Sunday April 21, 2019
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A ride through Glacier National Park in Montana, USA

Located in Montana, USA, Glacier National Park offers more than glaciers to anyone who visits. It is rightly called Crown of the Continent.

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This view of Lake McDonald, one of many glacier-fed bodies of water in Glacier National Park, was one of the reasons adventurer Mikah Meyer decided to embark on an epic journey to visit all 417 national parks.
This view of Lake McDonald, one of many glacier-fed bodies of water in Glacier National Park, was one of the reasons adventurer Mikah Meyer decided to embark on an epic journey to visit all 417 national parks. VOA

There was a time — in this northwest corner of Montana — when glaciers ruled the land.

Crown of the Continent

The abundance of the massive rivers of ice — and their runoff — created “a land of striking scenery.” That’s how American anthropologist, historian, naturalist and writer George Bird Grinnell described Glacier National Park, nine years before the land was set aside as a national park on May 11, 1910.

Today, there are far fewer icy behemoths. And they’re all shrinking.

These photos of Jackson Glacier – taken in 1911 and 2009 -- show how the once-massive river of ice has shrunk in less than a century.
These photos of Jackson Glacier – taken in 1911 and 2009 — show how the once-massive river of ice has shrunk in less than a century.

“There are currently 26 glaciers in Glacier National Park,” says national parks traveler Mikah Meyer. “I can’t remember the exact number that there were when it was founded but it was vastly higher,” he added. “The glaciers are melting and the snowfall is not restoring their size in the way that they have in past years.”

Melting glaciers

But the glaciers – both those long gone and those that still remain — have left their mark. As they started melting 10,000 years ago, they carved out majestic mountains, lush valleys, and pristine lakes.

Glacial waters are the headwaters for streams that flow west to the Pacific Ocean, south to the Gulf of Mexico, and east across the continent to Hudson’s Bay, according to the National Park Service. It emphasizes that that runoff “affects waters in a huge section of North America.”

With more than 760 lakes and nearly half a million hectares of parkland, it’s easy to see why Mikah has returned.

“Five years ago I stood on this exact same spot; at the end of the dock on Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park,” he said as he stood in front of a landscape so serene, it could have passed as a painting.

“It was one of my first experiences with the National Park Service site and I was hooked,” he admitted.

Waters from those melting glaciers also feed Iceberg Lake — another popular attraction in the park. “It is very cold and very windy and lots of little icebergs floating back there by the snow,” Mikah said as he braved the winds to capture the scene with his camera.

Iceberg Lake is a popular day hike destination in the park.
Iceberg Lake is a popular day hike destination in the park.

But despite the cold, nearby wildflowers were in full bloom, creating a pastoral setting. As Mikah walked through a field of bear grass, he said he felt like he was “in some fairytale land.”

The elegant white blossoms are a common wildflower in Glacier National Park, which this year grew in prolific numbers. They provided a perfect environment to view the local wildlife, including deer, moose, marmots and mountain goats.

Generous tour companies

Mikah got lucky when several tour companies offered him a chance to explore the park from a variety of perspectives. With Red Bus Tours, Mikah got a nice overview of the park from their vintage 1930s buses.

The 33 Red Buses of Glacier National Park, nicknamed “The Rubies of the Rockies,” on average, transport 60,000 tourist each summer.
The 33 Red Buses of Glacier National Park, nicknamed “The Rubies of the Rockies,” on average, transport 60,000 tourist each summer.

“It’s a massive park — it takes an hour and a half just to cross it,” he noted. “So it’s a guided tour that allows you to focus on looking at the beauty of the park instead of having to stay on these tiny mountain roads.”

Swan Mountain Outfitters donated a horseback tour for an eight-hour trek to Cracker Lake, an eye-popping turquoise body of water which is also fed by melting glacial waters.

Mikah described the scene: “You crest over this hill on the horses and you’re in the middle, surrounded by bear grass and trees and flowers and these large gray mountains in the background, and it just pops like nothing else.”

With its stunning turquoise waters, Cracker Lake stands out like a jewel against a backdrop of greens and grays.
With its stunning turquoise waters, Cracker Lake stands out like a jewel against a backdrop of greens and grays.

And thanks to Montana Whitewater Rafting, Mikah got to experience those glacial waters up close during a rafting tour on the Middle Fork River — a 150-kilometer river in western Montana that forms the southwestern boundary of the park.

“It was a very clear river,” Mikah said, since the water was a combination of glacier melt and snow runoff. “So you could see down through the water to the bottom, see the rocks, and the fish, so very pure, very clear water.”

National parks traveler Mikah Meyer got to experience the clear glacial waters of Montana's Middle Fork River during an exhilarating rafting ride.
National parks traveler Mikah Meyer got to experience the clear glacial waters of Montana’s Middle Fork River during an exhilarating rafting ride. (Photo: Montana Raft)

Mikah was pleased to have experienced the park from the depths of the water as well as from the top of a ski lift where he could see “where it all started.”

Mikah, who’s on a mission to visit all 417 national parks in the U.S., says he hopes to come back again one day, even if the glaciers are gone.

“Even if the physical glaciers don’t still exist because they melted away, it can still be Glacier National Park because that’s what created this amazing landscape.” (VOA)

Next Story

Glaciers are Melting Much Faster than Scientists Thought

A new study shows they are losing 369 billion tons of snow and ice each year, more than half of that in North America.

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global warming, glaciers
FILE -An ice crevasse is seen on the Baishui Glacier No. 1, the world's fastest melting glacier due to its proximity to the Equator, on the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in the southern province of Yunnan in China, Sept. 22, 2018. VOA

Earth’s glaciers are melting much faster than scientists thought. A new study shows they are losing 369 billion tons of snow and ice each year, more than half of that in North America.

The most comprehensive measurement of glaciers worldwide found that thousands of inland masses of snow compressed into ice are shrinking 18 percent faster than an international panel of scientists calculated in 2013.

The world’s glaciers are shrinking five times faster now than they were in the 1960s. Their melt is accelerating due to global warming, and adding more water to already rising seas, the study found.

“Over 30 years suddenly almost all regions started losing mass at the same time,” said lead author Michael Zemp, director of the World Glacier Monitoring Service at the University of Zurich. “That’s clearly climate change if you look at the global picture.”

global warming, glaciers
The Collins glacier on King George Island has retreated in the last 10 years and shows signs of fragility, in the Antarctic, Feb. 2, 2018. VOA

The glaciers shrinking fastest are in central Europe, the Caucasus region, western Canada, the U.S. Lower 48 states, New Zealand and near the tropics. Glaciers in these places on average are losing more than 1 percent of their mass each year, according to a study in Monday’s journal Nature.

“In these regions, at the current glacier loss rate, the glaciers will not survive the century,” Zemp said.

Zemp’s team used ground and satellite measurements to look at 19,000 glaciers, far more than previous studies. They determined that southwestern Asia is the only region of 19 where glaciers are not shrinking, which Zemp said is due to local climate conditions.

Since 1961, the world has lost 10.6 trillion tons of ice and snow (9.6 trillion metric tons), the study found. That’s enough to cover the lower 48 U.S. states in about 4 feet of ice.

Scientists have known for a long time that global warming caused by human activities like burning coal, gasoline and diesel for electricity and transportation is making Earth loose its ice. They have been especially concerned with the large ice sheets covering Greenland and Antarctica.

This study, “is telling us there’s much more to the story,” said Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, who wasn’t part of the study. “The influence of glaciers on sea level is bigger than we thought.”

A number of factors are making sea levels rise. The biggest cause is that oceans are getting warmer, which makes water expand. The new figures show glacier melt is a bigger contributor than thought, responsible for about 25% to 30% of the yearly rise in oceans, Zemp said.

Rising seas threaten coastal cities around the world and put more people at risk of flooding during storms.

glaciers, global warming
The suns sets against an iceberg floating in the Nuup Kangerlua Fjord near Nuuk in southwestern Greenland, Aug. 1, 2017. Greenland’s glaciers have been melting and retreating at an accelerated pace in recent years due to warmer temperatures. VOA

Glaciers grow in winter and shrink in summer, but as the Earth has warmed, they are growing less and shrinking more. Zemp said warmer summer temperatures are the main reason glaciers are shrinking faster.

While people think of glaciers as polar issues, shrinking mountain glaciers closer to the equator can cause serious problems for people who depend on them, said Twila Moon, a snow and ice data center scientist who also wasn’t part of the study. She said people in the Andes, for example, rely on the glaciers for drinking and irrigation water each summer.

ALSO READ: Solar Installation in Massachusetts to Fight Climate Change

A separate study Monday in Environmental Research Letters confirmed faster melting and other changes in the Arctic. It found that in winter, the Arctic is warming 2.8 times faster than the rest of the Northern Hemisphere. Overall, the region is getting more humid, cloudier and wetter.

“It’s on steroids, it’s hyperactive,” said lead author Jason Box, a scientist for the Danish Meteorological Institute. (VOA)