De-Icer: USGS report details recent dramatic shrinkage” in U.S. glaciers, matching global decline

The guest blogger is Tom Kenworthy, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. The U.S. Geological Survey images below show the retreat of South Cascade Glacier, Wash.

GlacierFor a half century the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has been closely studying changes in glaciers in three different climatic regions in Alaska and Washington state. In a new report, the Interior Department agency details “recent dramatic shrinkage” in the Wolverine and Gulkana glaciers in Alaska and the South Cascade glacier in Washington state’s Cascade Mountains.

“Since 1989,” USGS reports, “the cumulative net balances of all three glaciers show trends of rapid and sustained mass loss.”

USGS scientist Edward Josberger said the changes observed in the three U.S. glaciers are consistent with other shrinking glacers around the world as they respond to climate change. “There is no doubt that most mountain glaciers are shrinking worldwide in response to a warming climate,” Josberger said.

A USGS video of photographs taken over time offers dramatic evidence of the recent rapid shrinkage of the South Cascade Glacier.

The accelerating pace of global warming is forcing scientists to revise their estimates of when some of the world’s iconic and most important glaciers will totally disappear.

National Geographic News reported in March, for example, that a USGS ecologist working in Montana’s Glacier National Park has concluded that the park’s namesake glaciers will disappear by 2020, ten years ahead of what had previously been the consensus prediction.

In June a new study of ice loss in Greenland demonstrated that the ice sheet was melting faster than earlier predicted and was responsible for nearly 25 percent of global sea rise in the last 13 years. Such rapid melting was not predicted by IPCC models.

Also in June, it was reported that Switzerland’s glaciers have shrunk by 12 percent in just the past decade, the worst ten-year loss in 150 years.

Rapid shrinking of glaciers doesn’t just affect the scenery. It will bring economic dislocation and political instability to some of the world’s most volatile regions.

A critically important Himalayan glacier that provides 90 percent of Pakistan’s agricultural irrigation water is now predicted to disappear by 2035. And hundreds of millions of people in India, China and Nepal could face water shortages because of other melting glaciers in the Himalayas, according to a World Wildlife Federation report.


22 Responses to De-Icer: USGS report details recent dramatic shrinkage” in U.S. glaciers, matching global decline

  1. ahrcanum says:

    Sad for the glaciers where the people population is nil. Sad for me who lives in the midwest where the August low was 48 degrees killing off flower blooms of tomatoes for the world to eat.

  2. Bullwinkle says:

    We had a 45 degree low in northern MN and my tomatoes are fine.

    [JR: Thanks for the weather report!]

  3. Bob Wright says:

    ahrcanum: It might have been late blight. Its all over the place this year. You better read the article again and study up on glaciers. We are talking about loss of dry season water for billions of people. Be kind to the refugees!

  4. ecostew says:

    We were at the hut in the early 1980s and traveled over to White Rock Lakes, etc. – AGW is at work:

  5. Mike#22 says:

    George Monbiot, writing in the Guardian, March 12 2009:

    “The more we know, the grimmer it gets.”


    “There is surely a strong case for the IPCC to publish interim reports every year, consisting of a summary of the latest science and its implications for global policy.”

  6. Gail says:

    wow, ecostew, that was one fabulous yarn, especially considering it’s all true. It amazes me that glaciologists have been on target since before I was born – and that until recently the debate has been so marginalized. Thanks for posting that!

  7. ecostew says:

    Gail – the post link was not me, but we were there twice in the early 80’S and stayed in the hut with our friends – the ice guys.

  8. Gail says:

    oh, I did figure it wasn’t your own writing, but a link. Still, just amazing. We have been warned of this impending disaster for so long, and done nothing but twiddle thumbs. I myself, up until last summer, thought my family in New Jersey might be wetter and warmer, but still okay. How I long to return to that pleasant misconception now!

  9. Gail says:

    Oops, I forgot to mention my primary reaction – reading that made me even more grateful for the intrepid scientists who do really, risk life and limb, and sacrifice long periods of time they could spend with their families or enjoying more entertaining pursuits, and instead are so dedicated to providing the rest of us with compelling information so that we can, um, usually ignore it…oh, sorry.

  10. Lou Grinzo says:

    Gail: Thanks for making the point about how grateful we should be to the scientists who are doing the often very physically challenging and unpleasant field work that’s need to advance climate science. When I watch many documentaries, like Extreme Ice (highly recommended), I’m amazed by what these men and women endure.

  11. Former Skeptic says:

    *Sarcasm on*

    Aha! But there IS IRREFUTABLE PROOF that THE ICE AGE is HAPPENING at South Cascade Glacier! (

    Expect Anthony Watts to point to this as part of the AGW conspiracahhhhh!!!

    *Sarcasm off*

  12. David Schonberger says:

    Another kick butt book about climate change and scientists risking life and limb on the ice to gather data is Mark Bowen’s “Thin Ice,” about the incomparable Lonnie Thompson. Read it if you have not already.

  13. K Nockels says:

    I live in North Central Washington State and drive the North Cascades Pass twice a year to see the kids. It use to be the most beautiful drive. Waterfalls and lakes, green forest and bright white glaciers spilling down the Alpine slopes for miles.In the last 12yrs I have seen it change, now if you don’t make it over by early May no waterfalls, the lakes and rivers are low by July(they use to run full year round) and the trees, so sad, there are hugh 2 mile wide swathes that are rust red and dying. The pass opens earlier and closes later now too. We had big snow fall this last winter that should have kept it closed later and the falls and rivers running high till last July but it was not to be. Between the heat waves and little to no rain we are in a forest fire fight for our lives. Each year its a little bit dryer and a little bit hotter and the water is a little lower a little earlier. I really wish we could get our act together and do whats rigt for our children if for nothing else.

  14. I have to second the recommendation for Thin Ice by Mark Bowen. Lonnie Thompson and his story is a must read. Also if you have not seen the three videos on climate science on you tube by potholer54 (Retired Sci. journalist) They are superb.

    If more people saw them before getting sucked into these junk science political propaganda sites, there would be a lot more sane discussion on Climate and the policy to deal with it. I have them on my site (Post before current), but Joe, you should really give them some of your much wider publicity.


  15. Raleigh Latham says:

    Well, I suggest everyone start writing your Senator to support H2454 Write now, I’ve already written the Senators for Oregon and California, but hope to also write every ignorant “Blue-Dog” democract who sticks their head in the sand rather than deal with this problem.

  16. BBHY says:

    But there are hundreds of glaciers around that world that have have stopped melting!

    Then again, that’s because they have completely melted away. I’m sure the deniers will still try to cling to that “evidence”.

    I guess now even the glaciers, along with Al Gore, are in on the “hoax”.

  17. Chris Winter says:

    I’ll echo the recommendations for Thin Ice by David Schonberger (#12) and Dan Satterfield (#14). What makes the book so compelling is that Bowen actually climbed with Thompson on Kilimanjaro and Nevado Sajama. There’s nothing like a first-person report. This link goes to my review.

    Also, in addition to potholer54 (mentioned by Dan) — and of course greenman3610 — the YouTube videos by wonderingmind42 are worth a look.

    (Apologies if this turns up twice. Apparently adding a link to the “Website” field changes my identity, hence looks like spoofing.)

  18. Richard Steckis says:

    Chris Winter says:

    “There’s nothing like a first-person report”

    Rubbish. A person who visits a place for a day or a week is not a credible authority on the climate dynamics surrounding that area.

  19. Gail says:

    Richard Steckis, I think you mis-read Chris Winter’s comment. I believe he means that a first-person report is visceral – not that it necessarily in and of itself conveys authority on the observer. Did you read his review before you branded his opinion “rubbish”?

  20. Chris Winter says:

    Richard Steckis wrote: “Rubbish. A person who visits a place for a day or a week is not a credible authority on the climate dynamics surrounding that area.”

    Unless he already was a credible authority on the climate dynamics surrounding that area. But I was not trying to paint physicist and mountain climber Mark Bowen as an authority on climate by virtue of his first-person reporting on Lonnie Thompson’s research — only as an authority on what Lonnie Thompson is doing. (Bowen spent much more than a week at this, by the way.) What Thompson is doing is some pretty remarkable stuff, in my opinion, even just from an adventure standpoint. Bowen’s book conveys this very well; you should read it.

    That said, I think a case can be made that Bowen does know enough about climate dynamics to be worth listening to on that subject — just as I would likely have some worthwhile things to say about astrophysics if I tagged along with Neil DeGrasse Tyson for a while.

  21. Chris Winter says:

    Thanks, Gail. You read my comment correctly. I think Mr. Steckis was reacting to the frequent criticism of anecdotal weather reports like “It was only 48° here last week; we sure could use some of that global warming.”