For North Cascade glaciers the accumulation season provides a layer of snow that must last through the melt season. A thin layer sets the glaciers up for a mass balance loss, much like a bear with a limited fat layer would lose more mass than ideal during hibernation.
The 2019 winter season in the North Cascade Range, Washington has been unusual. On April 1, the retained snow-water equivalent in snowpack across the range at the six long SNOTEL sites is 0.72 meters, which is ~70 percent of average. This is the fifth lowest since 1984. The unusual part is that freezing levels were well above normal in January, in the 95 percentile at 1,532 m, then were the lowest level, 372 m of any February since the freezing level record began in 1948. March returned to above normal freezing levels.
As is typical, periods of cold weather in the regions are associated with reduced snowfall in the mountains and more snowfall at low elevations. In the Seattle metropolitan area February was the snowiest month in 50 years, 0.51 m of snow fell, but in the North Cascades snowfall in the month was well below average. From Feb. 1 to April 1, snowpack SWE at Lyman Lake, the SNOTEL site closest to a North Cascade glacier, usually increases from 0.99 m to 1.47 m. This year, SWE increased from 0.83 m to 1.01 m during this period.
The Mount Baker ski area snow measurement site has the world record for most snowfall in a season: 1,140 inches (28.96 m) during the 1998-99 snow season. The average snowfall is 633 inches (16.07 m) with snowfall this year, as of April 15, at 533 inches (13.53 m). Below is a Landsat image from April 15, 2019 indicating the snowline at ~1000 m in the Nooksack River Valley and 900-1000 m in the Baker Lake valley.
This year, for the 36th consecutive year, the North Cascade Glacier Climate Project will be in the field measuring North Cascade glaciers. The early signs point towards a seventh consecutive negative balance year.
In this week’s Video of the Week, take a three-dimensional tour of Mount Baker, an active stratovolcano in Washington state. At 10,781 feet (3,286 meters), Mount Baker is the highest peak in the North Cascade Range and the northernmost volcano in the contiguous United States. It is also the only Cascade peak to be affected by both alpine and continental glaciation.
Twelve principal glaciers exist on Mount Baker, all of which are in rapid retreat. The peak is consistently one of the snowiest places on Earth. Mount Baker set the record for snowfall in a year, when it received 95 feet (29 meters) in 1998-1999, an El Niño winter.
Mount Baker is in the news this week after venting steam from a crater near its peak. Though the most recent major eruption at Mount Baker occurred 6,700 years ago, the 2018 update to the USGS National Volcanic Threat Assessment lists the volcano’s eruption threat as “very high,” the most cautious categorization. Volcanoes with this designation are prioritized for research, monitoring, and mitigation.
According to ScienceBase.gov, the USGS data release portal, the purpose of the Mount Baker survey was to contribute to natural hazards monitoring efforts, the study of regional geology and volcanic landforms, and landscape modification during and after future volcanic eruptions.
The rendering below, published by the US Geological Survey in November 2017, used a high-precision Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) survey. LiDAR is a remote sensing method that uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure ranges to the Earth to generate precise, three-dimensional information about the shape of the Earth and its surface characteristics. A Leica ALS80 system mounted in a Cessna Caravan 208B was used to conduct the Mount Baker survey in the fall of 2015.
Last week, Mount Baker began venting steam from Sherman Crater, which is situated close to the mountain’s peak. In response, several people took to social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, sharing photos and videos of the steam plume. This event prompted some to ask the question: Could Mount Baker be poised to erupt?
At openings on the volcano’s surface called vents, various gases can be released at any time, even continuously, and do not have to be connected to eruptions. A combination of good weather, light winds, and the position of Sherman crater near Mount Baker’s peak made for perfect conditions to observe this plume.
The US Geological Survey (USGS) categorizes Mount Baker’s eruption potential as “very high,” the agency’s highest category. To determine a volcano’s threat level, the USGS assesses exposure of people and property to potentially fatal volcanic hazards like pyroclastic flows and lahars. Volcanoes in the “very high” category “require the most robust monitoring coverage.”
Despite these deficits in monitoring, PNSN and CVO detected no increase in seismic activity occurring alongside the plume––in fact there has been no recent seismic activity recorded in the area at all. Considering this lack of seismic activity, Mount Baker’s steam plume is likely nothing short of business as usual.
This week’s Photo Friday features Mount Baker, a glaciated peak in the North Cascades of Washington. Lisa Dilling, a professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder, shared these photos with GlacierHub. They were taken by Dilling during a recent trip to visit family at the San Juan Islands in Puget Sound. These are unusual images, since few glaciated peaks are visible from islands in the ocean. Mount Baker was also a great influence to poet and environmental activist Gary Snyder, who grew up on a dairy farm with views of the peak, and hiked on Mount Baker in his teens.
This Photo Friday, catch a glimpse of Mount Baker, a large glaciated peak in the North Cascades, from the area around Bellingham in the state of Washington. Or see what the view was like at spots from which the mountain could usually be seen.
These photos are obtained first-hand from GlacierHub’s managing editor Ben Orlove who is visiting Northwest Washington to interview local residents in the small towns near the peak. The area is known for its spectacular views of Mount Baker, but these views have recently been clouded by haze from devastating forest fires that have swept across British Columbia and eastern Washington.
One afternoon during Orlove’s trip, the winds shifted and the air was a little clearer. Mount Baker was also more visible in the background. But then the winds changed again, and the heavy smoke returned.
Such smoky conditions are historically rare in the region, but this is the second year in a row that they have occurred, according to Orlove. When Mount Baker is visible, its shrinking glacier helps make visitors aware of climate change. After speaking with local residents, Orlove reported that several of them described the situation of smoky air as “the new normal.” The fires that have made the mountain invisible for stretches of time this year have also been widely discussed in the media, with several commentators linking the fires to support for Washington Initiative 1631, a carbon emissions fee measure on the state ballot this fall. In this way, Mount Baker builds awareness of climate change, whether it is visible or not.
On the southern slope of Mount Baker in the North Cascades of Washington state lies Sherman Crater, an active vent where most of the mountain’s geothermal activity occurs. Sulfur-rich vapor often emerges from many locations within the crater, but when the weather is just right, onlookers are in for a treat! These cold, windless days allow the steam to condense and rise gracefully against the backdrop of the blue sky above.
Glaciers had commanding role in shaping Mt. Baker into what it is today, and it still remains heavily glaciated. The glaciers are relatively healthy thanks to heavy snowfalls that keep them from depleting, unlike the fate of many other United States glaciers.
Watch the slow swirl of steam rising and dissipating into the atmosphere around Mt. Baker in this time-lapse video of the week!
From HuffPost: “Perry went on to defend his and others’ denial of near-universally accepted climate science, suggesting that those who question the scientific community’s findings are more intelligent. Also in June, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said glaciers in Montana’s Glacier National Park started melting ‘right after the end of the Ice Age’ and that it has ‘been a consistent melt.’ He also dismissed the notion that government scientists can predict with certainty how much warming will occur by 2100 under a business-as-usual scenario.”
Read more about the Trump cabinet and its tenuous relationship to evidence here.
Ski No More
From Reuters: “High temperatures that have hit Italy over the past weeks have taken their toll on the country’s glaciers, with a summer ski resort at the Stelvio Pass having to make the historic decision to suspend its activities due to worsening conditions at the Alpine glacier. Swathes of southern and eastern Europe have sweltered in temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius (104°F) this week in a heat wave nicknamed ‘Lucifer’ that has fanned forest fires, triggered weather warning alerts and damaged crops.”
From the Bellingham Herald: “12 runners set out from Bellingham Bay for the top of snow-capped Mount Baker in the distance. To get there and back — a round trip of 108 miles during a hot, sunny weekend — they ran, hiked and climbed to the 10,781-foot summit of Mount Baker over two nights and two days. Eleven of them completed the arduous journey, a trek known as the Mount Baker Ultra Run.”
From Xanterra: “Just 150 years ago, 150 glaciers graced these spectacular alpine summits. Only 25 remain large enough today to be considered ‘functional,’ say scientists who expect the park’s glaciers to vanish by 2030, with many disappearing before that. People heeding the advice to visit soon will find a variety of national park lodging and dining spots that are making environmental stewardship part of the park experience.”
From Journal of Applied Volcanology: “As populations around the world encroach upon the flanks of nearby volcanoes, an increasing number of people find themselves living at risk from volcanic hazards. How these individuals respond to the threats posed by volcanic hazards influences the effectiveness of official hazard mitigation, response, and recovery efforts. Ideally, those who are aware of the hazards and concerned should feel motivated to become better prepared; however, research repeatedly shows that an accurate risk perception often fails to generate adequate preparedness… This study explores the barriers that people in the Skagit Valley of Washington face when deciding whether or not to prepare for lahars as well as the impact of participation in hazard management on household preparedness behaviors.”
Read more about Washington’s lahar preparedness here.
How Changing Climate Affects Ecosystems
From Environmental Research Letters: “Climate change is undeniably occurring across the globe, with warmer temperatures and climate and weather disruptions in diverse ecosystems (IPCC 2013, 2014). In the Arctic and Subarctic, climate change has proceeded at a particularly breakneck pace (ACIA 2005)… However, climate warming is forecast to be even more extreme in the future. In order to predict the impacts of further global change, experiments have simulated these future conditions by warming the air and/or soil, increasing CO2 levels, altering nutrient fertilization, modifying precipitation, or manipulating snow cover and snowmelt timing (Elmendorf et al 2015, Wu et al 2011, Bobbink et al 2010, Cooper 2014). Changes in biodiversity at high latitudes are expected to have profound impacts on ecosystem functioning, processes, and services (Post et al 2009).”
Read more about how changing climate affects ecosystems here.
Washington is the second most-glaciated state in the United States, after Alaska. Mount Baker, located in the North Cascade Range, is an active stratovolcano that contains about 49 square kilometers of glaciers. The region is a popular skiing destination and the surrounding Skagit Valley provides a beautiful location from which to photograph glaciers.
Chris Pribbernow is an outdoor and sports photographer based in Washington. He recently captured the Skagit Valley and Mount Baker glaciers. Take a look at some of the photographs from his visits or see his other images from Washington State @PribbernowPhotography.
The weather was sunny on Election Day in western Washington, with widely scattered clouds or entirely clear skies. As residents made their way to polling places, many had views of the state’s mountain peaks.
The results that came in late that night showed that the state as a whole gave strong support to Hillary Clinton. She received 56% of the votes in the state, a percentage exceeded by only 6 other states and the District of Columbia.
However, this result was far from uniform across Washington. Its highest peaks, Baker, Rainier and Adams, indicated by their initials on the attached map, mark not only the crest of the Cascades, but also a line that divides the state into red and blue counties, in one of the sharpest political gradients in the nation.
Did the region’s residents notice these white peaks as they went to vote? The mountains, which contain the largest masses of glacier ice in the lower 48 states, are widely popular in Washington; their forested slopes have given the state its nickname, the Evergreen State. To many in the largely Democratic cities and suburbs near Puget Sound, along the I-5 corridor, the mountains could bring up important issues, particularly environmentalism. This section of the state also supports the maintenance of public lands, especially at higher elevations, for hiking and recreation.
The mountains could also evoke topics that matter to many in the heavily Republican small towns and rural areas near the spine of the Cascades and further to the east. Many local residents there still bitterly resent the Endangered Species Act which led to the virtual ending of timber cutting nearly thirty years ago, and to the decline of lumber towns up and down the highways of the region. Access to firearms is also a deeply felt issue in this area, where deer and elk are widely hunted, their meat forming an important part of the diet, especially for the rural poor. As these examples show, mountains and their glaciers can both unite and divide people, connecting them to a common landscape in different and contentious ways.
On the same day, halfway around the world, representatives of 196 countries were gathered in Marrakech, Morocco for COP22, the annual meeting of the UNFCCC, with the hope of building on the progress of COP21, held last year in Paris. At this meeting, glaciers are a presence as well. They serve as an indicator of the rapid pace of climate change worldwide and of the need for prompt and effective action to continue the momentum developed in Paris.
The state of Washington, the United States and the nations of the world cannot advance without coordinated efforts on the critical issues which they face. The white summits of the Cascades and of mountain ranges around the world show the great value of nature for all humanity. They show other things as well: the fragility of the world, the urgency of action, and, above all, the necessity of cooperation to carry out actions to protect the world.
The Nooksack Indians, who live in northwest Washington near the border of Canada, are fighting to save local salmon populations through a variety of innovative measures. Several species of salmon reside in the Nooksack River, which is comprised of three main forks that drain a large portion of the Cascade Range into Bellingham Bay. The salmon of the Nooksack are struggling as waters in the river warm. In response, the Nooksack Indians have turned to local glaciers to help understand and resolve the otherwise unrestricted impacts of climate change.
The waters of the Nooksack River have long housed several salmon species that have provided tribes like the Nooksack with sustenance and financial support. In recognition of the importance of fishing for Native American communities, fishing rights were granted to the local tribes through the Treaty of Point Elliott in 1855. However, these fishing rights are threatened by the dwindling salmon populations struggling to keep up with the changing climate.
The endangerment of the local salmon populations aren’t just an economic loss for the Nooksack Indians, but a culturally significant loss as well. Oliver Grah, Water Resources Program Manager for the tribe, points out, “The Nooksack Indian Tribe is place-based. That is, tribal members are supposed to stay and live on or near their reservation.” Once the river ecosystems reach a specific tipping point, the salmon populations will begin to die off and the impacts on local tribes will be deeply felt.
In an effort to avert worrisome climate projections, the Nooksack Indian Tribe has been proactively implementing adaptive infrastructure and closely monitoring nearby glaciers crucial to healthy salmon numbers. It’s through thoughtful and long-term adaptation and monitoring plans that the Nooksack Tribe seeks to ease the environmental stressors that may critically alter salmon habitats.
Pacific Northwest salmon populations fare best in periods having “high precipitation, deep mountain snowpack, cool air and water temperatures, cool coastal ocean temperatures, and abundant north-to-south ‘upwelling’ winds in spring and summer,” according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
The Nooksack River relies heavily on the glacial runoff from both Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan located near the U.S.-Canada border. Summer glacial melt has historically helped keep rivers cool and ideal for salmon, according to Northern Arizona University. However, as places like Washington continue to see above average temperatures, the glacial snowpack has started to suffer. When the glaciers suffer, the salmon suffer.
With the current temperature trends, salmon populations will slowly wane to extinction in the Nooksack river, according to Grah. Grah states, “Ultimately, loss of glacier melt due to glacier recession will result in reduced stream flows and increased temperatures late in the summer when salmon are most vulnerable.”
Different salmon species breed during the late summer and early fall, according to the National Park Service. This process begins in freshwater when a salmon egg nest becomes fertilized and remains embedded in the river bottom during the winter months. In the spring, eggs hatch and remain close to the nest for several months. Once the salmon have matured and grown in size, they begin to migrate towards the ocean. Depending on salmon breed, the migration can take anywhere from 0-2 years. Once the salmon reach the mouth of the river, they feed to increase their size and chance of survival in the ocean. Salmon can remain in the ocean for up to 8 years before migrating back to their native streams for reproduction. But this entire process relies on a consistent habitat in the salmon’s native river. The Nooksack Tribe recognizes the importance of trying to maintain this original ecosystem despite challenges posed by climate change and reduced glacial runoff.
In an attempt to reduce vulnerability, the Nooksack’s adaptation measures have sought to create a landscape that will help cool the river. These efforts include lining the rivers with trees to shade exposed waters from abundant sunlight. Additionally, the tribe has been creating log jams, which will help provide sites of colder water for the fish. This habitat restoration program, with its emphasis on the effects of climate change, offers “a good chance that the tribe can improve the chance of salmon survival in the face of climate change,” according to Grah.
While these adaptation efforts won’t specifically address the issue of glacial recession, they will help to maintain the local river ecosystem. The Nooksack have also worked to set up a local glacier monitoring program, recognizing the importance of glaciers on the health of the salmon.
Grah, a leading glacier expert, is part of the team monitoring the local glaciers in northwest Washington for the tribe. Most of the glacier runoff that empties into the Nooksack river comes from the glaciers located on Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan. According to the University of Oregon’s Tribal Climate Project, “On Mt. Baker alone, at least eight glaciers feed the watershed. There are approximately 148 glaciers, glacierets, and perennial snowfields with a combined area of 40,828,294 m2 (15.76 mi2 ) that drain into the Nooksack River.”
Changes in Washington climate patterns have the ability to drastically impact the glacial landscape of the Northern Cascades. Given the magnitude of the runoff into the Nooksack River, slight deviations from the norm could mean massive changes for the river.
In an attempt to try and quantify these potential changes, the Nooksack tribe has been consistently recording snow depth, melt rates, stream temperatures and runoff. This field data is used to create scientific models that help show the speed and severity of glacial melt. These models take the field data and visually demonstrate the interconnections of different variables, identifying current and future climate trends. Monitoring and striving for healthy glaciers will ensure the Nooksack Tribe can continue to embrace its deep-rooted history in the Pacific Northwest.
With the combined adaptation and research efforts, the Nooksack Tribe understands the importance of being prepared and well-informed. Through collaborations with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Nooksack Tribe remains focused on preserving historical aspects of their culture for future generations. It’s this awareness and environmental dedication expressed by the Nooksack Tribe that exemplifies how to mindfully manage the impacts of climate change in order to preserve aspects of all culture, not just one’s own.
Each weekly Roundup, we highlight three stories from the forefront of glacier news.
Tourists’ take “last chance” to see New Zealand Glaciers
From The International Journal of Tourism Space, Place and Environment:
“For more than 100 years, the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers in Westland Tai Poutini National Park have attracted thousands of tourists annually and have emerged as iconic destinations in New Zealand. However, in recent years, the recession of both glaciers has been increasingly rapid and the impacts on, and implications for, visitor experiences in these settings remain relatively unexplored…Results revealed the fundamental importance of viewing the glaciers as a significant travel motive of visitors, suggesting that there is a ‘last chance’ dimension to their experience. Furthermore, the results demonstrate a high adaptive capacity of local tourism operators under rapidly changing environmental conditions.”
“We have been monitoring the annual mass balance of Easton Glacier on Mount Baker, a stratovolcano in the North Cascade Range, Washington since 1990. This is one of nine glaciers we are continuing to monitor, seven of which have a 32 year long record. The initial exploration done in the pre-internet days required visiting libraries to look at topographic maps and buying a guide book to trails for the area. This was followed by actual letters, not much email then, to climbers who had explored the glacier in the past, for old photographs. Armed with photographs and maps we then determined where to locate base camp and how to access the glacier.”
For more, go to the AGU Blog post here, and check out “Easton Glacier Monitoring” by Mauri Pelto on Vimeo
Water scarcity in central Asia
From The World Bank:
“Communities in Central Asia talk about how water is vital but scarce resource across the region. The Central Asia Energy-Water Development Program (CAEWDP) works to ensure effective energy and water management, including at the regional level. This work should accelerate investment, promote economic growth and stable livelihoods.”