'Benchmark glaciers' shrinking at faster rate, study finds

Aug 07, 2009 By Les Blumenthal and Erika Bolstad

Climate change is shrinking three of the nation's most studied glaciers at an accelerated rate, and government scientists say that finding bolsters global concerns about rising sea levels and the availability of fresh drinking water.

Known as "benchmark ," the South Cascade Glacier in Washington state, the Wolverine Glacier on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula and the Gulkana Glacier in interior all have shown a "rapid and sustained" retreat, according to a report by the U.S. Geological Survey that was released Thursday.

"They are living on the edge," Ed Josberger, a USGS scientist based in Tacoma, Wash., said of the three glaciers. "We've crossed a threshold, and these glaciers along with those globally are shrinking."

For years, scientists have reported that glaciers around the world are melting, but the study offers some of the most definitive evidence to date. Because the three glaciers are in different climates and elevations, they can be used to help understand thousands of other North American glaciers.

At the beginning of the 20th century, when glaciers were at their last peak in terms of size, the mass, or volume, of the remote South Cascade Glacier was estimated to be half a cubic kilometer, or about 654 million cubic yards. By 1958, it had shrunk to half that size. The latest measurement, in 2004, found that it had shrunk by half yet again.

"We are getting warmer, and glaciers are shrinking," Josberger said.

With some exceptions caused by unique or unusual local conditions -- the glaciers on California's Mount Shasta, for example -- more than 99 percent of the country's thousands of glaciers are shrinking, said Bruce Molnia, another USGS scientist.

USGS scientists have been taking measurements and detailed pictures of the three glaciers in the study since 1957, including using ice-penetrating radar to map the bedrock beneath them. The studies, begun as part of the International Geophysical Year, were part of a Cold War-era interest in polar science spurred by the threat of war with another polar nation, the Soviet Union.

The result is a half-century's worth of data to use for modeling future changes, said Shad O'Neel, one of the USGS scientists based in Anchorage, Alaska, who worked on the study.

"These three glaciers have been losing mass since they've been studied, and that mass loss has gotten more rapid in the past 15 years," O'Neel said. "The most important thing about having a long record like this is that we can use these records to verify and validate models out into the future."

Although their data show a marked retreat in the sizes of the glaciers, changes to Alaska's many glaciers are also visible to the naked eye, O'Neel said. Gulkana Glacier is "markedly different than it was in the late 1980s," he said.

Worldwide, most glaciers are losing mass, and some are disappearing. Glacier National Park's namesake glaciers in Montana decreased from 150 to 26 over the past 99 years, and if current warming trends continue, scientists predict, they'll disappear entirely by 2030. Scientists also have predicted that the famed snows of Africa's Mount Kilimanjaro could retreat by 2015.

Scientists at the USGS's Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center, who study the glaciers in Montana, point out that a drop in runoff means changes in water temperature for the creatures in the downstream ecosystem: insects, fish and the animals that eat them.

It also means less available , O'Neel said, pointing out that Anchorage's drinking water is derived from runoff from Eklutna Glacier. There's little threat to Anchorage's water supply, but Bolivia's Chacaltaya Glacier disappeared this year, earlier than predicted. Its disappearance worries scientists that other glaciers in the region could be melting faster than expected, potentially threatening water supplies for millions of people in South America.

The long-term study is "exactly the kind of science we need to invest in to measure and mitigate the dangerous impacts of climate change," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said.

ON THE WEB

The USGS study: pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2009/3046/

Glacier National Park: www.nps.gov/glac

Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center: www.nrmsc.usgs.gov/research/global.htm
___

(c) 2009, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
Visit the McClatchy Washington Bureau on the World Wide Web at www.mcclatchydc.com

Explore further: NASA's HS3 mission spotlight: The HIRAD instrument

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Most Alaskan glaciers retreating, thinning, and stagnating

Oct 06, 2008

Most glaciers in every mountain range and island group in Alaska are experiencing significant retreat, thinning or stagnation, especially glaciers at lower elevations, according to a new book published by the U.S. Geological ...

Scientists expect increased melting of mountain glaciers

Jan 20, 2006

Sea level rise due to increased melting of mountain glaciers and polar ice caps will be much lower in the 21st Century than previously estimated. However, decay of mountain glaciers in due to global warming will be much more ...

Shrinking glaciers threaten China

Nov 02, 2007

China's glaciers in western Xinjiang Uygur region are shrinking alarmingly due to global and regional warming, posing a threat to the oases in the area.

Glaciers feeding Ganges may melt down

Jul 01, 2005

Indian scientists say carbon dioxide and other emissions will cause the melt down of glaciers feeding the Ganges River before the century's end.

Recommended for you

Fires in Central Africa During July 2014

8 hours ago

Hundreds of fires covered central Africa in mid-July 2014, as the annual fire season continues across the region. Multiple red hotspots, which indicate areas of increased temperatures, are heavily sprinkled ...

NASA's HS3 mission spotlight: The HIRAD instrument

18 hours ago

The Hurricane Imaging Radiometer, known as HIRAD, will fly aboard one of two unmanned Global Hawk aircraft during NASA's Hurricane Severe Storm Sentinel or HS3 mission from Wallops beginning August 26 through ...

Fires in the Northern Territories July 2014

Jul 23, 2014

Environment Canada has issued a high health risk warning for Yellowknife and surrounding area because of heavy smoke in the region due to forest fires. In the image taken by the Aqua satellite, the smoke ...

User comments : 18

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

RayCherry
3 / 5 (2) Aug 07, 2009
Perhaps those folks in Switzerland should extend their prayers, and maybe the rest of us could change our behaviours and rituals too

http://www.physor...353.html
Wesch
3 / 5 (2) Aug 07, 2009
Oh, please. Les Blumenthal and Erika Bolstad have not done their homework.

Loss from the South Cascade glacier has in fact been accelerating. But the Gulkana and Wolverine glaciers, while still losing mass, show absolutely no recent increase in their rate of loss. Since the early 1990s, they have been losing mass at about the same rate.

This is advocacy disguised as science. Don't believe me? Do what Les and Erika should have done ... look at the official records at http://ak.water.u...ance.txt
Velanarris
5 / 5 (1) Aug 09, 2009
I'm a fan of this part.

Note: 3/10/2004 - changes were made to S. Cascade Glacier 1986-91
data to reflect re-analysis of the data (Krimmel, 2000).
They calculated the previous data up to make the loss for this time period more dramatic.
SteveS
1 / 5 (1) Aug 10, 2009
They calculated the previous data up to make the loss for this time period more dramatic.


or down to make it less dramatic
Velanarris
5 / 5 (1) Aug 10, 2009
They calculated the previous data up to make the loss for this time period more dramatic.

or down to make it less dramatic

You'd be terrible in the news business.

(Read Krimmel's paper, it was adjusted up significantly).
SteveS
1 / 5 (1) Aug 11, 2009
They calculated the previous data up to make the loss for this time period more dramatic.


or down to make it less dramatic


You'd be terrible in the news business.

(Read Krimmel's paper, it was adjusted up significantly).


Your right, I would be terrible in the news business. I like to think that I try to be unbiased.

I suspect that the data was reanalysed due to some systematic error and that the result was to make it more accurate. I can't be sure though as I haven't been able to find the paper, can you post a link?
Velanarris
5 / 5 (1) Aug 11, 2009
Can you read German? This is the one I read, I've never seen an English translation.

http://www.curac....artz.pdf

SteveS
not rated yet Aug 11, 2009
Can you read German? This is the one I read, I've never seen an English translation.


http://www.curac....artz.pdf

I can read enough German to get the gist of "minimal-invasiver endoskopischer Operationsmethoden"

This paper has nothing to do with glaciers as the diagrams at the end make abundantly clear, and was not written by R.M.Krimmel although it does contain a reference to M Krimmels paper

"M Krimmel, J Hoffmann, D Gulicher et al. (Krimmel 2000):

Bedeutung der Videoendoskopie f%uFFFDr die operative Versorgung von Jochbeinfrakturen. 38. Jahrestagung der Deutschen Gesellschaft f%uFFFDr Plastische und Wiederherstellungschirurgie, 2000."

This has nothing to do with glaciers either.

The paper relating to the glacier data is

"Krimmel, R.M., 2000, Water, ice, and meteorological measurements at South Cascade Glacier, Washington, 1986 - 1991 balance years: U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 00-4006, 77p."

I would be grateful to anybody who could supply a link to this paper, as I've been unable to find one anywhere, and I think it only fair to give it a reading before commenting on the author's honesty



Velanarris
not rated yet Aug 11, 2009
My apologies, I linked the wrong paper. (Saw the name and familiar text format).


This is an article from U.S. Geological Survey, which is not present on their site, meaning you'll probably have to find it at your local library or order it from the USGS.


http://www.wester...ngs/1974 WEB/KrimmelSouthCascadeGlacierRunoff1974.pdf
SteveS
1 / 5 (1) Aug 11, 2009
They calculated the previous data up to make the loss for this time period more dramatic.


Then

(Read Krimmel's paper, it was adjusted up significantly).


and then

Can you read German? This is the one I read, I've never seen an English translation.


and then finally

This is an article from U.S. Geological Survey, which is not present on their site, meaning you'll probably have to find it at your local library or order it from the USGS.


It would appear to me that you have never read this paper (not even in German). Therefore you are in no position to comment on other people's honesty.

Velanarris
5 / 5 (1) Aug 12, 2009
Steve,

If you take a single mistake as wrongdoing, then you'll find yourself very alone. I read many hundreds of scientific papers each month. To mistake Krimmel 2000 and Krimmel 2000 was not intentioned. If you take it as so, well, sorry is the best I can offer.
SteveS
1 / 5 (1) Aug 14, 2009
I'm a fan of this part.



Note: 3/10/2004 - changes were made to S. Cascade Glacier 1986-91



data to reflect re-analysis of the data (Krimmel, 2000).



They calculated the previous data up to make the loss for this time period more dramatic.




Look at the data, five of the six data points between 1986-91 show a decrease in the rate of loss and the last point shows a net gain. This doesn't look "more dramatic" to me.



SteveS
1 / 5 (1) Aug 14, 2009
If you take a single mistake as wrongdoing, then you'll find yourself very alone.

This is not the first time you have posted irrelevant or misleading links.

http://www.physor...625.html
My apologies, I linked the wrong paper. (Saw the name and familiar text format).

The authors name at the top of page one is Bartz Dirk, Krimmel is not even one of the co-authors, and in fact the name only appears onceat the bottom of the references on page two.

If you read German and recognised the name and familiar text format why didn't you see the title, after all it's in large bold type right under the list of authors.

I'm quite happy to read the German paper you claim to have read, go on prove me wrong, post a link.

Velanarris
5 / 5 (1) Aug 14, 2009
So lowering the median of the initial measurements and adjusting the final median up to show a larger swing in ice loss doesn't look disingenuous to you?

And I've been looking for a link. The USGS doesn't have the paper on their site any longer.
SteveS
3 / 5 (2) Aug 14, 2009
So lowering the median of the initial measurements...

You no nothing of the initial measurements.
you and I are of the same mind, we simply seek truth.

Hypocrite
SteveS
5 / 5 (1) Aug 14, 2009
So lowering the median of the initial measurements...


You no nothing of the initial measurements.

you and I are of the same mind, we simply seek truth.


Hypocrite


Post in hast regret at leisure, that should have read

"You know nothing of the initial measurements."
Velanarris
not rated yet Aug 14, 2009
Ok, go get the USGS raw data and subsequent research papers on your own. I'm not interested in playing this game with anyone.
SteveS
1 / 5 (1) Aug 14, 2009
Ok, go get the USGS raw data and subsequent research papers on your own. I'm not interested in playing this game with anyone.

Game?

You accuse somebody of falsifying data and think it's a game?

Prove it or apologise