Dr. Sarah Boon directs the Mountain Hydrology Lab, based in the Albert Water & Environmental Science Building at the University of Lethbridge. Her lab conducts field, experimental and modelling studies of cold regions hydrology and its interactions with climate, vegetation cover and topography. She studies snow and glacier melt contributions to surface and subsurface runoff generation from mountain regions, and how these contributions are affected by both forest disturbance and climate change. Specific current research questions include the effects of mountain pine beetle infestation and wildfire on snow accumulation and melt processes, the role of snowpack evolution in driving Arctic glacier hydrology, and the effects of snowmelt runoff in mediating stream temperature in groundwater-dominated watersheds. Dr. Boon's research group works predominantly in alpine and Arctic regions: the southern Canadian Rockies, the north Coast Mountains (BC), the eastern Canadian Arctic, and the southern interior of British Columbia.
I did an undergrad project at Hilda Glacier, in Banff National Park, studying glacier hydrology and linkages with weather. The project was supposed to be straightforward and simple. However, it turned out to be far more complex than expected, requiring a combination of physical hydrology, meteorology, water chemistry, glaciology and geomorphology to understand how the hydrologic system worked. That's what got me started in mountain hydrology. Since then I've branched out from strictly glaciers to also studying snow - both on glaciers and under the forest canopy.
Much of our surface water resources are derived from snow and glacier melt from mountain regions - up to 80% of streamflow in Alberta is derived from snow & ice melt. Understanding what drives variations and changes in the timing and amount of spring snow accumulation, and the timing and amount of both snow and glacier melt, can help us better predict water availability downstream. This water is important not only for human consumption but also for ecosystem function, as changes in the amount and temperature of the water can have serious impacts on aquatic ecosystems. Mountain watersheds are also susceptible to changes in forest cover due to disturbances such as mountain pine beetle and wildfire, which will affect snow accumulation and melt with subsequent impacts on runoff.
In 2003 I was awarded the ARCUS Award for Arctic Research for a portion of my PhD work. This is an international award, for which researchers in Canada, the US and Mexico are eligible, and I was honoured to be selected.
Students are critical to my research program. Undergraduate students complete small projects that help us understand key components of mountain watershed processes, and often go on to work as research assistants in my lab. Graduate students - both MSc and PhD - work as a team to address larger research questions using a combination of field and modelling approaches. Without students, we wouldn't be able to address the range of interrelated topics we currently study, and we also wouldn't have as much fun working as a research group.
I would instrument a glaciated catchment in the Rockies and measure all pertinent variables year round: meteorology, streamflow, vegetation, soil moisture, snow inputs, glacier mass balance, etc. This would allow us to numerically model the watershed using measured data, in order to better understand the interactions between the stores and fluxes within the watershed, and the effects on downstream flows and aquatic ecosystems.