Nav: Home

Glaciers rapidly shrinking and disappearing: 50 years of glacier change in Montana

May 10, 2017

The warming climate has dramatically reduced the size of 39 glaciers in Montana since 1966, some by as much as 85 percent, according to data released by the U.S. Geological Survey and Portland State University. On average, the glaciers have reduced by 39 percent and only 26 glaciers are now larger than 25 acres, which is used as a guideline for deciding if bodies of ice are large enough to be considered glaciers.

The data include scientific information for the 37 named glaciers in Glacier National Park and two glaciers on U.S. Forest Service land. The retreat of glaciers is significant in Montana because of the impact shrinking glaciers can have on tourism, as well as being a visual indicator of mountain ecosystem change in the northern Rocky Mountains.

"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," said lead USGS scientist Dr. Daniel Fagre.

Portland State geologist Andrew G. Fountain partnered with USGS on the project. He said glaciers in mountain ranges throughout the United States and the world have been shrinking for decades.

"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," Fountain said.

Scientists used digital maps from aerial photography and satellites to measure the perimeters of the glaciers in late summer when seasonal snow has melted to reveal the extent of the glacial ice. The areas measured are from 1966, 1998, 2005 and 2015/2016, marking approximately 50 years of change in glacier area.

Site visits to glaciers were also made over several years to investigate portions that were covered by rock debris that are difficult to see with digital imagery. The mapped measurements of glaciers complement ground surveys of glaciers using GPS along with repeat photography that involves re-photographing historic photos of glaciers taken early last century when there were an estimated 150 glaciers larger than 25 acres in Glacier National Park.

"Tracking these small alpine glaciers has been instrumental in describing climate change effects on Glacier National Park to park management and the public," said Lisa McKeon, USGS scientist who has been documenting glacier change since 1997.

This information is part of a larger, ongoing USGS glacier study of glaciers in Montana, Alaska and Washington to document mass balance measurements that estimate whether the total amount of ice is increasing or decreasing at a particular glacier. This information helps scientists understand the impact of large scale climate patterns on glaciers in distinctly different mountain environments.

The data for Glacier National Park's named glaciers are available at the USGS ScienceBase website. Additional information about the glacier research can be found at the USGS Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center website and the USGS Benchmark Glacier program website.
-end-
This project was funded in part by the USGS Climate and Landuse Change Research and Development Program.

About the Glaciers in Glacier National Park:

Glacier National Park has 37 named glaciers and they are one of the reasons people come to Glacier each year. Last year, 2.9 million visitors came to the park.

Portland State University, offering opportunity to 27,000 students from all backgrounds, is Oregon's only urban public research university. Our mission to "Let Knowledge Serve the City" reflects our dedication to finding creative, sustainable solutions to local and global problems. Follow us on Twitter: @Portland_State

US Geological Survey

Related Glaciers Articles:

Saying goodbye to glaciers
Glaciers around the world are disappearing before our eyes, and the implications for people are wide-ranging and troubling, Twila Moon, a glacier expert at the University of Colorado Boulder, concludes in a Perspectives piece in the journal Science today.
Glaciers rapidly shrinking and disappearing: 50 years of glacier change in Montana
The warming climate has dramatically reduced the size of 39 glaciers in Montana since 1966, some by as much as 85 percent, according to data released by the U.S.
Polar glaciers may be home to previously undiscovered carbon cycle
Microbes in streams flowing on the surface of glaciers in the Arctic and Antarctic may represent a previously underestimated source of organic material and be part of an as yet undiscovered 'dynamic local carbon cycle,' according to a new paper published by researchers supported by the National Science Foundation.
Study shows planet's atmospheric oxygen rose through glaciers
A 'Snowball Earth' event actually took place 100 million years earlier than previously projected.
Researchers find seafloor valleys below West Antarctic glaciers
Glaciologists have uncovered large valleys in the ocean floor beneath some of the massive glaciers flowing into the Amundsen Sea in West Antarctica.
Mountain glaciers are showing some of the strongest responses to climate change
Tying an individual glacier's retreat to climate change has been controversial.
Most meltwater in Greenland fjords likely comes from icebergs, not glaciers
Icebergs contribute more meltwater to Greenland's fjords than previously thought, losing up to half of their volume as they move through the narrow inlets, according to new research.
Receding glaciers in Bolivia leave communities at risk
A new study published in The Cryosphere, an European Geosciences Union journal, has found that Bolivian glaciers shrunk by 43 percent between 1986 and 2014, and will continue to diminish if temperatures in the region continue to increase.
Technique could assess historic changes to Antarctic sea ice and glaciers
Historic changes to Antarctic sea ice could be unravelled using a new technique pioneered by scientists at Plymouth University.
Cosmopolitan snow algae accelerate the melting of Arctic glaciers
The role of red pigmented snow algae in melting Arctic glaciers has been strongly underestimated, suggests a study to be published in Nature Communications on June 22.

Related Glaciers Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Climate Crisis
There's no greater threat to humanity than climate change. What can we do to stop the worst consequences? This hour, TED speakers explore how we can save our planet and whether we can do it in time. Guests include climate activist Greta Thunberg, chemical engineer Jennifer Wilcox, research scientist Sean Davis, food innovator Bruce Friedrich, and psychologist Per Espen Stoknes.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#527 Honey I CRISPR'd the Kids
This week we're coming to you from Awesome Con in Washington, D.C. There, host Bethany Brookshire led a panel of three amazing guests to talk about the promise and perils of CRISPR, and what happens now that CRISPR babies have (maybe?) been born. Featuring science writer Tina Saey, molecular biologist Anne Simon, and bioethicist Alan Regenberg. A Nobel Prize winner argues banning CRISPR babies won’t work Geneticists push for a 5-year global ban on gene-edited babies A CRISPR spin-off causes unintended typos in DNA News of the first gene-edited babies ignited a firestorm The researcher who created CRISPR twins defends...