added to what remains from previous seasons. In this way, urban glaciers grow yearly – just like the real deal.

Dustin Bajer, Snow cleared from city streets is piles onto the remains of the previous year to make an urban glacier
Snow cleared from city streets is piles onto the remains of the previous year to make an urban glacier

Here’s a sad thought: urban glaciers could be the only growing glaciers in the world. Cities need to be mindful of all the junk they’re throwing onto the roads (salt, sand, garbage, car exhaust) – but shouldn’t they be anyway?


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