Our warming climate is ravaging the storied glaciers of Montana’s Glacier National Park. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) and Portland State University recently released data revealing the devastation of climate change on the area over 50 years. The park’s glaciers shrunk by 39 percent on average, but some dwindled by up to 85 percent. An estimated 150 glaciers filled the park in 1850; today there are around 25.
The researchers tracked two glaciers on United States Forest Service land and 37 glaciers in Glacier National Park. But now just 26 glaciers in the park are bigger than 25 acres, the benchmark for a body of ice to be correctly termed a glacier. Geologist Andrew Fountain of Portland State said, “While the shrinkage in Montana is more severe than some other places in the U.S., it is in line with trends that have been happening on a global scale.”
The researchers scrutinized digital maps from satellites and aerial photography to measure the outer edges of glaciers in the late summer, when seasonal snow has disappeared and it’s easier to tell how large a glacier truly is. Site visits added to the data. The researchers looked at glaciers in 1966, 1998, 2005, and 2015/2016 to track 50 years of climate change in Glacier National Park.
The news isn’t good; it shows visually how the mountain ecosystem has altered in the northern Rocky Mountains. Lead USGS scientist Daniel Fagre said, “The park-wide loss of ice can have ecological effects on aquatic species by changing stream water volume, water temperature, and run-off timing in the higher elevations of the park.” The loss of glaciers in the park named for them could also hurt tourism in the area.
The research is intended to help park management and inform the public; according to USGS it will assist scientists in their understanding of the effects of large scale climate patterns on glaciers in distinctive mountain environments.