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Backpacker Magazine – September 2007

Cascades Meltdown

The Lower 48's most glaciated region is losing its ice at an astonishing rate.

by: The Backpacker Editors

North Cascades, Washington State Tourism
North Cascades, Washington State Tourism

Looming above the Pacific Northwest's plunging waterfalls and ancient forests is something even rarer: a vast collection of glaciers. Seventy percent of the Lower 48's glaciers are in the North Cascades and Olympics. Mt. Rainier, with year-round snow and ice, supports the largest concentration of glaciers on a single peak outside of Alaska. But recent studies indicate that lower-elevation ice, and the potential for July snowball fights, will soon diminish on these mountains.

For most of the last century, the glaciers in the Pacific Northwest have been in full-scale retreat. Between 1913 and 1994, Rainier lost a quarter of its glacial volume, and satellite mapping in 2002 showed some of its biggest glaciers–the Nisqually, Winthrop, South Tahoma, and Carbon–at or near their historic minimums. Seven of Mt. Hood's 11 glaciers have shrunk an average of 34 percent since 1900, while in North Cascades National Park, ice sheets have decreased in size by 13 percent since 1971.

The region's glaciers will continue to melt as the climate heats up. Scientists with the University of Washington's Climate Impacts Group predict that the Northwest will warm about 1°F in the next 20 years–nearly as much as it did in the past century. Most vulnerable are the small glaciers (250 acres and smaller) that make up almost half of the region's ice sheets. Only those at the highest elevations will outlast the century.

This widespread retreat also impacts the appearance and accessibility of mountains. Andrew Fountain, a climate researcher at Portland State University, predicts that the snowy slopes of Mt. Hood will become drier and less vegetated, much like California's Mt. Lassen, within 50 years. Likewise, retreating glaciers and disappearing snow have already exposed more rock on Rainier's summer climbing routes, says Mike Gauthier, the peak's lead climbing ranger. Less snow means tougher footing, more rockfall hazards–and less climbing appeal. "For me, the whole area will become a lot less interesting," says Fountain. "You're losing one of the most attractive features of hiking in the Northwest, its snow and ice."

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May 28, 2013

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Oct 16, 2009

sad you can see this on Mt. Whitney as well but I believe its the way of nature glaciers grow and shrink only to grow again

Feb 05, 2009

does a ice cube melt at a consitant speed or does it speed up as it shrinks in size? In other words would a glacier melt faster towards the end?

Sep 11, 2008

no m-oo-re o-zone....ri-SIn-g glo-bal this not "solid" enough evidence of our presence?
should i keep going, orion?

Aug 05, 2008

Actually, we're still in an ice age.. the Holocene, current geological period we're in, is an era known as an interglacial. You just have to wait a few years for the glaciers to come back, unfortunatly. (sadly it'll take anywhere form 1,000 to 30,000 some years for this period to end.)
Our pollution isn't helping, and I'm all for doing what we can, but the earth is a lot more complicated than most people seem to think.

Jul 15, 2008

Orion - wake up dude. Where have you been?

You sound like a Hummer-driving redneck from around here. [or atleast those that drive a F-x50 with leather seats and sunroof to work]

Atleast watch Al Gore's movie for starters, and then come to your own conclusions.

Jun 03, 2008

Folks I thought we have already discussed this.....the ICE age is gone. It's a normal trend that is on a Global level. Us humans might be contributing a bit, but not the the point where it's melting all the ice. How do you think this land got here anyways? It's not like this land was here from the beginning of the universe. Take a look at the other planets in this solar system....mars might have had life one it at one time, which is why we are searching for the evidence. What happened to that planet? We don't know. Lets not jump to conclusions without solid evidence.


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