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Update 2023/10/5
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Lakes In Canada’s Rockies Losing Iconic Turquoise Colour
Losing Blue, presented by NFB, documents the effects of glacial shrinkage

We have worked systematically over the last 18 years to build a unique long-term dataset for a set of lakes in Yoho and Banff National Parks, documenting the effects of catchment characteristics such as glacial and vegetation cover on water transparency, a key lake feature that’s linked to colour.” -- Janet M. Fischer, Professor of Biology, Fischer- Olson Lab, Franklin & Marshall College

Janet Fischer & Mark Olson, husband & wife research team, together with their undergraduate students from Franklin & Marshall College, and their two children collaborated with Canmore-based filmmaker Leanne Allison to produce Losing Blue a cinematic poem that delves into the impending loss of some of the most extraordinary blues on Earth – the otherworldly blues of ancient mountain lakes.

WATERTODAY asked limnologist Janet Fischer about the inspiration behind the film Losing Blue.

“We have recently expanded our research to include high-frequency monitoring of lakes using advanced sensors,” Fischer told WT. “Our study aims to understand how and why lake transparency varies across time scales, from short-term changes in response to rain events to long-term changes in catchments caused by melting glaciers, lengthening growing seasons and advancing tree lines. We also study the effects of these changes on the unique plankton.”

Fischer and Olson have had countless conversations with visitors who are intrigued by the colours of glacially fed lakes and concerned by the threats that mountain lakes face in a changing climate.

When Fisher and her husband approached Allison to make a film, she said there were two stipulations.

“We didn’t want it to be a traditional science documentary and we didn’t want to be in it.”

For filmmaker, Leanne Allison it was taking the scientific facts:

  • Seventy percent of Western Canada’s 17,000 glaciers are predicted to disappear by 2100
  • Analysis of satellite images indicates that the current rate of ice area loss has increased sevenfold since 2010

And the “blue” science:

  • With the passage of time, the movement of glaciers over bedrock creates finely ground rock flour, which is delivered to lakes via meltwater. These suspended particles—which Fischer and Olson’s sensors measure as turbidity, and which our eyes see as cloudiness—absorb some blue light from the sun, but more importantly scatter blue and green light back to our eyes.
  • The precise colour depends on the amount of rock flour delivered by glacial meltdown and on the time of year (peaking in late July/early August) and the size of the glacier

It was taking those facts and weaving them into a non-traditional scientific documentary. The Fischer Olson duo gave her a crash course in lake science with the book Lakes – A Very Short Introduction by Warwick F. Vincent.

“I learned about how all lakes are born (through things like volcanic activity and glaciation) and how they all eventually fill with sediment and die”, Allison tells us.

It made her think of lakes as individuals.

“The thing that kind of haunted me as I learned all this was that I’d spent years in the mountains. In my early 20s I even worked as a technician on glaciers measuring precisely how much they were melting and yet I never thought about how they were losing blue.”

It was that concept of losing blue that Allison wanted the film’s viewers to experience.

“It wasn’t until we were about halfway through the film that J.B. McKinnon wrote the scene that we called the “lake encounter”.

And the film’s science morphed into a cinematic poem.

“Our vision is to spark a sense of wonder and appreciation for Canada’s extraordinarily beautiful mountain lakes while ultimately hoping this generates curiosity about the science behind the colour,” Fischer adds.

The National Film Board of Canada presents the Ontario Premiere of Losing Blue at the 2023 Planet in Focus International Environmental Film Festival, Saturday, October 14

At the Banff Center Mountain Film and Book Festival October 28- November 4

At the Guelph Film Festival November 3-11

A short film clip may be viewed here

 After the film’s festival circuit is over in the Spring of 2024, viewers across Canada will be able to stream the film, free of charge, on the NFB’s streaming platform, nfb.ca


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