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.

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.

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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).


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).

North Cascades Festival Celebrates Community, Heritage

The town of Concrete, Washington, celebrated Cascade Days last month. This festival, held each year on the third weekend in August, was established in 1934 to promote the construction of a highway that would pass through the North Cascades, linking northern sections of western and eastern Washington. The road opened in 1972, and the festival has continued since then.

The festival celebrates the traditions and community spirit of this small town. Named for the concrete plants which opened there in 1905, its economy shifted after the closure of the last plant in 1973. Two dams on the Baker River, opened in 1925 and 1959, create reservoirs, supplied by glacier meltwater and snowmelt from nearby Mount Baker, which provide hydropower and generate a number of jobs in the town.

The town has a long history of logging as well. Though timber production in the area is well below the levels of the mid-twentieth century, it still provides some employment and is a major focus of the town’s identity, strongly in view at Cascade Days.

The festival opened late in the morning on Main Street with a few short speeches. This was followed by the singing of the national anthem. The young woman who sang was the great-great-granddaughter of the couple that established Cascade Supply, the hardware store in town that is still in operation.

Man in pirate costume in the parade (source: Cascade Days).

A parade followed, with floats from local schools, clubs, organizations and churches, along with one man dressed as a pirate, and another, a self-described peace wizard, clad largely in purple. Immediately after the parade came the car show, with vintage cars, trucks, fire engines and tractors proceeding slowly down Main Street.

The first event in the afternoon was the Firemen’s Muster, a competition between four volunteer fire departments from Concrete and nearby towns. They competed in three events: assembling hoses that were connected to a fire truck, hauling hoses up a slope, and using streams of water from hoses to push a target suspended on a cable. These firefighters protect houses in town and out in rural areas, and are the first responders for fires in the Mount Baker Ranger District in the nearby national forest.

The second afternoon event had a more explicit connection to the forests on Mount Baker and across the region. The log show included an axe throw and time trials for attaching choker cables to logs.

The log show also included a time trial for using a two-man crosscut saw, and a variety of competitions with chain saws, with the largest and loudest chain saws saved for the end. This event drew participants from timber sports enthusiasts across northwest Washington.

The last event of the first day of the festival was the duck race. Participants purchased rubber ducks, which were numbered and placed in the water in a large tank truck, known locally as the fish taxi because it is used to transport juvenile salmon around the dams. The fish taxi was parked at the top of a hill on Main Street. It released the water slowly. People cheered as the ducks were carried down the hill. Prizes were given to the first three ducks to complete the course.

Watermelon eating contest at Cascade Days, 19 August 2018 (source: Cascade Days).

The second day had several events as well: a pet costume show, a pie and watermelon eating contest, and a jam contest, with preserves made from locally harvested berries.

Paralleling the official events of the festival were more informal gatherings in homes, restaurants and bars. A number of local families held barbecues for people who visited from out of town. Several graduating classes of Concrete High School held their reunions to coincide with the festival as well.

The festival served as a fundraiser for local organizations and promoted Concrete as a tourist destination. It drew attention to other festivals, including Mardi Gras, an Eagle Festival, and a Ghost Walk, where local residents stand in costume at locations along Main Street and elsewhere downtown, sharing stories and legends of the town’s colorful history.

And above all, Cascade Days accomplished in 2018 a purpose that it has accomplished every year: maintaining ties between former and current residents, and connecting both groups with the town’s heritage as a mountain town and logging center.




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.

Photo Friday: Exploring Mount Shuksan

Mount Shuksan, a glaciated peak in the North Cascades National Park of Washington state, is perhaps one of the most heavily photographed mountains in the world. The mountain’s name, Shuksan, is derived from the Lummi word meaning “high peak–” these photos below show why.

Emily from Barnstorming, a wife, mother, farmer and family physician living in rural northwest Washington, shared some of her photos of Mount Shuksan and neighboring Mount Baker, from a recent trip to the North Cascades.

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Check out this past Photo Friday from Glacierhub to view some of Emily’s other photos of the North Cascades region.

Photo Friday: Mt. Baker

We offer these photos from Barnstorming as a gift in this holiday season. The site’s manager speaks of  faithful stewardship–a principle that resonates with us at GlacierHub. These photos feature Mt. Baker in the North Cascades of Washington State in U.S. 

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Photo Friday highlights photo essays and collections from areas with glaciers. If you have photos you’d like to share, let us know in the comments, by Twitter @glacierhub or email us at

Photo Friday: Mt. Baker and the North Cascades

Emily Gibson runs a blog called Barnstorming, about rural life on a farm in northwest Washington. Her pictures feature Mt. Baker, North Cascades and the Canadian Rockies in many different lights.

Photo Friday highlights photo essays and collections from areas with glaciers. If you have photos you’d like to share, let us know in the comments, by Twitter @glacierhub or email us at

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