Scientists study shrinking glacier In this Aug. 7, 2015, photo scientist Oliver Grah measures the velocity of a stream of glacier melt stemming from Sholes Glacier in one of Mount Baker's slopes in Mount Baker, Wash. Glaciers on Mount Baker and other mountains in the North Cascades are thinning and retreating. (AP Photo/Manuel Valdes)
Scientists study shrinking glacier
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Mauri Pelto digs his crampons into the steep icy slope on Mount Baker. It is in Washington State. He watches as streams of water cascade off the thick mass of bare, bluish ice. Every 20 yards, the water carves vertical channels in the face of the glacier as it rushes downstream.
 
What little snow from last winter is already gone. Ice is melting off the glacier at a rate of nearly three inches a day this summer, he said.
 
"At the rate it's losing mass, it won't make it 50 years," said Pelto. He is a glaciologist who returned in August for the 32nd year to study glaciers in the North Cascades range. "This is a dying glacier," he said.
 
Glaciers on Mount Baker and other mountains in the North Cascades are thinning and retreating. Seven have disappeared over the past three decades. The glaciers in the range have lost about one-fifth of their volume.
 
The shrinking glaciers here mirror what is happening around the U.S. and worldwide. As the planet warms, glaciers are losing volume. Some are receding faster than others.
 
Two of the largest glaciers in Yosemite National Park in California have retreated over the past century. They have lost about two-thirds of their surface areas. In Alaska, a study of 116 glaciers estimated they have lost about 75 billion metric tons of ice every year from 1994 to 2013. In Montana, scientists are seeing the impacts in increased stream temperature and changes to high-elevation ecosystems. In 1850, there were 150 glaciers at Glacier National Park. Now there are 25.
 
"These glaciers are, from a geological standpoint, rapidly disappearing from the landscape," said Dan Fagre. He is a research ecologist with U.S. Geological Survey. He is stationed in Glacier National Park. "They're so small and vulnerable that they could be gone in a matter of decades."
 
Glaciers are thick masses of accumulated snow. They compress into ice and move. Glaciers are important indicators of climate change. That is because they are driven by precipitation and temperature.
 
The glaciers on Mount Baker, a volcanic peak about 125 miles northwest of Seattle, provide a critical water source for agriculture, cities and tribes during the late summer. The icy glacial melt keeps streams cool for fish and replenishes rivers. The melt comes during a time of year when they typically run low.
 
The Nooksack Indian tribe has relied for hundreds of years on salmon runs in the glacier-fed Nooksack River. That way of life is at risk. Without that glacial runoff, rivers will dry up more quickly and warm up faster. It will make it harder for salmon to spawn or migrate to the ocean.
 
"Climate change will impact the ability of tribal members to harvest fish in the future," said Oliver Grah, water resources manager for the tribe, which has teamed up with Pelto. They want to know how glacier runoff will affect the river's hydrology and ultimately fish habitat and restoration planning.
 
On a recent day in August, Grah and colleague Jezra Beaulieu hiked 5 miles into the Sholes Glacier to study how climate change will influence the timing and magnitude of stream flow in the river. It's their fifth field trip to the glacier this summer, and each time they're amazed at how rapidly the snow and ice are melting.
 
Grah strings a measuring tape across the stream, wades in shin-deep in the fast-moving, brownish water and measures the depth of the water streaming from the toe of the glacier. He calls out numbers that Beaulieu records in a yellow notebook. They're trying to calculate how much flow and sediment is coming from the glacier.
 
"This is a frozen reservoir that yields water all summer long," said Pelto. He is a professor of environmental sciences at Nichols College in Dudley, Massachusetts. "So you take this away and what are you going to replace it with?"
 
The tribe also is collaborating with Western Washington University. The college is using data collected in the field to model what the stream flow will be like in the future.
 
"The late summer flows controlled by melting glaciers are predicted to decrease as the glaciers get smaller and smaller," said Robert Mitchell. He is a geology professor at Western Washington University.
 
This year, a record low snowpack in Washington state and warmer temperatures have made it one of the worst Pelto has seen in over three decades.
 
"They're losing volume at a faster rate than ever before," Pelto said. "If you can't sustain a glacier at a place like this in the Lower 48 states, there's no hope."

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why does Mauri Pelto describe this as a "dying glacier?"
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (32)
  • maxx-ver
    9/03/2015 - 08:26 p.m.

    Would it be possibly to stop the glacier from shrinking

  • Brandon1231-YYCA
    9/03/2015 - 09:20 p.m.

    A glacier is melting and is gushing out a water that is mixed with ice. The ice gushy water is traveling down hill and all of that water is being wasted. Scientists are discovering why the glacier is dying and they really don't know the problem. They are trying to find solutions, but they don't have that much time.

  • Eugene0808-YYCA
    9/03/2015 - 09:22 p.m.

    This is a serious problem because the glaciers are melting. If the glaciers are melting, then the temperatures are too high and if there is low snow pack then it is even worse. Glaciers are melting every day and at a fast rate. They may not even last 50 years if this rate keep up.
    Why does Mauri Pelto describe this as a "dying glacier?"
    Mauri Pelto describes this as a "dying glacier?" because the glaciers are melting away.

  • lyliao-agn
    9/09/2015 - 12:11 p.m.

    Global warming is starting to take it's toll on our glaciers, and soon it will take the toll on the rivers and the creatures living in it. Will there be a slight increase in the temperature of the ocean? Because the cold glacial water will no longer be going into the ocean but we also have the ice way down south but that's a whole new topic. I would imagine there would be a slight change at least where the water runs off.

  • lyliao-agn
    9/09/2015 - 12:14 p.m.

    Mauri Pelto described this as a dying glacier because its slowly melting due to global warming.

  • Steve0620-yyca
    9/09/2015 - 09:06 p.m.

    I think that this problem should be solved fast. If all the glaciers melt, then there a lot of things would change like water, animals, and the environment. I think that glaciers are interesting and helpful. Snow is also a big thing in the world and if all the snow and ice melted, it might take years before it can come back or it may never be back. I think that the glaciers are important and the problem should be solved.

  • bradenh-mci
    9/10/2015 - 11:37 a.m.

    Global warming is starting to take it's toll on our glaciers, and soon it will take the toll on the rivers and the creatures living in it.

  • alexanderc-6-bar
    9/15/2015 - 10:19 p.m.

    Mauri Pelto describes the "dying glacier" as a glacier that is disappearing from the landscape. But, a dying glacier? I'll admit that sounds a little weird. Also, the name sounds illogical. Ohhhh Myyyyyy.

  • elizabetht-fel
    9/23/2015 - 02:29 p.m.

    Mauri Pelto describes the glacier as a "dying glacier" because it is losing mass and density. He says "It probably won't last 50 years" This categorizes the glacier as a "dying glacier" because it is fading quickly, in other words, it is dying.

  • audreya-fel
    9/23/2015 - 02:29 p.m.

    Mauri Pelto describes it as a "dying glacier"because the ice is melting from global warming.

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