On October 27, 2012, a powerful earthquake struck the Haida Gwaii archipelago off the coast of British Columbia and the iconic hot springs of Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve vanished – some feared forever.
But recently, there have been encouraging signs that hot water is once again flowing to Gandll K’in Gwaay.yaay (Hotspring Island).
“Since May 2015 we’ve had heat-detecting probes monitoring the temperature in the ground and above the ground and there’s definitely heat in most of the places that once had water flowing,” says Ernie Gladstone, field unit superintendent for Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve.
“It’s too soon to say if they’ll ever return to the way they once were, but every time we go down we notice something a little different.”
The dozens of small, warm pools of Hotspring Island are a mystery that has endured for generations. The Haida people were known to take advantage of the healing properties of the hot water and in the years before the earthquake the pools would attract up to 2,000 visitors per year – but no one knows for sure where the water comes from, or why it suddenly dried up following the quake.
Stephen Grasby, a research scientist with the Geological Survey of Canada, says the current working theory is that the source of the water is the highlands of nearby Ramsay Island.
It’s believed rainwater collects at the higher elevations and seeps deep underground until enough pressure builds along the entire system to force the water back to the surface some distance away.
“It’s just speculation, we don’t know for sure, but because of the temperature of the water we know it has to circulate quite deeply into the ground before it gets back to the surface,” Grasby says.
In fact, based on the temperatures recorded at the springs prior to 2012, it’s possible the water is reaching a depth of almost four kilometers before it re-emerges on Hotspring Island.
This theory also helps explain why the earthquake caused the water to disappear, Grasby says.
“When the ground shakes, it dilates pores in the rock and allows the water table to drop, and that reduces the pressure that drives the whole system.”
Over time, the water pressure will probably rebuild, as has been observed at the hot springs in Banff, Alberta after a period of dry weather.
“When there’s a big drought year, there’s just not enough water to build up pressure in the recharge zone. It’s not until the following year when you get snow melt that the springs recharge,” Grasby explains.
For now, Gladstone is cautiously optimistic that the pools will return to their pre-earthquake state.
Gwaii Haanas is home to more than 600 important Haida cultural sites and the Haida Gwaii Watchmen – members of the Haida Nation who are seasonally employed to greet visitors, lead tours and share the Haida culture – have started an artists’ program to encourage continued visitation to the area.
“There is now water flowing back into the pools but not at the same volume,” Gladstone says. “In a perfect world, and what we’re really still hoping for, is that the water will return to the pools and it’ll be back to the way it once was.”