Soon, the only glacier in Montana’s Glacier National Park will be in the park’s name

Only 26 glaciers remain, down from 150 a century ago.

Boulder Glacier in 1918 (left) and 2012 (right). CREDIT: USGS
Boulder Glacier in 1918 (left) and 2012 (right). CREDIT: USGS

Soon, the only glacier in Montana’s Glacier National Park will be in the park’s name, thanks to human-caused global warming.

A century ago, the Park had about 150 glaciers. By 1966, that was down to 37. The US Geological Survey reported Wednesday that only 26 remain, with some losing as much as 85 percent of their area over the past five decades.

“It’s inevitable that we will lose them all over the next few decades,” said Dr. Daniel Fagre, who led the research for USGS.

The American West has been warming twice as fast as the world as a whole for several decades, and Glacier National Park (GNP) has seen a tripling of 90°F days over the last century. As a result, the one million-acre park that borders Canada has lost more than four fifths of its original glaciers. To be considered an “active” glacier, they must exceed 25 acres. Boulder Glacier (pictured above) is no longer “active.”

The perimeter of Sperry Glacier in 1966,1998, 2005, and 2015. CREDIT: USGS
The perimeter of Sperry Glacier in 1966,1998, 2005, and 2015. CREDIT: USGS

The USGS made digital maps (see left, larger imager here) using aerial photos and satellites to compare glacier areas in 1966, 1998, 2005 and 2015–2016.

The average GNP glacier has shrunk 39 percent since 1966. But Fagre noted that finding was conservative since they only looked at glacier area, not volume. These glaciers have also been thinning and are thus increasingly vulnerable to rapid disintegration.

So it’s time to put Glacier National Park on your climate bucket list and visit before it is simply “National Park.”