Disappearing Montana Glaciers A 'Bellwether' Of Melting To Come?

Glaciers rapidly shrinking and disappearing 50 years of glacier change in Montana

The perimeter of Sperry Glacier in Glacier National Park in 1966,1998 2005 and 2015. Credit U.S. Geological Survey

The analysis revealed severe shrinking across the Montana glaciers; on average, these once-massive bodies of ice have reduced by 39 percent.

This image shows the perimeter of Sperry Glacier in Glacier National Park in 1966,1998, 2005, and 2015.

A woman missing for six nights in the Montana wilderness with nothing but her dog and a sweater was found by search crews.

The study, led by the US Geological Survey and Portland State University, analyzed digital maps from aerial photography and satellites to track the changes across 37 named glaciers in Glacier National Park, as well as two glaciers on US Forest Service land.

The stark data actually calls into question whether all of these formations are still glaciers. When the park was founded in 1910, it was home to about 150 glaciers; but today just 39 remain, only 26 of which are officially considered glaciers. Past year 2.9 million people visited the park named for its glaciers. A photo from 1913 on the left, on the right is 2005. Humans are now the leading driver of glacial melt on Earth, since climate change has led to warmer winters that carry more rain into frigid glacial zones. This doesn't surprise Dan Fagre, a research ecologist with the USGS.

North Valley Search and Rescue, deputies from the Flathead County Sheriff's Office, Two Bear Air Rescue, and personnel from neighboring Glacier National Park were all involved in the search.

This information is part of a larger, ongoing USGS glacier study of glaciers in Montana, Alaska and Washington to document mass balance measurements that estimate whether the total amount of ice is increasing or decreasing at a particular glacier. "The Pleistocene Epoch ended around 12,000 years ago".

The retreat has happened as temperatures in the region have risen by 1.5°F since 1895 as heat-trapping greenhouse gases have continued to accumulate in the atmosphere.

Fagre said the shrinking glaciers are also a stark visual reminder of a larger threat.

Summer meltwater helps top up streams that might otherwise run dry and many species are highly adapted to the cold temperatures of the water, Fagre said.

Back in Montana, the rapid retreat of glaciers not only has the potential to disrupt tourism to a region visited by almost 3 million people past year, it could also have a significant impact on wildlife that inhabits the mountainous terrains. "It will still be a lovely park to visit afterwards".

Latest News