PACIFIC NORTHWEST: The Incredible Shrinking Glaciers.
IT FEELS AS IF A GIANT MEAT LOCKER HAS SWUNG OPEN, sending a cold, yet thin, wind blowing down In mathematics, blowing down is a type of geometric modification in algebraic geometry. It is the inverse operation of blowing up.
On an algebraic surface, blowing down a curve lying on the surface is a typical effect of a birational transformation. South Cascade Glacier South Cascade Glacier is a large alpine glacier in the North Cascades of Washington, USA. It is bordered on the east by 8,261-foot (2,518 m) Sentinel Peak, and is about 17 miles (27 km) north of Glacier Peak in the Glacier Peak Wilderness. just outside North Cascades National Park North Cascades National Park, 504,781 acres (204,436 hectares), N Washington. Located in the Cascade Range, the park has outstanding alpine scenery, including high jagged peaks, glaciers, icefalls, hanging valleys, and mountain lakes in high glacial cirques. in northern Washington. The sun glares. Everything is white. The expanse of snow acts like a big reflecting basin. Bob Krimmel, a scientist in a broad-brimmed hat and gloves, is initially winded by the altitude change, but spends much of the day trudging through brush to get to this spot--the longest-studied glacier in the northern Cascade mountains, the nation's most heavily glaciated gla·ci·ate
tr.v. gla·ci·at·ed, gla·ci·at·ing, gla·ci·ates
a. To cover with ice or a glacier.
b. To subject to or affect by glacial action.
2. To freeze. area outside of Alaska.
So much snow. And yet ... The glacier is shrinking.
"It's very easy to see the glacier is much, much smaller," Krimmel says later, back at his office at U.S. Geological Survey (USGS USGS United States Geological Survey (US Department of the Interior) ). Seated at a computer, he looks at the side-by-side images--a photo taken in 1928 and another 60 years later.
"In the last century, it's retreated about 1.2 miles," says Krimmel, a research hydrologist hy·drol·o·gy
The scientific study of the properties, distribution, and effects of water on the earth's surface, in the soil and underlying rocks, and in the atmosphere. and the glacier's leading researcher. "Right now, it's about 1.5 miles long. It's lost about half of its length and half its volume."
South Cascade Glacier has become the poster child for global climate change in the Pacific Northwest, contends Jon Riedel, glacier researcher for North Cascades National Park. It is thinning so much, Riedel points out, that since 1953 it has lost the equivalent of 72 feet of water in thickness off its surface.
It isn't the only case of the incredible shrinking glacier. In this icy high country, 46 of the 47 Cascade glaciers observed by Nichols College researcher Mauri Pelto were found to be retreating. Riedel, meanwhile, personally backpacks several miles to monitor four glaciers; he notices the lower-elevation, smaller glaciers on the west side of the Cascades are shrinking, a pattern also found farther south.
This melting promises to change the very image of the Northwest. Montana's Glacier National Park Glacier National Park, United States
Glacier National Park, 1,013,572 acres (410,497 hectares), NW Mont.; est. 1910. Straddling the Continental Divide, the park contains some of the most beautiful primitive wilderness in the Rocky Mts. in 30 years may need to be renamed "the park formerly known as Glacier," as Seattle-based Northwest Environment Watch research director John C. Ryan puts it. A hundred of its 150 glaciers have vanished, and the pace is hastening. At white-capped Mount Rainier--that looming symbol of the Northwest (and a local beer label)--the vast majority of its glaciers are receding, says Andrew Fountain, researcher and Portland State University geology professor.
"They don't recede re·cede 1
intr.v. re·ced·ed, re·ced·ing, re·cedes
1. To move back or away from a limit, point, or mark: waited for the floodwaters to recede.
2. because they're getting colder, you know what I'm saying?" Fountain says. Whatever the ultimate cause, he says: "That's global climate change--right there."
Suffice it to say that scientists in the Pacific Northwest are seeing signs that the climate is changing, from melting glaciers to rising temperatures.
While none can definitively tie this to a human-caused, long-term shift in the climate, many believe that the changes are consistent with that. Even cautious, middle-of-the-road climate scientist Philip Mote of the University of Washington wants to "underscore" that waiting for proof before taking concrete steps to combat climate change "would not be a prudent course."
"We are seeing things that never happened before to our knowledge," says Elliott North, of the Marine Conservation Biology Institute in Redmond, Washington. "These things are consistent in what we would expect in a world that is warming. It would be, in many cases, surprising if this weren't human-caused.
"When you think of the state of Washington, do you think of marlin or yellowfin tuna? No. Well, starting several years ago, people started catching marlin, which we think of as tropical and subtropical sub·trop·i·cal
Of, relating to, or being the geographic areas adjacent to the Tropics.
of the region lying between the tropics and temperate lands
, and yellowfin tuna off the coast of the Pacific Northwest. That is extremely peculiar," says North, adding that while El Nino was the oft-cited culprit, a warming climate is making El Nino more severe, more common, and longer lasting. Melting glaciers are concrete signs that things are changing, but aren't the only harbingers. Hikers long have enjoyed picnicking in meadows of heather at Paradise in Mount Rainier National Park Mount Rainier National Park (rānēr`, rə–), 235,625 acres (95,395 hectares), SW Wash., in the Cascade Range; est. 1899. The area is dominated by Mt. Rainier, a volcanic peak 14,410 ft (4,392 m) high. , yet that, too, is in flux. As temperatures rise (the 1990s were warmer than the 1980s, and the 1980s warmer than the 1970s, says Mote), trees are filling in the park's subalpine sub·al·pine
1. Of or relating to regions at or near the foot of the Alps.
2. Of, relating to, inhabiting, or growing in mountainous regions just below the timberline.
Adj. 1. meadows.
The trees are taking advantage of a longer growing season--eight to 10 weeks, compared to six to eight, says David Peterson, a USGS researcher and forest ecology professor at the University of Washington. "Why do people go to Paradise? To see the flowers," Peterson says. "And the flowers are starting to disappear."
Expect more change as temperatures rise faster than they have in 10,000 years--a predicted two degrees F by 2020 or 4.5 degrees by 2050, according to climate models at the University of Washington. "For the last 100 years, the Pacific Northwest has been warming and having increased rainfall. These trends are accelerating now," says Richard Gammon, a University of Washington scientist.
This spells trouble for the region's "white gold," as the mountain snowpack snow·pack
An area of naturally formed, packed snow that usually melts during the warmer months.
1. has been called, and for anyone dependent on the cool, clear water that rushes down glacier-fed streams in hot July and August. Global climate change threatens to eliminate half the Northwest's snowpack, according to one estimate. Glaciers are "frozen freshwater reservoirs which release water during the drier summer months," Richard S. Williams Jr. of USGS wrote in a report. "They are of considerable economic importance in the irrigation irrigation, in agriculture, artificial watering of the land. Although used chiefly in regions with annual rainfall of less than 20 in. (51 cm), it is also used in wetter areas to grow certain crops, e.g., rice. of crops and to the generation of hydroelectric power."
More trouble is expected. Here are some scientific-based future scenarios for the Pacific Northwest, according to Patrick Mazza of Olympia-based Climate Solutions, a project of the nonprofit Earth Island Institute The Earth Island Institute was founded in 1982 by environmentalist David Brower. It organizes and encourages activism around environmental issues and provides public education. Funding comes from individual members and supporting organizations. : Droughts coming twice as frequently by 2020. Forests retreating from the eastern Cascades in Oregon and Washington, replaced by grasslands. Ski seasons shortened since snow will be at higher elevations. More frequent, destructive floods and mudslides. Rainier winters. More hot days in summer.
And fewer salmon. After all, "climate change," according to a report by Canada's David Suzuki Foundation The David Suzuki Foundation is an environmental organization based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. It is a non-profit organization that is incorporated in both Canada and the United States, and is funded by over 40,000 donors. , "is seen as one of the causes of a dramatic drop in Pacific salmon populations along the west coast of North America."
Richard Gammon is considered Dr. Doom by some. He remembers sockeye salmon sockeye salmon
or red salmon
Food fish (Oncorhynchus nerka) of the North Pacific that constitutes almost 20% of the commercial fishery of Pacific salmon. It weighs about 6 lbs (3 kg) and lacks distinct spots on the body. swimming in a Seattle stream now too warm for the vanished fish. He recalls putting studded tires on his car in winter, but, thanks to newfound warmer winters in Seattle, he hasn't had to for several years. "When I see a dying madrona tree in Seattle, I think `global climate change,'" says Gammon, a University of Washington scientist who believes the local tree is sensitive to the changing climate.
It may be tempting to write off Gammon as an alarmist a·larm·ist
A person who needlessly alarms or attempts to alarm others, as by inventing or spreading false or exaggerated rumors of impending danger or catastrophe. , except for his credentials. He helped author the original United Nations-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change “IPCC” redirects here. For other uses, see IPCC (disambiguation).
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established in 1988 by two United Nations organizations, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment report in 1990 and has reviewed the two successors. To him, nothing short of the Pacific Northwest's culture is at risk. "If we like cedars, if we like orcas, and bald eagles and salmon--all those things are at risk. When the salmon go, the eagles will go, and the orcas will, too," Gammon cautions. "The Yakima nation said: `When the salmon are gone, we're gone.'" CONTACT: Climate Solutions, (360)352-1763, www.climatesolutions.org; Northwest Environment Watch, (206)447-1880, www.northwestwatch.org.
SALLY DENEEN is a Seattle-based freelance writer.