Measuring Glaciers

Measuring Glaciers


There we go. Finally. I have to admit, when I’m out on a glacier
and we’re carrying all the gear and we’re at a high elevation and your working really hard, I definitely ask
myself whether I really want to be doing this, but you look at the scenery and there’s really no other place that I
would rather be at that moment. The logistical issues with monitoring these
glaciers are about the toughest part of this. Getting to them safely and back safely requires an awful lot of work and so we we depend on having staff at Mount Rainier and at North Cascades. There are several reasons we monitor these
glaciers; they’re habitat for certain species and they’re part of the
alpine food web, they’re a tremendous indicator
climate change, but probably the most important reason
we monitor them is because of the water and these glaciers provide a substantial amount of water during the
summer that fuels the hydroelectric industry in the North Cascades. The glaciers are also providing considerable amount of meltwater to our
rivers and lakes and so they provide what we call
buffering capacity. This summer when we get very little rain these glaciers continue provide
water and buffer our lakes and streams from the summer drought, or droughts over
longer periods. So we’re connected to the lake the aquatic monitoring as well as
providing this overall weather and climate information. So in the spring, when we come out and
place abalation stakes, we rely on this steam drill, which the
insides are basically like a camping stove. We have a propane tank, we fill it with
water, we heat up the water, and it produces steam. The pressure builds inside, we release
the pressure and we have a thirteen meter hose that the steam comes out of that we
drill directly into the glacier. We drill 13 meters and we place the ablation stake down in the glacier and we can come back and watch it melt off that stake. We monitor glaciers by visiting them at least twice a year. And the idea is
that you want to measure how much snow the glaciers accumulate
on their surface in the winter and by melting stakes into the glacier in
the spring, we can monitor how much of that snow and ice beneath it
melts through the summer. Our observations have indicated that the
glaciers in the North Cascades have decreased about 50% in
area in the last century or so. So we’ve been studying the two glaciers,
Nisqually and Emmonds at Rainier since 2002. And every year there’s been a net loss. I think it’s been about one to two
meters equivalent loss throughout the whole glacier, which ends up being billions of gallons of water. If the public could actually see the measurements
we’re seeing, and see the glacier and how it changes every year It sometimes looks like it’s sometimes falling apart
or the snowfield actually looks like it’s rotting, it just becomes much more real, of the impact that climate
change could have. Monitoring glaciers is important because
they’re giving us a really dramatic measure of the climate
change and the global disruption that we’re seeing right now, that has been really important for
reaching the public and helping them understand this global climate change that’s
occurring.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *