Annual Assessment of North Cascades Glaciers Finds ‘Shocking Loss’ of Volume

The summer of 2019 found the North Cascade Glacier Climate Project in the field for the 36th consecutive summer monitoring the response of North Cascade glaciers to climate change. This long term monitoring program was initiated partly in response to a challenge in 1983 from Stephen Schneider to begin monitoring glacier systems before and as climate change became a dominant variable in their behavior.

The field team was comprised of Clara Deck, Ann Hill, Abby Hudak, Jill Pelto, and myself. All of us have worked on other glaciers. The bottom line for 2019 is the shocking loss of glacier volume.

Ann Hill, University of Maine graduate student observed, “Despite having experience studying glaciers in southeast Alaska and in Svalbard, I was shocked by the amount of thinning each glacier has endured through the last two and a half decades.” 

Glaciers are typically noted as powerful moving inexorably. Clara Deck, University of Maine MS graduate, was struck by “the beauty and fragility of the alpine environment and glaciers.” Fragile indeed in the face of climate change.

Abby Hudak, a Washington State graduate student, looked at both the glacier and biologic communities as under stress, but glaciers cannot migrate, adapt, or alter their DNA.

Easton Glacier, Mount Baker. Terminus has become thin and uncrevassed as a rapid retreat of 15 meters per year continued, with 405 m of retreat since 1990.

Over the span of 16 days in the field, every night spent in the backcountry adjacent to a glacier, we examined 10 glaciers in detail. All glaciers are accessed by backpacking. The measurements completed add to the now 36-year-long database that indicate a ~30 percent volume loss of these glaciers during that period (Pelto, 2018).

Here we review preliminary results from each glacier. Each glacier will have a mass balance loss of  1.5 -2.25 m, which drives continued retreat.  Columbia and Rainbow Glacier are reference glaciers for the World Glacier Monitoring Service, with Easton Glacier joining the ranks later this year.

Below and above is the visual summary. Specific mass balance and retreat data will be published here and with WGMS after October 1.

Easton Glacier icefall at 2,200 meters typically has 1.8 m w.e. at the end of the summer, this year it will be 0 m. The overall mass balance will be ~2 m of loss.
Deming Glacier, Mount Baker has now receded over 700 m since our first visit 35 years ago.

On Lower Curtis Glacier, a key accumulation source, the NE couloir now shows bedrock. Overall by summers end ~25 percent of the glacier will retain snow cover, far short of what is needed to maintain its volume.
The Lower Curtis Glacier terminus continues to retreat at 8 meters/year, but thinning and slope reduction has been more notable.
In early August, the majority of Sholes Glacier has lost its snowpack. The thin nature of the terminus indicates the glacier is poised for continued rapid retreat that has exceeded 15 meters per year during the last 7 years.
Runoff assessment confirmed ablation stake measurement of 11 centimeters of ablation/day from 8/6-8/8 on Sholes Glacier.
High on Rainbow Glacier, there are still plenty of regions lacking snow cover instead of a thick mantle of snowpack.
Rainbow Glacier was awash in meltwater streams (see video). This area should have 1 meter of snowpack left. Rainbow Glacier has retreated 650 meters since 1984.
Just getting to each glacier does involve overcoming various miseries.

To see more photos of the 36th annual North Cascades monitoring project, check out the Mauri Pelto’s original post on From a Glacier’s Perspective, a blog published by the American Geophysical Union.

Roundup: Blood Falls, Protecting North Cascades’ Glaciers, and Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment

This week’s Roundup covers discovery of what causes the reddish tint of “Blood Falls,” the Taylor Glacier’s terminus in Antarctica, a bill passed by the US Senate that could protect glaciers in North Cascades National Park, and ICIMOD’s newly published Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment.

Scientists Determine the Geochemistry of Antarctica’s Blood Falls

From Journal of Geophysical Research: Geosciences: “Blood Falls is a hypersaline, iron‐rich discharge at the terminus of the Taylor Glacier in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica…Our results provide strong evidence that the original source of solutes in the brine was ancient seawater, which has been modified with the addition of chemical weathering products.”

United States National Science Foundation's helicopter at Blood Falls on GlacierHub
One of the United States National Science Foundation’s helicopters, with Blood Falls clearly visible (Source: German Aerospace Center/Flickr).


Good News for Glaciers in North Cascades National Park

From the National Parks Traveler: “Strong bipartisan support in the U.S. Senate has reauthorized the Land and Water Conservation Fund, protected Yellowstone and North Cascades national parks from mining on their doorsteps, designated some 1.3 million acres of wilderness, and called for a study into potential units of the National Park System, though the House of Representatives still needs to take up the measure.”

Cache Col Glacier on Mount Formidable, in the North Cascades National Park in Washington State on GlacierHub
The Cache Col Glacier on Mount Formidable, in the North Cascades National Park in Washington State (Source: jaisril/Flickr).


Assessing the Value of the Hindu Kush Himalaya

From ICIMOD: “This assessment report establishes the value of the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) for the 240 million hill and mountain people across the eight countries sharing the region, for the 1.65 billion people in the river basins downstream, and ultimately for the world. Yet, the region and its people face a range of old and new challenges moving forward, with climate change, globalization, movement of people, conflict and environmental degradation. At the same time, we also see incredible potential to meet these challenges in a sustainable manner.”

Scenic view of the Hindu Kush mountain range on GlacierHub
Scenic view of the Hindu Kush mountain range (Source: 401st_AFSB/Flickr).


Video of the Week: Lower Curtis Glacier Flow

This week, we feature a video from Mauri Pelto, a glaciologist and director of the North Cascades Glacier Climate Project. Pelto and his team have recorded the mass balance of several glaciers in the North Cascades and Alaska. While on fieldwork, he captured the outflow gushing from the Lower Curtis glacier on camera. Lower Curtis Glacier is located in North Cascades National Park and has been rapidly retreating. It is said to have lost 28 percent of its surface area since the Little Ice Age.

Pelto currently writes for a blog by the American Geophysical Union, From a Glacier’s Perspective. The blog talks about the response of different glaciers to climate change and recent findings on glacier mass balance.

Read more glacier news here:

Thoughts from the Grinnell Glacier Trail in Glacier National Park

GlacierHub News Report 08:23:18

Highest Plants on Earth Discovered Near Glacier

Restoration of Grizzly Bear Population in North Cascades Halted

Grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) (Source: Gregory “Slobirdr” Smith/ Flickr).

The National Park Service has halted plans to restore the grizzly bear population in the glacier-rich North Cascades ecosystem indefinitely. As first reported in the Missoulian, the order to stop work came from the office of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, which also recently delisted the Yellowstone grizzly bear after 42 years on the Endangered Species list maintained by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. North Cascades National Park Superintendent Karen Taylor-Goodrich told the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) that her staff had been asked to stop its development of a grizzly bear environmental impact statement, which would detail the potential environmental impacts of restoring a self-sustaining grizzly bear population to the U.S. portion of the North Cascades.

North Cascades National Park, located in the state of Washington, adjoins parkland in the Canadian province of British Columbia. It contains over 300 glaciers (the largest number of glaciers of any U.S. park outside Alaska). Grizzlies were once abundant in this diverse landscape until habitat alteration and the impact of trappers, miners and bounty hunters decimated the population by the 20th century, according to the National Park Service. It is estimated that only 10-20 grizzly bears remain in the entire North Cascades ecosystem.

The IGBC, an interagency group dedicated to ensuring viable grizzly bear populations across the United States, began grizzly bear restoration efforts in the North Cascades ecosystem in 1991. The group includes representatives from the Forest Service; the National Park Service; the Fish and Wildlife Service; representatives of state wildlife agencies; the Canadian Wildlife Service; and Native American tribes within grizzly recovery areas, among others, all involved in the process of creating a viable grizzly bear recovery plan in the region. In addition, any new federal proposal that could significantly affect the quality of the human environment requires public input and the creation of an Environmental Impact Statement.

A newsletter sent by the National Park Service (NPS) and Fish and Wildlife Service in January 2017 asked for public input on the draft Grizzly Bear Restoration Plan, with the aim to return a self-sustaining population of grizzly bears to the North Cascades. The letter stated that a grizzly bear restoration would “bode well for the ecosystem” and that “an ecosystem capable of supporting grizzly bears— complete with healthy vegetation and prey populations, and secure, remote habitat – is also capable of supporting the other species that call this ecosystem home.” It called for the public’s evaluation of alternatives to grizzly bear recovery in the North Cascades ecosystem.

Grizzly bear on a rock (Source: Bauer, Erwin and Peggy/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service).

Grizzly bears are important for distributing nutrients in North Cascades ecosystems. The bears deposit nutrient-rich carcasses away from rivers in forests, leading to significant uptake of nutrients by trees and other plants. This transfer ultimately helps the forest ecosystems and supports the long-term productivity of river corridors. Meltwater from glaciers in the North Cascades contributes significantly to river flow, particularly in the late summer and fall. In this way, they support the salmon populations— a staple of the grizzly bear’s diet— which come upstream from the ocean in fall to spawn. The NPS and Fish and Wildlife Service have considered four alternatives to restore the grizzly population in the region, ranging from taking no action to incremental restoration, which introduces five to seven grizzly bears and establishes an initial population of 25, to expedited restoration that aims to restore a population of 200 in 25 years.According to the Missoulian, the NPS was in the process of reviewing the public comments when the stop order came. “We’re in year three of the process and all the public scoping has been done. The draft EIS went out for public review in spring [of 2017] and we’ve received about 127,000 comments,” Taylor-Goodrich told reporters on December 16, 2017. She also added that the order has stalled discussions with Canadian wildlife managers who oversee a similar recovery process in British Columbia.

A statement by Conservation Northwest on the halt claims that the majority of the 127,000 public comments received for the environmental impact statement were in support of the restoration.

“We are disappointed that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and the Trump Administration have put North Cascades grizzly bear recovery work on hold, siding with the local extinction of this iconic native species over the strong majority of Washingtonians who support their recovery,” said Chase Gunnell, communications director for Conservation Northwest in the statement. “Equally frustrating is that the many years of science, public education and significant taxpayer dollars that have gone into grizzly bear recovery in our region are apparently not being taken seriously by this administration…That the only remaining grizzly bear population in the lower 48 states outside the Rocky Mountains might be abandoned to such a fate by men who claim to venerate Roosevelt is downright shameful.”

However, there are some who oppose the plan. It was reported in Capital Press that a group of Okanogan County ranchers saw the restoration as introducing another apex predator that would pose a threat to their cattle. A group of residents, representatives of the Sauk-Suiattle Tribe, representatives from Hampton Lumber Mill, business owners and backcountry horsemen in Darrington, a small western Washington town, also argued that reintroducing grizzlies would hurt tourism because it would close more roads to hiking and risk safety of hikers.

On December 17, 2017, The Yakima Herald also reported that Jack Oelfke, the chief of natural and cultural resources in North Cascades National Park had said that “efforts to restore grizzly bears were on hold indefinitely” and that they were “waiting for additional instructions from the Department of Interior as well as the NPS and US Fish and Wildlife Service.”

But Heather Swift, Secretary Zinke’s spokeswoman, told The Associated Press on December 19, 2017, that Zinke had not directed a stop work order on the environmental review. She did not provide further details in her statement.  No updates have been provided since then, leading plans on hold.

According to SeattlePI, Secretary Zinke is “a champion and promoter of sport hunting.” As reported by the Associated Press, Secretary Zinke is also an advocate of making changes to the national monuments under review by the Trump Administration and has already recommended that six of them be reduced in size.

However, in British Columbia, grizzlies face a different future. In that province, a ban on shooting grizzly bears has recently been imposed. “We want to promote the healthy grizzly bear viewing economy in British Columbia and give everyone the tremendous opportunities to see those incredible animals in their natural habitat,” said George Heyman, the minister of environment and climate change strategy of British Columbia, as reported in SeattlePI. It may well be that this support will help the grizzly populations to increase, in this area just to the north of the North Cascades National Park.  If policies in the US change, larger populations in the park could interbreed with Canadian bears, maintaining the health of both.