Glaciers in the Olympic Mountains Could Vanish by End of This Century

Blue Glacier on the north side of Mount Olympus in the Olympic Mountains (Source: Aaron Linville / Wikimedia)

Visitors to Washington’s Olympic mountains stand in awe of glaciers that have carved the landscape. But what tourists see today is different from 100 years ago.

Back then, Blue Glacier descended from Mount Olympus like an icy hand reaching out, over the rock. Now that hand has retreated up the mountain.

Nearby at what was once Lillian Glacier, only snow patches remain.

“It kind of reminds me of a birthday cake,” says Andrew Fountain of Portland State University. “You have this gorgeous birthday cake and then two days later, it’s just crumbs.”

Using glacier maps and historical photos, Fountain estimates that the glaciers of the Olympic mountains have shrunk by about 75% since 1900.

Early in the century, much of the melting could be attributed to natural causes. But Fountain says now carbon pollution is warming the climate, and that’s accelerating the glaciers’ retreat.

“From 1981 to 2015, they shrunk about 40%,” he says.

He says without climate action, their future looks grim. By the end of this century, he expects the glaciers of the Olympic mountains will be gone.

“Maybe a few ice patches left in little nooks and crannies, but as far as we can see they’ll vanish,” he says.

This story was originally published by Yale Climate Connections. Reporting credit: Deborah Jian Lee/ChavoBart Digital Media

Photo Friday: Historic Images of Glaciers

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) advances scientific research on the frozen areas of the Earth, known as the crysophere, and the climate that influences them. Founded in 1976, the center manages a data archive and educates the public about the cryosphere, including the world’s glaciers. Scientists of the NSIDC specialize in collecting data through remote sensing, which is the process of using satellites to observe information. The center was originally formed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) to hold archives from NOAA’s programs. Today, the NSIDC is housed at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where it continues to be the leader of cryospheric data management.

The photographs held by the NSIDC date back to the mid-1800s and include images of glaciers in Europe, South America, the Himalayas, Antarctica and elsewhere. As of 2010, the searchable, online collection has over 15,000 photos of glaciers, which serve as important historical records for researchers and scientists studying the impacts of climate change.

Take a look at GlacierHub’s compilation of photographs from the database. To view more historic images, visit the NSIDC’s Glacier Photograph Collection.

 

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Bertha Glacier, Alaska, 1894 (Source: James J. McArthur).

 

 

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Crevasse at Arapaho Glacier, Boulder Colorado, in the Rocky Mountains, 1919 (Source: Junius Henderson).

 

 

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Unknown glacier, Alaska, 1942 (Source: Photographer unknown).

 

 

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Blue Glacier, Washington, 1899 (Source: Photographer unknown).

 

 

 

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Yale Glacier, Alaska, 1935 (Source: William Osgood Field).