Photo Friday: Glaciers Smile Down on Electric Ferries

In late April 2018, Washington State Ferries (WSF), the operator of the largest fleet of ferries in the United States, announced plans to convert the three largest boats in its fleet to electric power. WSF uses 18 million gallons of diesel fuel each year, more than any other consumer in Washington state. Consequently, it is also the largest producer of greenhouse gases in the state’s transportation system, generating 73 percent of annual emissions. 

Washington is the second most glaciated state in the US. One of the most common routes taken by the three ferries to be converted is between Seattle and Bainbridge Island, with the snowy peaks of Mount Baker and Mount Rainier visible to passengers on the route. Washington also has glaciers in the Olympic Mountains and the North Cascades. 

WSF plans to swap two of four diesel engines in its Jumbo Mark II ferries for battery packs, which will power the motors needed for propulsion. The changes to the first boat will be largely funded with money from a federal settlement with Volkswagen as a result of its 2015 violation of the Clean Air Act. 

Assistant Secretary Amy Scarton and Director of Vessel Engineering and Maintenance Matt von Ruden with one of the batteries that will be used. 
Source: WSF

The three Jumbo Mark II ferries, Puyallup, Tacoma, and Wenatchee, were chosen to be the first converted because they are the largest boats in the fleet and are responsible for 26 percent of WSF’s fuel consumption. The vessels each have a carrying capacity of 202 cars and 1,800 passengers. They are due for 20-year propulsion system replacements so the changes can be made with few impacts on ferry service. Additionally, the ferries are relatively young and can be used for another 30-40 years. The list goes on, including benefits like reducing engine noise to decrease disruptions to marine life, increasing engine reliability, and decreasing ferry operation costs. 

Washington State Department of Transportation officials estimate that converting all three ferries will be equivalent to taking more than 10,000 cars off the road. 

Until WSF can have charging infrastructure installed, the two remaining diesel engines will charge the batteries. The hybrid system will still reduce emissions. Ian Sterling, a spokesperson for the state ferries, told the Daily Herald that “It will take a long time to be all-electric, but that’s ultimately where we want to be.” Once charging stations are operational, charging times will only take about twenty minutes. 

All of these benefits come with a learning curve; the batteries will need to be replaced every four to five years and crews will need to master the new technology. Nevertheless, WSF aims to have 22 of 26 vessels in its fleet operating as plug-in hybrids by 2040.

Video of the Week: ICESat-2 Scans Glaciated Volcanoes in the Pacific Northwest

In this week’s Video of the Week, Polar Science Center glaciologist Ben Smith shares results from NASA’s new polar satellite, ICESat-2, which made a pass over two glaciated volcanoes in the Pacific Northwest; Mount Baker and Mount Adams. The satellite, which launched in September 2018, carries a laser altimeter that detects individual photons, allowing scientists to measure the elevation of ice sheets, sea ice, forests and more in unprecedented detail. Smith, who is also a professor at the University of Washington, said it will be a few years before the polar orbiting satellite passes over the region, providing an opportunity to measure the glaciers’ change in surface altitude again.

Read More On GlacierHub:

ICESat-2 Hackweek Tackles the Big Data of Earth’s Glaciers

Photo Friday: Mount Baker Is Letting Off Some Steam

Video of the Week: Take a 360° Tour of Mount Baker

North Cascade 2019 Winter Accumulation Assessment

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.

April 1 winter accumulation at the longer term North Cascade SNOTEL stations (Fish Lake, Lyman Lake, Park Creek, Rainy Pass, Stampede Pass, and Stevens Pass).

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.

Freezing levels at Mount Baker, WA from the North American Freezing Level Tracker. February was the lowest mean freezing level since 1948.

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.

Mount Baker cloaked in winter snow in an April 15, 2019 Landsat image. MB=Mount Baker, MS=Mount Shuksan, NR=Nooksack River

This article was originally published on the blog From a Glacier’s Perspective.

Read More on GlacierHub:

Glaciers Get New Protections with Passage of Natural Resources Act

Glaciers Account for More Sea Level Rise Than Previously Thought

Trump’s Interior Pick Wants to Heighten California Dam

Video of the Week: Take a 360° Tour of Mount Baker

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.

High-definition LiDAR sensing creates a stunning model of Washington state’s active, glacier-covered stratovolcano (Source: MapScaping/Twitter).

Read More on GlacierHub.org

Photo Friday: Mount Baker Is Letting Off Some Steam

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Photo Friday: Mount Baker Is Letting Off Some Steam

Mount Baker, an active glacier-covered stratovolcano, is part of Washington’s North Cascades Mountain Range. Standing tall at an elevation of 10,781 feet (3,286 meters), Mount Baker is the highest peak in the North Cascades. Stratovolcanoes––like Baker’s neighbor, Mount St. Helens––are infamous for their highly explosive eruptions, which are often accompanied by hazardous pyroclastic flows, lava flows, flank failures, and devastating mudflows called lahars.

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?

The Washington State Emergency Management Division was quick to respon, in an attempt to quell any fears about an imminent eruption.

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.”

Increased seismic activity is a telltale sign of an upcoming eruption. The Pacific Northwest Seismic Network (PNSN) and Cascades Volcano Observatory (CVO) are in charge of operating stations that can measure earthquakes as small as magnitude 1.0. At Mount Baker and several other high-risk volcanoes in the United States, however, monitoring is currently insufficient. Volcanoes in the two-highest categories should have 12-20 permanent seismic stations within 12.4 mi (20 km); Mount Baker has only two.

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.

Read More on GlacierHub:

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Photo Friday: These Glacier-Covered Volcanoes in Chile Could Soon Erupt

Images Show Active, Glacier-Covered Volcanoes in the Russian Far East

Photo Friday: Mount Baker from Puget Sound

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.

A beautiful view of Mount Baker (Source: Lisa Dilling).

 

Another view of Mount Baker captured during Dilling’s recent family trip to the San Juan Islands in Puget Sound (Source: Lisa Dilling).

 

Relatively few glaciated peaks are visible from islands in the ocean (Source: Lisa Dilling).

 

Mount Baker peeks out from behind the forest (Source: Lisa Dilling).

Photo Friday: Mount Baker Amid Haze from Fires

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.

Mount Constitution on GlacierHub
Mount Constitution, the highest point on Orcas Island westward of Bellingham. Mount Baker, ordinarily visible from this spot, was obscured by haze. late August 2018  (Source: Ben Orlove).

 

Mount Baker in Bellinham on GlacierHub
View of Mount Baker from a neighborhood in Bellingham, on one of the few relatively clear days in late August 2018 (Source: Ben Orlove).

 

Early morning in the Fairhaven section of Bellingham, Washington, looking east.  Mount Baker  was obscured by the haze. late August 2018.(Source: Ben Orlove).

Mount Baker on GlacierHub
A spot on Bellingham Bay, from which Mount Baker is ordinarily visible. Late August 2018.(Source: Ben Orlove).

 

View of Mount Baker near the town of Seder-Woolley along the Skagit River on GlacierHub
A view from just outside Sedro-Woolley along the Skagit River. Mount Baker is usually visible from this spot. Late August 2018. (Source: Ben Orlove).

 

A clear view of Mount Rainier, south of Mount Baker, from an airplane above the smoke layer. Mount Rainier has also been obscured by smoke from the fires. Late August 2018. (Source: Ben Orlove).

Video of the Week: Mount Baker Releasing Geothermal Steam

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!

 

Read more glacier news from this week:

Climate Change Behind More Frequent & Powerful Avalanches in Alaska

Still Unresolved, Saga of Jumbo Glacier Resort Heads Back to Canadian Court

Roundup: Plant Life in Extreme Conditions, Freshwater in Tibet, and Alaskan Salmon

 

Roundup: Ultra Denials, Temperatures, and Marathons

Trump on Climate: Deny, Deny, Deny

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.

An artistic rendering of the world if climate change is ignored. (Source: Kevin Gill/Creative Commons).
 

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.”

Watch the short video here.

The Stelvio Pass, photographed in August 2015. (Source: Matteo Gugiatti/Creative Commons).
 

A Mountain of an Ultra Marathon

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.”

Read more about this impressive feat here.

The few, the proud, the extreme. (Source: Mount Baker Ultra Marathon).

Roundup: Glacier Park, Lahars, and Glacial Ecosystems

Roundup: Glacier Park, Lahars and Ecosystems

Glacier National Park Embraces Sustainability

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.”

Read more about it here.

 

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Glacier National Park (Source: Gracie Chance/Creative Commons).

 

Washington State’s Lahar Preparedness

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.

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Mount Baker poses a threat from lahars (Source: sworldguy/Creative Commons).

 

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.

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Small herbs and plants can provide food for animals (Source: Will Stuart/Creative Commons).

Photo Friday: Mt. Baker Glaciers

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.

 

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A view of the glaciers on Mount Baker from the Skagit Valley in Washington State (Source: Chris Pribbernow)

 

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View of Mount Baker as a flock of birds takes flight (Source: Chris Pribbernow).

 

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The Skagit Valley (Source: Chris Pribbernow).

 

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Wildflowers in the valley (Source: Chris Pribbernow).

 

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Mt. Baker, with farmland in the foreground (Source: Chris Pribbernow).

Editorial: Viewing the Election from the Summits of Glaciers

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.

County-level results in the 2016 presidential election in Washington state source: New York Times)
County-level results in the 2016 presidential election in Washington state (Source: New York Times).

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.