John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
The park could be almost glacier-free by 2030.
Montana’s Glacier National Park might soon need a new name, as its titular rivers of ice are melting away like white chocolate in a smelting furnace.
Back in the mid-1800s, the Rocky Mountains enclave—which last year enjoyed more than 2 million visits—sheltered some 150 glaciers. That number had plummeted to 83 by the 1960s, and today has hit a dismal low of 25. Blame the increasingly balmy climate for the park’s balding peaks, which could be nearly glacier-free as soon as 2030.
The endangered ice is the subject of a NASA comparison of satellite images showing the rapid pace of change over the past 32 years. First, here’s the park’s central region in August 1984. Stable masses of snow and ice show up as blue in the false-color image:
Fast-forward to August 2015 and you’ll notice some of the smaller frozen masses have completely disappeared, while larger glaciers show signs of severe atrophy (the bruised-looking areas at bottom are wildfire scars):
A 2010 report from the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization found that for the first decade of this millennium, the park endured a heat increase twice that of the global average. “The effects of this warming threaten Glacier National Park’s resources,” the organization warned, “from glaciers and snow-capped mountains to wildlife and forests, as well as the Montana jobs and tourism revenue the park generates.” Here’s another historical comparison, provided in that report, giving a closer view of the vanishing ice—specifically, Grinnell Glacier in 1981…
...and in 2009: