Glacier National Park is melting at an alarming rate, and it’s because of climate change. That’s the conclusion of a new report from the U.S. Geological Survey and Portland State University explaining the disappearance of the glaciers at the vast Montana landmark. When the park was founded in 1910, it was home to about 150 glaciers; but today just 39 remain, only 26 of which are officially considered glaciers.
“There are variations in the climate, but it is humans that have made all those variations warmer,” said Daniel Farge, USGS director of climate change in the Mountain Ecosystems project. “The glaciers have been here for 7,000 years and will be gone in decades. This is not part of the natural cycle.”
Montana has seen temperature increases nearly twice the global average, and rather than glacier-forming snow, warmer winters bring rain, which erodes the glaciers. To be officially considered a glacier, a body of ice must be at least 25 acres in area. In 1966, National Glacier Park had 39 glaciers larger than 25 acres, but recent data shows that number has dropped to 26.
Besides the effect on the environment, another main concern is the impact the loss of glaciers will have on tourism. Last year 2.9 million people visited the park named for its glaciers.
The park experienced some ice loss starting in 1910, with “rapid and continual” melting beginning in the 1970s. On average, the glaciers have shrunk by 39 percent, though some have lost as much as 85 percent of their area. The largest, the Harrison Glacier, has experienced a 19 percent decrease over the past 50 years.
Glaciers in Montana are diminishing at the most alarming rate, but the trend is happening worldwide. 2016 was the hottest year on record and since 1994 the world has lost approximately 400 billion tons of glacier, according to NASA reports.
“The trend right now is that they are inexorably going into their final demise. There is no chance they will go into rebirth,” Fagre said. “In several decades, they will be mostly gone. They will grow so small that they will disappear. They will certainly be gone before the end of the century.”