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Bye bye North Cascade glaciers

Posted by Andrew Engelson at Sep 11, 2007 05:00 PM |
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Lower Curtis Glacier 1908In the September issue of Washington Trails, glaciologist Mauri Pelto writes about the vanishing glaciers of the North Cascades.

The article offers disturbing news.

Pelto is director of the North Cascade Glacier Climate Project at Nichols College in Massachusetts. He's studied glaciers of the North Cascades extensively and he paints a picture of rapid melting and retreat. Among the article's main points:
  • Of the 756 glaciers identified in the North Cascades by the U.S. Geological Survey in 1971, 53 are now completely gone. All of the 47 glaciers studied by the NCGCP are in retreat.
  • Pelto documents the rapid death of the North White Chuck Glacier on Glacier Peak, which disappeared by 2002. The southern lobe of the glacier now has only 30 percent of its former area just 30 years ago. Vegetation has been slow to colonize the bare boulder fields left in its place.
  • Lower Curtis Glacier 2003Creatures that thrive on glaciers and provide important biological material for the region's rivers have seen substantial declines. These include ice worms, algae and microbial organisms. Also, declining meltoff and warmer water temperatures will have negative impact on salmon runs of the Sauk and Skagit Rivers.
  • The region's glacial melting can be traced to a 1.5-degree temperature rise in the North Cascade region since the late nineteenth century.
To view the glaciers Pelto has studied, click this link to Google Earth (software required).

Every day my inbox is filled with stories about climate change. In the past several weeks, we've learned that Greenland's glaciers are melting at a rate higher than expected. And polar bears could be extinct by 2050. And the AP reported on how climate change could affect outdoor recreation. This news is not good for hikers who enjoy our mountains.

Have thoughts on climate change and hiking in the Cascades and Olympics? Post a comment.

Photos: top: Lower Curtis Glacier, Mount Shuksan, 1908 (Asahel Curtis photo); bottom: Lower Curtis Glacier, 2003, (Mauri Pelto photo).



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