The glaciers in Glacier National Park are ‘rapidly disappearing’

What happens when national parks lose the natural features they’re known for, and even named after? We’re about to find out because a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey and the Portland State University has found that Glacier National Park in Montana is losing its glaciers at a rapid rate.

According to the study, of the 37 glaciers remaining in the park (and the two on U.S. Forest Service land), they have been reduced on average by 39-percent, and some even as much as 85-percent.

Attributing the drastic melt to climate change, the study also states that “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.”

USGS scientist Lisa McKeon said of the ongoing research, “Tracking these small alpine glaciers has been instrumental in describing climate change effects on Glacier National Park to park management and the public.”

McKeon is someone who has been documenting glacier change since 1997, and knows too well that this issue has only exacerbated over the years. As estimates show that early last century there were over 150 glaciers larger than the prerequisite 25 acres in Glacier National Park.

The scientists used digital maps from aerial photography and satellites to measure the perimeters of the glaciers from the past 50 years. They combined this data with site visits to reveal any areas where rocks or debris may have been obstructing the view.

Meltwater from Grinnell, Gem, and Salamander Glaciers. Photo: Courtesy of Tim Rains/National Park Service

This study is part of a larger USGS on glaciers in Montana, Alaska and Washington to find out whether the total amount of ice of glaciers is increasing or decreasing.

“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,” Portland State geologist Andrew G. Fountain said.

What were to happen if Arches National Park’s arches crumbled, Grand Canyon National Park’s Grand Canyon filled in or Redwoods National Park’s redwoods all fell over? Hopefully we won’t have to ever answer these tragic questions, but with Glacier National Park clearly losing its glaciers, it’s not looking good for them.

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