Thoughts from the Grinnell Glacier Trail in Glacier National Park

My view writing the first paragraph of this reflection, looking at the Salamander Glacier (Source: Natalie Belew).

After four hours hiking the Grinnell Glacier Trail and with the roar of a waterfall from glacial runoff in the backdrop, there they were: the three patches of ice known as the Grinnell, Salamander, and Gem glaciers.

The glaciers, some of the few remaining at Glacier National Park, are located in the Many Glacier region on the east side of the park. My father and I had traversed along the trail all morning, nearly 6 miles, to get closer to a glacier than we had ever been before.

Although we could see the three glaciers from a few miles away on the trail, the massive lake awaiting us at the end, with its stunning blue waters, took me by surprise. I had few expectations in terms of the size of the glaciers; I knew they would be small and receding, and the snowfields would be at their smallest size this time of the year (summer). It was only when I came across photographs of the glaciers from previous years that I realized just how much rock and water is now exposed compared to ice.

As far as we could drive during my first visit to Glacier NP in 2016 with an incoming blizzard (Source: Natalie Belew).

I had first visited Glacier NP over two years ago in the middle of March when most of the park was officially closed for winter. There happened to be a blizzard blowing in at the time, and my parents and I drove in only as far as we could from the St. Mary’s entrance. We pulled over for a few pictures of snow-covered peaks on the side of the road before hightailing it back to Great Falls, Montana, where my father lives.

During that first trip, I didn’t think much about the park’s glaciers beyond how beautiful they were in the distance among the haze of the blizzard winds. I also didn’t know much about how fast they were receding or the significance of their loss. I knew the park was succumbing to the effects of climate change, but I didn’t understand more about the problem beyond rising global temperatures.

The closest I got to the Grinnell Glacier. A weathered sign read, “Warning: Hazardous Snow Conditions, Glacier Travel Not Recommended.” (Source: Natalie Belew).

A lot is different from my first visit to the park back in 2016 and now. Since then, I began writing for GlacierHub and also completed the Master’s program in Climate & Society at Columbia University. My understanding of glaciers has grown exponentially over this past year from reporting on the latest studies on shrinking glaciers (with a few notable exceptions in parts of the world such as the Karakoram) and our changing planet. And now, I’ve seen not just one but three glaciers up close and personal.

Compared to older photographs taken just two years ago, it is remarkable how much smaller the glaciers are in person. But with temperatures above 60 degrees Fahrenheit and standing just a football field away, I was also impressed at how much ice stood. Still, the glaciers looked so vulnerable surrounded by the forces of water, rock, and heat. And humans.

Two years from my first visit, I realize how complicated the science behind climate change can be: it is more than just warming average global temperatures. Likewise, warming temperatures plus glaciers doesn’t always equal recession.

My dad and I posing in front of Grinnell Glacier. Despite living close to the park, he had never made the hike to see a glacier (Source: Natalie Belew).

I have also come to realize the need for more effective communication, not only on the topic of climate change but also about science in general. With all of the nuance surrounding the complicated physics of our planet, communicating its problems is not simple, especially now given the current political atmosphere. The Climate Science Legal Defense Fund and Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law recently reported 155 instances of the Trump administration restricting or inhibiting science through their Silencing Science Tracker, for example, evidencing that scientists face greater harassment and threats. Even mentioning the phrase climate change in a public office, such as the National Park Service, has become controversial.

For Glacier National Park, once the backdrop of Al Gore’s documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,receding glaciers are a powerful symbol of climate change occurring right in our backyard. While visiting Glacier, I was curious about how the park was communicating its reality with its millions of visitors (3.3 million people visited the park in 2017, according to park statistics).

On the whole, I was pleasantly surprised by the signs around the park that talked about climate change. Several openly acknowledged how climate change (and the human activity driving it) is silently destroying the namesake of Glacier NP. There were even some signs that had been updated last year, according to the date in their corner. Only one stated how human activity “partially” explains the accelerated melting of glaciers since 1880. Its lack of a timestamp made it unclear whether it was a product of the Obama or Trump administration.

Image of the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn, where we stayed the night. My dad and I were sore after hiking the Grinnell Glacier Trail (Source: Natalie Belew).

In the annual park newspaper available in the lobby of the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn, an entire page (albeit the second-to-last page) was dedicated to “Climate Change and the Crown of the Continent,” highlighting the global threat of climate change as “one of the most pressing issues of our time.” Although hidden in the back of the paper, this brief message about climate change’s impact on Glacier NP’s ecological integrity was profound in its clear-cut messaging.

Then there were the fires and record-breaking 100-degree heat that also happened concurrent to the weekend of my visit. Fires broke out on the west side of Glacier NP near McDonald Lake the evening of August 11. Flying into Great Falls that day from New York City, I immediately picked up on the hazy skies during my layover in Minneapolis, and the entire flight from Minnesota to Montana had an eerie film over the Big Sky country.

The remains of a fire taken on my first visit in 2016 with the Montanan prairies in the background (Source: Natalie Belew).

When I arrived the next day, the recent forest fires in the park and across the West were a primary topic of conservation. I overheard fellow visitors and park employees discussing forced evacuations of parts of the park and destruction of historic lodges in the wake of the fires. The fires also attracted national media and revamped attention toward the topic of climate change. As Twitter exploded on the topic, my father and I drove up to Logan’s Pass along the Going-to-the-Sun Road where park law enforcement blocked off further entry.

On that drive, entering the St. Mary’s entrance, multiple patches of charred skeletal remains of trees reminded us of the commonality of fires. With a complicated web of direct and indirect socio-environmental causes, wildfires are one natural disaster scientists can’t always directly link to climate change. An example of the complex nebulous that scientists and scholars observe, it’s difficult to untangle for a broader audience without losing its entire integrity or image.

One of three signs at the Jackson Glacier Overlook with the Jackson Glacier in the background (Source: Natalie Belew).

Information at Glacier NP doesn’t pretend like there’s a shot of saving the glaciers. At the Jackson Glacier Overlook, a sign there describes how when Glacier NP was established in 1910, there were over 100 glaciers within the park boundaries. By 1966, only 35 remained. As of 2015, only 26 “met the criteria to be designated active glaciers.” All of them are shrinking. And with the view of Jackson coming in and out of focus amid the smoky haze, it is hard not to feel hopeless for their doomed fate.

Coming face-to-face with three of the remaining glaciers helped me put my work and studies into perspective. Much like the all-day hike, the Climate & Society program was a long and strenuous year filled with challenging coursework. And much like witnessing melting glaciers, perhaps for the only time in my life, I had the opportunity to learn about the intersection of climate and society. But unlike the fate of the glaciers in Glacier NP, destiny isn’t settled for our planet and our fight against climate change. I remain hopeful that we can improve the communication around the science and in turn bring awareness for necessary action.

Sunset after a long day of hiking just outside Many Glacier Hotel (Source: Natalie Belew).

Video of the Week: Losing Iconic Glaciers

Is Glacier National Park in Montana losing its iconic glaciers? Scientists from the USGS Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center have photographed the same areas where glaciers were photographed in the early 1900s to document the changing glacial landscape of Glacier National Park.

In this week’s Video of the Week, published by the National Geographic, Dan Fagre, a USGS research ecologist, and his colleagues discuss what melting glaciers mean for the future of the park, wildlife and people. Dan Fagre has studied climate change in the park for more than 20 years using repeat photography and documented immense changes in the landscape of the park.

Read more glacier news at GlacierHub:

Meet the Writers of GlacierHub, 2017/2018 Edition

Pioneer Study Sounds Out Iceberg Melting in Norway

Is Deforestation Driving Mt. Kenya’s Glacier Recession?


Photo Friday: Capturing the Glaciers of the Rockies

Garrett Fisher, a writer, photographer and adventurer, recently set out to capture the beauty of the Rockies. To do so, he flew an antique plane across the sky for aerial views of the last remaining glaciers in Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. He was inspired by the need to document the glory of the Rockies before the glaciers disappear completely. His photos from the trip can be found in his recently published book, “Glaciers of the Rockies,” which features his collection of 177 carefully curated photos.

This Photo Friday, view samples of his work from his website.


Gannett Glacier, Wind River Range, WY (Source: Garrett Fisher).


Klondike Glacier, Wind River Range, WY (Source: Garrett Fisher).


Glacier National Park, MT (Source: Garrett Fisher).


Wind River Range, WY (Source: Garrett Fisher).


Dinwoody Glacier, Wind River Range, WY (Source: Garrett Fisher).


Pumpelly Glacier, Glacier National Park (Source: Garrett Fisher).

Roundup: Montana Glaciers, Coropuna, and Kelp Forests,

Climate Change “Dramatically” Shrinking Montana Glaciers

From The Washington Post: “A U.S. Geological Survey study documenting how climate change has “dramatically reduced” glaciers in Montana came under fire from high-level Interior Department officials last May, according to a batch of newly released records under the Freedom of Information Act, as they questioned federal scientists’ description of the decline. Doug Domenech, assistant secretary for insular areas at Interior, alerted colleagues in a May 10 email to the language the USGS had used to publicize a study documenting the shrinking of 39 glaciers in Montana since 1966. Domenech wrote to three other Interior officials, ‘This is a perfect example of them going beyond their wheelhouse.'”

Read more about the Montana glaciers here.

Trump official said scientists went ‘beyond their wheelhouse’ by writing climate change ‘dramatically’ shrank Montana glaciers (Source: Jankgo/Flickr).

Studying Glacier Loss at Coropuna in Peru

From Journal of Glaciology: “Accurate quantification of rates of glacier mass loss is critical for managing water resources and for assessing hazards at ice-clad volcanoes, especially in arid regions like southern Peru. In these regions, glacier and snow melt are crucial dry season water resources. In order to verify previously reported rates of ice area decline at Nevado Coropuna in Peru, which are anomalously rapid for tropical glaciers, we measured changes in ice cap area using 259 Landsat images acquired from 1980 to 2014. If glacier recession continues at its present rate, our results suggest that Coropuna Ice Cap will likely continue to contribute to water supply for agricultural and domestic uses until ∼2120, which is nearly 100 years longer than previously predicted.”

Learn more about Coropuna glacial loss here.

Nevado Coropuna, altitude 4710m, direction 60deg (Source: A. European).

Kelp Forests in an Arctic Fjord

From Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science: “Kelp forests are complex underwater habitats that support diverse assemblages of animals ranging from sessile filter feeding invertebrates to fishes and marine mammals. In this study, the diversity of invertebrate fauna associated with kelp holdfasts was surveyed in a high Arctic glacial fjord (76 N, Hornsund, Svalbard).”

Read more about kelp in a high Arctic glacial fjord here.

Arctic fox investigating the kelp in Svalbard (Source: Natalie Tapson/Flickr).

Leaving No Stone Unturned: An Interview with Yellowstone’s Ice Patch Archaeologist

Craig M. Lee, from the University of Colorado’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR), is a renowned researcher in the field of glacier archaeology. Recently, Lee and his team from INSTAAR created a video on ice patch archaeology in the Greater Yellowstone region. The video introduces Lee’s glacier archaeological findings and work in the region since 2005 as he has sought to reveal Native American cultures with impending climate change.

“We really want the people of Montana to know that there is a very deep heritage to their state,” Lee says passionately in the video before the camera pans across a beautiful landscape of ice patches. “High in the alpine, above the modern treeline, ice patches – frozen for millenia – are melting,” he adds.

Lee has experience working in federal, state and municipal agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management, the Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office, and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. He has also directed field projects in Alaska, Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming, publishing his research in several major journals, including Antiquity, American Antiquity, Arctic, and The Holocene.

In an interview with GlacierHub, Lee explains more about his work at INSTAAR and his recent video.

GlacierHub: Please give a brief introduction of yourself and your academic interest.

Craig M. Lee: I’m an anthropologist and archaeologist interested in the human use of alpine environments. Beginning in 2000, through impetus of doctors E. James Dixon of the University of New Mexico (formerly of INSTAAR) and William F. Manley (INSTAAR), I was introduced to the then nascent field of “ice patch archaeology” through several years of formative and amazing fieldwork with members of the Ahtna Tribe in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in the Interior of Alaska. The field has grown in geographic range and complexity, and we now recognize it to be global in nature (And yet all of Asia remains terra incognita). Researchers in Europe frequently refer to the field as “glacial archaeology,” in part because of archaeological finds in glaciated passes.

Lee out in the field at Yellowstone National Park
Lee out in the field at Yellowstone National Park (Source: Craig M. Lee).

GH: What drove you to create the video?

CML: The field is a tiny silver-lining to climate change in that the host of paleobiological material and archaeological material being exposed by melting ice patches is providing an unprecedented window into the past. Archaeological resources emerging from retreating ice patches can capture public interest and integrate education about archaeology and Native American cultures with ancient and modern climate change. The United States Forest Service, a consistent, primary partner in the research for more than a decade recognized it was important to share the results of the project with a broad public audience and helped fund the video. The target audience includes all of the citizens of Montana and the Greater Yellowstone Area (Montana, Idaho, Wyoming), but it will resonate with people living elsewhere in the Rocky Mountains and other areas with alpine snow and ice in North America and around the world.

GH: After watching the video, what is the main takeaway message you would like the audience to get?

CML: Ice patches and the alpine have been central elements of the socio-cultural landscape of the Greater Yellowstone Area (GYA)–and of many mountainous areas— since time immemorial. The places, now construed as wilderness— ostensibly devoid of Man— were a “peopled-landscape” and contain clear evidence of sustained human interaction and involvement year-over-year, century-over-century, and millennia-over-millennia. It is patently wrong to think of these places as “intact” ecosystems without humans as an apex participant.

Ice Patches in the Greater Yellowstone Region
Ice Patches in the Greater Yellowstone Region with Lee and his team (Source: Craig M. Lee).

GH: Any other information you would like to share with our readers?

CML: In the conterminous United States alone, archaeological material exposed by melting snow and ice has been identified from the Sierra Nevada of California to Olympic National Park in Washington, and from the Colorado Front Range to the Greater Yellowstone. We have no cogent way to respond outside of the sheer force of will brought to bear by a few incredibly hard-working scientists in staff positions in our federal agencies, for example, forest and park ecologists and archaeologists. The ice patch record is finite, and the overt decisions we make to engage (or not) with this opportunity to “know” the past affects all future generations. To quote friend and colleague Francis Auld (Kootenai), “The protection of these resources is essential for sustaining the living cultures.”

GH: The video has received high reception from residents of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem/Greater Yellowstone Area (Montana, Idaho, Wyoming) thus far. If you are living in the Rocky Mountains or other areas with alpine snow and ice in North America and around the world, or are simply intrigued by the work of glacier archaeologists, this video is highly relevant and recommended.

BREAKING: Ryan Zinke Confirmed as Interior Secretary, Talks Glacier Retreat

U.S. Congressman Ryan Zinke of Montana speaking at the 2016 Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland (source: Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons).
U.S. Congressman Ryan Zinke of Montana at the 2016 Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland (source: Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons).

It’s official. The Senate voted today to confirm Rep. Ryan Zinke (RMT) as the nation’s next Secretary of the Interior. The strong majority confirmation vote of 68-31 gives Zinke, a Westerner and fourthgeneration Montanan, commanding power over the nation’s most prized public lands and wildlife as well as 70,000 employees, 280,000 volunteers, and a $12 billion annual budget.

The Department of the Interior— a Cabinet-level agency created in 1849 to manage the country’s internal affairs— oversees such critical offices as the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the U.S. Geological Survey, among others.

A former boy scout turned Navy SEAL in the Iraq desert, Zinke grew up 30 minutes outside of Glacier National Park in Montana, an experience he cites as the impetus for his interest and dedication to environmental stewardship. He has promised to “restore trust” in the department and address the $12-billion maintenance backlog in America’s national parks from Alaska to the beaches of Maine.

Republicans hope Zinke will also usher in a “culture of change” to the Interior by repealing many of the Obama administration’s land management policies seen to favor environmentalists over local interests.

Zinke, a Trump administration favorite, was once considered a moderate Republican when it came to environmental and land management issues, siding with Democrats on bipartisan legislation and standing up to fellow Republicans on conservation principles. He challenged Republican colleagues on the transfer of federal lands to the states, for example, speaking out and voting against certain Republican-led proposals. In 2016, he also supported Democrats in calling for full funding and permanent authorization for the Land and Water Conservation Fund in a bipartisan effort. Most recently, in July 2016, Zinke publicly withdrew from the Republican Convention due to the party’s support of federal land transfers to the states.

150 people joined a rally at Senator Wyden’s office in Portland opposed to President-elect Trump’s 'Climate Denial Cabinet' (Source:
150 people joined a rally at Senator Wyden’s office in Portland opposed to President-elect Trump’s ‘Climate Denial Cabinet’ (Source:

At the same time, Zinke is a vocal advocate for oil and gas development on public lands, fracking and coal mining interests, and weaker protection for endangered species and national monuments, among other anti-environmental platforms, earning him a five percent rating from the League of Conservation Voters and an F rating from the National Parks Action Fund. His recent statements, particularly on the issue of climate change, have some scientists and environmentalists deeply concerned.

On the topic, Zinke openly oscillates between acceptance and denial, both of which he displayed during his confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in January. However, unlike President Trump, who flat out denies climate change, Zinke went on record during the hearing citing glacier retreat as evidence that the planet is warming in a heated exchange with Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

Sanders was the first to challenge Zinke on the issue during the hearing.

“Climate change is very important to issues that the Department of the Interior deals with,” said Sanders. “Is President-elect Trump right? Is climate change a hoax?”

Zinke seemed to have a response prepared for the question, launching into a multi-part answer on what he called the “tenants” of his climate change perspective. These include: one, his recognition that climate is changing, and two, his belief that man is an influence. “That is indisputable,” Zinke said, adding later, “I do not believe it is a hoax.”

Grinnel Glacier in Glacier National Park (Source: Nathan Young/Flickr).
Grinnell Glacier in Glacier National Park (Source: Nathan Young/Flickr).

Zinke offered Glacier National Park as an example of a visible symptom of climate change that he has witnessed personally. “I have seen glaciers over the period of my time recede. As a matter of fact, when my family and I have eaten lunch on Grinnell Glacier, the glacier has receded during lunch,” Zinke said.

This comment prompted chiding from Sen. Angus King (I-ME) later in the proceedings. “I want to thank you for your straightforward admission that climate change is happening, that human activity is contributing to it, and for also the image of the glacier retreating during lunch,” said King. “I am going to add that to my arsenal of climate change anecdotes.”

Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) also weighed on the topic of receding glaciers. “Glacier National Park is going to be… I don’t know, ‘Lake National Park’ or ‘Mountain National Park,'” said Franken. “But it isn’t going to be Glacier National Park in 30 years.”

A view of Grinnel Lake, Glacier National Park (Source: Kelly Marcum/Flickr).
A view of Grinnel Lake, Glacier National Park (Source: Kelly Marcum/Flickr).

Around glaciers and the subject of glacier retreat, at least, the body seemed to find common ground. But when further probed by Sanders on whether climate change is a hoax, Zinke seemed hesitant. “I believe we should be prudent to be prudent,” he said. “That means, I don’t know definitively. There is a lot of debate on both sides of the aisle,” a response that did not sit well with Sanders.

“Well, actually, there is not a whole lot of debate now,” replied Sanders. “The scientific community is virtually unanimous that climate change is real and causing devastating problems.”

After several hours of testimony and questions that touched on diverse topics from wildfires in Tennessee, coal mining in West Virginia, protection of wild horses across the West, and the delisting of the greater sage-grouse, the committee ultimately approved Zinke’s nomination by a 16-6 vote, advancing his nomination to the full Senate. He was well received by the Republican senators on the committee who see in the congressman an ally and fellow Westerner sympathetic to regional concerns; less so by environmentalists and some Democrats who fear Zinke will shepherd the department in the wrong direction, perhaps even into an era of public land privatization from which there is no return.

Republicans see Zinke, who hails from Montana, an ally who understands local interests (Source: Atauri/Creative Commons).
Republicans see Zinke, who hails from Montana, as an ally who understands local interests (Source: Atauri/Creative Commons).

But on this point, Zinke drove a hard line, at least in rhetoric. “I want to be clear on this point. I am absolutely against the transfer or sale of public land,” he said in his testimony. “I can’t be anymore clear.”

He drew attention to his service in the military as an example of his strong backbone. “This is probably one of the reasons why the president elect put a former Navy SEAL in place,” he said. “I don’t yield to pressure. Higher principle, yes. But my job is to advocate for the Department of the Interior to make sure we have the right funds and to be a voice in the room for great public policy.”

But not all Montanans are convinced of Zinke’s ability to lead the Interior Department well.

“I believe that Zinke has at least minimal qualifications to be Secretary of the Interior simply by virtue of coming from a state in which hunting, fishing, hiking and outdoorsmanship are prominent concerns,” said Bill Cox, an economist and Democrat who lives in Montana. “About where he would come down when public lands confront mining companies, oil and gas drillers, and other commercial ambitions, I am much less confident.”

Jamey Loran, a fourth generation Montanan and a certified public accountant who has worked with Native American tribes for the past 15 years, agreed. “It is difficult to pigeon-hole him as a strict environmentalist or anti-regulation proponent. He will almost always do what is in his own political best interest,” he said.  “He brings a very simplistic mindset to complex problems. I have little hope that he will have much success dealing with problems such as climate change. In fact, I have grave concerns that matters will get much worse because ‘quick fixes’ always benefit those with economic interests over future generations or endangered species.”

Ryan Zinke speaking in Montana (Source: Tony Llama/Flickr).
Ryan Zinke speaking in Montana (Source: Tony Llama/Flickr).

Despite negative views like these, Zinke remains quite popular in his home state, recently winning re-election by a 16-percent margin.

“We are happy with Ryan Zinke as our Secretary of the Interior because he was raised in Montana surrounded by the wilderness and environment, which he will manage as opposed to someone who was raised in the city,” said Carl and Cheryl Baldwin, third-generation conservative ranchers from Montana. “We have talked to him personally as our representative in Congress and know his decisions will not hurt or harm our federal lands.”

Jim Martin, a retired home-builder in Montana, and his wife Judy, added that the balance of timber, recreation, ranching and wilderness is important, something that a Westerner like Zinke understands. “He has lived in other sections of the U.S. so as to realize regional problems with the environment,” said the Martins. “He will not let liberals overpower the conservative right.”

Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), who gave the opening statement at the hearing, drew attention to the deep divides along party lines that exist at the end of the Obama administration’s leadership under Secretary Sally Jewell, a former CEO of REI.

“To state that Alaska has had a difficult or tenuous relationship with the outgoing administration is probably more than an understatement,” said Murkowski. “Instead of seeing us as the State of Alaska, our current President and Secretary seem to see us as ‘Alaska, the National Park and Wildlife Refuge’ — a broad expanse of wilderness, with little else of interest or value.’” It is a sentiment that was echoed by other senators from mostly red states throughout the hearing.

Zinke attempted to appease concerns about his ability to work with both sides of the aisle. “Even in this body, we are all different, but we all share a common purpose: to make our country great again. As secretary of the interior, I will have inherited 70,000 hard charging, dedicated professionals that want to do the same thing,” he said. “My task is to organize for a better future for interior and our country. I will work with anybody, as the list would indicate. I’ve never been red or blue. To me it has always been red, white and blue.”

Environmentalists, opposed to Zinke, must now hope awareness of the disappearance of our white glaciers might promote coordinated action between red and blue leadership under the new secretary, before it is too late.



Photo Friday: Sperry Glacier

Sperry Glacier is located 25 miles south of the border between the United States and Canada, in Montana’s Glacier National Park. It is a winter-accumulation glacier, as more snow falls during the winter than is lost during the summer. The moderate-sized glacier can be reached by foot or on horseback, rising to an elevation of around 7,800 feet. The glacier was named for doctor Lyman Beecher Sperry, who in 1894 reasoned that the glacier was the cause of the cloudiness of the water in Avalanche Lake. When Sperry and his party first reached the glacier in 1897, his nephew Albert Sperry had this reaction after viewing the glacier:

While standing upon that peak overlooking the terrain above the rim wall, we got the thrill of thrills, for there lay the glacier, shriveled and shrunken from its former size, almost senile, with its back against the mountain walls to the east of it, putting up its last fight for life. It was still what seemed to be a lusty giant, but it was dying, dying, dying, every score of years and as it receded, it was spewing at its mouth the accumulations buried within its bosom for centuries.

Today, you can visit Sperry Glacier and walk along the same route that Sperry and his party traveled 120 years ago, although the glacier looks very different today. Join us on this visual tour of the glacier’s past and present. We hope that concerted action on greenhouse gas emissions will assure that this beautiful glacier has a future.


Sperry Glacier viewed from Avalanche Lake in 1894 or 1895 (Source: U.S. National Park Service).
Sperry Glacier viewed from Avalanche Lake in 1894 or 1895 (Source: U.S. National Park Service).



Close up of Sperry Glacier (Distress.bark/Creative Commons).
Close up of Sperry Glacier (Distress.bark/Creative Commons).



Glacier National Park (Source: U.S. Geological Survey).
Glacier National Park (Source: U.S. Geological Survey).



Avalanche Lake, Montana (Source: Bachspics/Flickr).
Avalanche Lake, Montana, fed by Sperry Glacier (Source: Bachspics/Flickr).



Sperry Glacier, 2009 (Source: Lee Coursey/Flickr).
Sperry Glacier, 2009 (Source: Lee Coursey/Flickr).



View of a hiker on Sperry Glacier trail (Source: Lee Coursey/Creative Commons)
View of a hiker on Sperry Glacier trail (Source: Lee Coursey/Creative Commons)

Roundup: More Cars, Skiers but Fewer Helicopters This Summer

Each week, we highlight three stories from the forefront of glacier news.


Visitors gathered at the north entrance of Yellowstone National Park (Source: Montana Standard)


“After Yellowstone National Park welcomed a record 4 million visitors in 2015, what will America’s first national park do for an encore in 2016?Probably more of the same. Tourism experts are predicting that 2016 should be another banner year for Montana’s tourism industry. Montana hosted 11.7 million nonresident travelers in 2015, an 8 percent increase from 2014. However, the $3.6 billion, in spending represented a decrease of 8 percent from the previous year.

UM’s research shows that Yellowstone and Glacier National Park represent the biggest draw to out-of-state travelers. A number of events that will coincide with the centennial of the National Park Service could also boost visitation this year.”

Read more here.


Group wants Glacier Park helicopter tours permanently grounded

Glacier Hotel had its share of colorful characters and events. (Source: Missoulian)

From Missoulian:

“Click on a website Mary T. McClelland created a few days ago, and you’ll see waves lapping at the shore of Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park.

McClelland this week released an open letter to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell on behalf of Friends for a Quiet! Glacier Coalition, which calls for an end to scenic helicopter tours over the park by 2017.

Glacier’s solitude has been shattered by hundreds of helicopter overflights,” McClelland’s letter says, “and the incessant noise pollution endured by wildlife and visitors is destroying what Glacier stands for – the pinnacle of natural beauty and tranquility.”

 Read more here.

Top 5 Glaciers to Ski This Summer

Before dropping the Middle Teton, Griffin Post and his crew had the opportunity to contemplate their sanity. (Source: OnTheSnow)

From OnTheSnow:

“If hiking for your turns during the spring means you’re committed, what does hiking for you turns during the peak of summer make you? Aside from chemically unbalanced, it makes you lucky. A number of glaciers still exist in North America (believe it or not), from the Sierras to the Tetons, offering skiers and riders not only an endless winter, but endless views as well. Here are our top-five spots to scratch (or should we say shred) that summer itch.

1. Grand Teton National Park: Glacier Route, Middle Teton

2. Glacier National Park: Salamander Glacier

3. Mount Shasta: Hotlum-Wintun Glacier

4. Sierra Nevada: Palisade Glacier

5. Mount Rainier: Paradise Glacier”

Read more here.

Roundup: Raging Fires, Racing Bikes, Rushing Water

Elite Team Battling Growing Wildfire in Glacier National Park As Tourists Flee

St. Mary Lake Glacier
Photo Courtesy of Erin Conwell via AP

“A wildfire in Montana’s Glacier National Park chased hundreds of people from their campgrounds and cabins in the middle of peak tourist season. A management team that responds only to the nation’s highest-priority fire took command Thursday night. More than 200 firefighters backed by helicopters and fire engines planned to attack the blaze’s northeast flank, which was the biggest threat to a hotel and campground that was evacuated Wednesday, and to find a safe place to begin constructing a fire line, fire information officer Jennifer Costich said. The 4,000 acre fire started Tuesday, and officials moved quickly to evacuate hotels, campgrounds and homes, including people in the small community of St. Mary.”

Read more about Glacier National Park’s fire here.


Have You Seen This? Insane glacial bike race

“Welcome to Megavalance… a four-day event with over 1,400 participants from around the world who attempt to ride 18 miles down a glacier in France on mountain bikes. Riders go from Le Pic Blanc (10,827 feet) to Allemont (2,362 feet), slipping and sliding the whole way.”

Read more about the race here.


Central Asia Floods Reawaken Glacier Anxieties

Central Asia Glacial Floods
Photo courtesy of UN React, Eurasia Net

“Floods across Central Asia over this past week are highlighting the perils of failing to adopt robust water-management measures and put adequate early-warning systems in place. Tajikistan has been the worst hit, with abnormally high temperatures causing rapid snow and glacier melts. The country is 93 percent covered by high mountains, making it particularly vulnerable to landslides and flash floods. Dozens of homes have been destroyed and at least a dozen people killed.”

Read more here.

Roundup: Glacier Ed, New Glacier Group, Measuring Xinjiang Ice

Educating the Public about Glaciers at a Park in Peru

“Peru, the host country for this year’s United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has one of the lowest carbon dioxide emissions in the Americas. But scientists said it is among countries which will be most impacted by climate hazards. To educate the public, one park has created a climate change route for tourists. CCTV America’s Dan Collyns reported this story from Lima, Peru.”

Read more at CCTV America.


New Glacier Climate Group Gathers in Montana

“Glacier Climate Action is a loose confederation of concerned citizens in the communities near Glacier National Park. We plan to make our voices heard, celebrate local solutions, and let elected officials know that we expect them to act now to avert a climate crisis that threatens to devastate the future of our grandchildren and theirs.”

Read more at Conserve Montana.


Changes in Glacier Mass and Water Resources in Xinjiang, China

“It is important to understand and quantify glacier changes and their impact on water resources in Hami Prefecture, an extremely arid region in the eastern Xinjiang of northwestern China. Yushugou Glacier No. 6 and Miaoergou Ice Cap in Hami Prefecture were selected in this study. Results showed that the thickness of Yushugou Glacier No. 6 decreased by 20 m with a rate of 0.51 m/y from 1972 to 2011 and the terminus retreated by 254 m, or 6.5 m/y for the same period.”

Read more of the article written by Wang et al., 2014.

Roundup: Glacier Names, Pakistani Disasters and More

Iceland names 130 new glaciers

“The new names mainly refer to places in the vicinity. For example, Kerlingarbaksjökull lies to the west of the mountain Kerling in Eyjafjörður, Sýlingarjökull in Svarfaðardalur is named after the mountain Auðnasýling and Dyrajökull lies in the Dyrfjöll mountains in Borgarfjörður eystri, as stated on Oddur is working with local and U.S. colleagues on making a map for an international glacier atlas.”

Read the full story in the Iceland Review.


Pakistan is suffering from disasters caused by climate change

“If we look at the current disaster history of Pakistan, the country has encountered multiple disasters which are only caused by the climate change phenomena, which includes coastal flooding, drought, and flash floods. Among these the melting of glacier causing glacial outbursts observed an unprecedented events in northern part of the country.”

Read more about disaster risk reduction in The Dardistant Times.


Controversy on tropical glaciers

“Yet the idea that the ice cap has retreated over time because of a change in temperature, rather than other possible factors like reduced snowfall, has always been more of a surmise than a proven case. In fact, how to interpret the disappearance of glaciers throughout the tropics has been a scientific controversy. ”

Read more about scientific battles on tropical glaciers in The New York Times.

Drawing Montana’s glaciers at a glacial pace

What does it take to draw each of Montana's glaciers? (Jonathan Marquis/Kickstarter)
What does it take to draw each of Montana’s glaciers? (Jonathan Marquis/Kickstarter)

With his dog Mylah by his side, the Montana artist Jonathan Marquis climbed up eight glaciers this summer. In addition to an ice-axe and crampons, he took less standard equipment: two graphite pencils and notebooks. These are essential tools for his undertaking, which he has termed his Glacier Drawing Project, an ambitious plan to make drawings of all 60 of the state’s named glaciers, an undertaking which will require four or five more summers.

This June he completed the initial financing of the project through Kickstarter, a popular crowd funding website. He reached his goal of $6,000, which paid for first hikes to Montana’s glaciers. As his Kickstarter project page declares, “I am going to hike to all of Montana’s glaciers to draw, bear witness and create a comprehensive record of these extraordinary features before it is too late.” Indeed time is short. Scientists in Montana’s Glacier National Park estimate that the park’s namesake glaciers may be completely gone by 2020. Historically, the park was the home of around 120 glaciers, and as of 2010 there were only 25.

Artist Jonathan Marquis and his dog XX
Artist Jonathan Marquis and his dog Mylah, who accompanies him on his drawing hikes. (Jonathan Marquis/Kickstarter)

Marquis is not limiting himself to Glacier National Park, but will also draw the glaciers in the Mission Mountain Wilderness, the Bob Marshall Wilderness and the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness. “I want to see each of these glaciers with my own eyes, feel their cold with my fingers, experience their presence with my body and breathe the chilled mountain air surrounding them,” he said.

Better known for his paintings and graphic designs, Marquis chose sketches and drawings as the media best suited to capture and evoke glaciers. He suggests that drawing offers a more intimate experience to the artist and the viewer than photography, the medium most often used to depict glaciers. The marks his pencil makes as he drags across a page evoke for him the marks that glaciers make as they move across the landscape. “Drawing has the potential to convey not only the seen but also to be a record of what is felt and experienced over a period of time across a broad set of vantage points,” he wrote.

Marquis' intention is to savor the "aesthetic and emotional character of these glaciers while we still can". (Jonathan Marquis/Kickstarter)
Marquis’ intention is to savor the “aesthetic and emotional character of these glaciers while we still can”. (Jonathan Marquis/Kickstarter)

Apparently his 129 financial backers agree. Kickstarter allows for public sourcing of financing of various independent projects, usually in modest amounts. The catch is that the full amount must be reached by the deadline; otherwise none of the funds can be used. The Glacier Drawing Project exceeded its goal and 20 patrons contributed $100 dollars or more each, a generous contribution.

Ultimately Marquis wants to show in exhibitions and create a coffee-table book of his drawings. This will both document Montana’s changing mountains and raise awareness about climate change.

You can see more on the progress of The Glacier Drawing Project on its Facebook page, and more about the artist, Jonathan Marquis, on his website.

For an account of an artist who evokes changing glaciers in the Italian Alps, see “The painting is our desire for the mountain“. And for an account of an artist who captures glacier sounds rather than images, see “If a glacier melts on a mountain, does anyone hear it?“.