What Is Going on With the Glaciers at Glacier National Park?

It has now been seven years since the government’s glacier-size tables have been updated

By Roger Roots, J.D., Ph.D.

              For the past seven years I have journeyed to Glacier National Park (GNP) during the second week of September to observe the state of the glaciers at their lowest point of each year.  I also try to observe the state of the official literature, signage, films and lectures on the topic of glacier size.

              In the spring of 2019 I broke the story that National Park Service had quietly removed signs in GNP which predicted the glaciers would all be gone by 2020.  They removed these signs during the winter when the visitor facilities were closed to the public.  In the past three years the government has transitioned to claims that the glaciers are steadily melting but no one can predict precisely when they’ll disappear.

              The average date of first freeze in East Glacier is September 13, and this is generally when the glaciers stop melting and begin growing again.  It is only then that comparisons can be made with prior years.  However, official U.S. government websites show images of GNP’s glaciers with captions giving just the years; not the calendar dates.  By juxtapositioning a photo from, say, “1911,” showing a huge glacier, next to a photo of the same glacier—much diminished—from, say, “2009,” these government websites seek to depict the glaciers as steadily melting. See here, here, and here

 But anyone who lives in glacier country knows that glaciers generally grow each year for 9 months and melt for 3 months.  A picture taken in July will show a glacier much larger than a picture of the same glacier taken in September.

Many of the Park’s glaciers are very remote, requiring a 20-mile-plus, one-way backpacking trip deep in grizzly bear country.  There are still several I have never seen.  As Patrick Moore has observed, most of the media’s environmental scare stories are based on things that “are either invisible, like CO2 and radiation, or very remote, like polar bears and coral reefs.”

THE PROBLEM OF THE USGS’S GLACIER SIZE TABLES

For many years, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has published a data table purporting to show exact measurements of GNP’s glaciers beginning in 1966.  The entries in the table are curious for a number of reasons, beginning with the lack-of-calendar-date problem already mentioned.  And the entries for the year 1966 are claimed to be derived from “original 1966 aerial imagery.”  Yet links associated with the data indicate the “imagery” consists of “topographic maps” derived from apparently long-lost aerial photos.  This is a little like trying to estimate total gallons of water in the Mississippi River in 1966 based on the width of the river depicted in a 1966 Rand McNally road atlas.     

Glaciers are notoriously difficult to measure because they generally have odd contours.  Nonetheless, the USGS purports to be able to say with precision that between 1966 and 2015 (again, no calendar dates), the Agassiz Glacier melted 83 percent, the Ahern Glacier diminished 33 percent, the Blackfoot Glacier decreased by 70 percent, and so forth.  For the most part the popular and scientific press repeats these data claims without challenge.

Oddly, given the recent increase in popular alarmism over global warming, the government hasn’t updated their glacier size tables in seven (7) years.  My emails to the project supervisor of the USGS have yielded assurances that the USGS is “on track to update USGS geodetic glacier data this fall.” The USGS reportedly took aerial photography last year (2021) at the end of an extremely hot and dry summer.

              On September 10, 2022, my brother Alex and I snapped pictures of the Grinnell Glacier in the central area of the National Park.  We then compared 2022 with a picture taken on August 26, 2010. You can see that the Glacier has not appreciably changed size in TWELVE years.  In fact, the 2010 photo (taken by USGS scientist Daniel Fagre) was taken with two weeks of melting left to go before the end of melt season in 2010).

              So it appears the USGS may be having difficulties preparing its data table for publication.  When they release the new data, I will provide an update.

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October 29, 2022 2:10 pm

I’ll be. That “7 year” reference rings loud and clear. When plotting both the annual surface and satellite temperature data — they both show a very slight linear cooling trend. I wonder if glaciers know that too.

Last edited 3 months ago by John Shewchuk
Walter
Reply to  John Shewchuk
October 29, 2022 2:35 pm

In all likelihood, I think that’s the reason they’re not uploading it. It’s been pretty apparent that the warming has reversed over the last 5 or so years. All eyes are on the upcoming winter.

Rich Davis
Reply to  Walter
October 29, 2022 5:27 pm

No no, data just takes a long time to cook

Jeff Alberts
Reply to  Rich Davis
October 29, 2022 9:48 pm

Takes a really big crock pot to make a big crock of lies.

Reply to  John Shewchuk
October 29, 2022 3:45 pm

What’s going on with Hubbard Glacier… you used to be able to track it’s advance or decline …. what happened ?
It is supposedly advancing overall !

Reply to  JON P PETERSON
October 29, 2022 4:35 pm

I don’t think the Park Service is interested in advertising advancing glaciers.

Duker
Reply to  John Shewchuk
October 29, 2022 8:50 pm

May not be interested but the Freedom of Information means they must provide their records and ‘communications’ including ones for internal use when asked

https://www.nps.gov/aboutus/foia/index.htm

Last edited 3 months ago by Duker
Gary Pearse
Reply to  JON P PETERSON
October 30, 2022 8:30 am

Well, no news from alarmists is pretty solid data on the status of a climate metric. They comb every possible thing they can. Remember sheep were getting smaller with global warming? I used to have a mixed farm in Eastern Ontario on which the groundwater had tastable sulpher and I grew the biggest spring lambs in the province (I was queried on whether I was butchering too late) and magnificent vegetables which I attributed to elevated sulphur.

The puny sheep ‘cherry picked’ by alarmists, probably weren’t getting their sulphur!

Gary Pearse
Reply to  John Shewchuk
October 30, 2022 8:09 am

Christopher Monckton’s 8 yr new pause coincides with this, too!

Reply to  Gary Pearse
October 30, 2022 8:16 am

Exactly. And so far, the way the temperatures are revealing, by Dec 31st there will be another year added to this cooling trend. If only the IPCC was able to see the sun — and its power to rule our climate.

Hivemind
Reply to  John Shewchuk
October 30, 2022 8:24 pm

A hundred billion tons of hydrogen per second can’t be wrong.

Loydo
Reply to  John Shewchuk
October 30, 2022 2:17 pm

 “I wonder if glaciers know that too.”

Well lets ask them shall we.

http://wgms.ch/data/faq/_FAQ_RefGlac_Global_Cum_MB.svg
https://wgms.ch/global-glacier-state/
World Glacier monitoring service.

WUWT disinformation: move along, nothing to see.
Reality: accellerating global decline.

Reply to  Loydo
October 30, 2022 2:30 pm

U.N. agencies are not known for reliable information … https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uU6apI31BMo

D. J. Hawkins
Reply to  Loydo
October 30, 2022 4:38 pm

Nice goal post shift there, Loydo. We’re talking about Glacier National Park. Try to get your ADHD under control.

Arthur Foster
Reply to  Loydo
October 31, 2022 1:08 pm

And for perspective:

“Joseph Whidbey, master of the Discovery during the 1791–95 Vancouver expedition, found Icy Strait, at the south end of Glacier Bay, choked with ice in 1794. Glacier Bay itself was almost entirely covered by one large tidewater glacier.[27] In 1879 naturalist John Muir found that the ice had retreated almost all the way up the bay, a distance of around 48 miles (77 km).[28] By 1916 the Grand Pacific Glacier was at the head of Tarr Inlet about 65 miles (105 km) from Glacier Bay’s mouth. This is the fastest documented glacier retreat.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glacier_Bay_National_Park_and_Preserve

Gene
Reply to  Loydo
November 2, 2022 8:09 am

Loydo… do you ever fact check your favorite green sites… before you post?

Jarrett Rhoades
Reply to  Loydo
November 4, 2022 12:26 pm

U r so full of It.

Are your eyes brown?

October 29, 2022 2:15 pm

Ja. Ja. But the ice should be melting and as usual it is your fault….
https://breadonthewater.co.za/2022/08/02/global-warming-how-and-where

HeckSpawn
October 29, 2022 2:19 pm

I suggest you check out the Palisades Glaciers west of Big Pine, Ca, the southernmost glaciers in the US. Only a couple miles hike from the trailhead and a great restaurant there at the top of the hill.

https://goo.gl/maps/ycBRo7AmPHRjF1668

ron long
October 29, 2022 2:22 pm

Glaciers misbehaving? Looks like the USGS has gone all-in with the CAGW crowd, leaving behind that sciency stuff. Follow the money.

John V. Wright
October 29, 2022 2:23 pm

Really nice post Roger, thank you. Let us all remember that we are in the early foothills of the current Maunder Minimum. It will be interesting to see if there are any official misdirections/obfuscations/ and “explanations” as the inevitable advance of northern ice flows gets underway.

Walter
Reply to  John V. Wright
October 29, 2022 4:06 pm

How’s the current solar cycle looking

Reply to  Walter
October 29, 2022 5:35 pm

WUWT’s link to the solar page shows regular sunspots. Last I looked, almost no spotless days this year.

John Hultquist
Reply to  ATheoK
October 29, 2022 8:14 pm

Just one. See the left column here:
 https://spaceweather.com/

Ben Vorlich
Reply to  John Hultquist
October 30, 2022 3:54 am

Thanks for that link, I learnt something new as a result.

Mars has “a giant cloud of water ice that forms over the Martian north pole during winter.” and which looks blue.

Peter W
October 29, 2022 3:00 pm

Having studied this glacial melting matter starting with a personal visit to Glacier Bay in Alaska in 2006, from historical records there, plus subsequent observations, I see no reason to give any credibility whatsoever to this type of fear-mongering garbage.

Doug
October 29, 2022 3:22 pm

If the glaciers show growth, who would want to tell us. It’s akin to saying, “Once again I was wrong” and many alarmists have an aversion to that

Steve Richards
Reply to  Doug
October 29, 2022 7:53 pm

I think you ment to say most, not many!

D. J. Hawkins
Reply to  Steve Richards
October 30, 2022 4:40 pm

I think you meant to say “all”, not “most”.

Scissor
October 29, 2022 3:52 pm

On occasion I have an opportunity to hike on some of the Colorado snow fields in summer. I find that their size varies like weather does.

October 29, 2022 3:56 pm

Simply look at the temperature graph for that region. There has been no warming for decades.

Mike Smith
October 29, 2022 4:01 pm

Icy come, icy go.

Terry
October 29, 2022 4:24 pm

They grew in the Little Ice Age period and now they melt in the warming period that follows it. What’s the big deal here??? Do you want to live in the heart of the L.I.A?

Hivemind
Reply to  Terry
October 30, 2022 8:27 pm

The warmists think that that was when our weather was perfect. That’s why they measure all warming from the coldest part of the LIA.

Keith Woollard
October 29, 2022 4:48 pm

The 1966 photos are probably stereo so you can build a topographic map from them

October 29, 2022 5:07 pm

Comprehensive, high resolution aerial and satellite glacier data doesn’t start until the 60s, but the data we do have indicates the VAST majority of melting was before 1950 and was faster.

https://researchgate.net/publication/307805044_A_data_set_of_worldwide_glacier_length_fluctuations

Reply to  aaron
October 29, 2022 5:09 pm

Glaciers retreated faster before global warming.

D9DAB35D-B281-4D03-8CB8-D90A73BB12B0.png
bobm
October 29, 2022 5:23 pm

I was there in August, 2017. Couldn’t believe the “gone by 2020” claims. Note they were predicted by computer “climate models”. One sign said by 2030. When I pointed out how ridiculous those claims were to the folks at the counter I was told they were forced by the current Administration, (Obama).

glacier_np_2017.0264.jpg
bobm
Reply to  bobm
October 29, 2022 5:24 pm

Another picture. How to upload more than one per comment?

glacier_np_2017.0265.jpg
bobm
Reply to  bobm
October 29, 2022 5:25 pm

Some more extended commentary I saw. Mentions gone by 2030.

glacier_np_2017.0263.jpg
Frizzy
Reply to  bobm
October 30, 2022 2:56 am

I have that exact same photo taken in 2015.

mkelly
October 29, 2022 5:48 pm

When the family went through Glacier in mid 2000’s we stopped to dip our feet in Lake McDonald. There was no mention that one of the attractions of the park was there due to melting of glaciers.

observa
Reply to  rah
October 30, 2022 6:20 am
Dave Andrews
Reply to  rah
October 30, 2022 9:08 am

Makes sense. Hubert Lamb noted that the open season for shipping at the coal port In Spitsbergen (Svalbard) went from 3 months of the year before 1920 to over 7 months of the year by the late 1930s. The Arctic and wider regions were warming.

Bob
October 29, 2022 7:56 pm

This is becoming a real problem, you should be able to trust the information your government puts out. They have been caught outright lying, leaving information out or not using the correct context so many times I don’t listen to them anymore. It isn’t my job to fact check them, it is their job to always tell the the the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

JBP
Reply to  Bob
October 29, 2022 8:14 pm

“it is their job to always tell the the the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

Hahahahahaha

Good one

roaddog
Reply to  Bob
October 30, 2022 1:26 am

See “The Golden Rule.”

Hivemind
Reply to  roaddog
October 30, 2022 8:29 pm

He who pays the money makes the rules?

Deano
Reply to  Hivemind
October 30, 2022 11:09 pm

He who has the gold makes the rules…

cpratt@telusplanet.net
October 29, 2022 8:02 pm

Facts? Who needs facts?

yarpos
October 29, 2022 9:45 pm

Usually when the reporting stops it usually means the item being measured has gone off narrative, so best just to stop or even better, memory hole it. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology has a bar cart showing the severity and frequency of cyclones. It was not updated for quite a few years. Coincidentally in the same period, the frequency and intensity of cyclones followed the US hurricane trend and was (and still is) trending down. Still 5 years out of date.

Ben Vorlich
Reply to  yarpos
October 30, 2022 4:00 am

In these cases I often wonder how many of these are as you say the data not doing what it is supposed to and how much is caused by the person whose job it was to create the charts has been promoted thanks to doing a good job and there is no or an uninterested replacement doing something else to alarm us.

observa
October 30, 2022 5:23 am

the USGS purports to be able to say with precision that between 1966 and 2015 (again, no calendar dates), the Agassiz Glacier melted 83 percent, the Ahern Glacier diminished 33 percent, the Blackfoot Glacier decreased by 70 percent, and so forth.

Certain glaciers have more CO2 in the valleys above them presumably? Have they been measuring the concentrations of CO2 above them for the correlation?

Ray
October 30, 2022 7:12 am

Drones may be your friend for taking photos of at least some of the remote glaciers. A search using “drone photography in glacier national park” will yield links to a NPS site telling you that use of drones is prohibited. You will also find a site with some great drone photography taken in GNP.

NickSJ
October 30, 2022 8:58 am

There should be satellite imagery available dating back many years which anyone could use to calculate glacier size trends.

October 30, 2022 9:51 am

Roger
Outstanding observations and write up.
The biggest alpine glacier in a temperate climate is the Taku, just inland from Juneau. Decades ago, I worked on a molydenum prospect on the south side of the Taku River and became interested in the glacier. Which a long time ago, would form ice dams that would fail releasing and massive floods. A few years ago I came across a chart showing the position of the extent of the glacier. That was to 2014, so I contacted the USGS in Juneau and asked for the updated chart. Got stonewalled and gave up.

DMacKenzie
Reply to  Bob Hoye
October 31, 2022 8:32 pm

A peruse of Google Earth should give you what you want.

Randall _G
October 30, 2022 10:00 am

I’m curious. How big does a snow and ice patch have to be to be classified as a glacier? If a year round patch is only 10 meters wide, is that a glacier or just an ice field? What is the criteria for the title of “glacier”?

Reply to  Randall _G
October 30, 2022 1:32 pm

What is the criteria for the title of “glacier”?

The ice has to move.

john b
October 30, 2022 4:36 pm

We had record snowfall here in the mountains of Glacier for the winter 2021/2022. The major – and only — road through the park , Going to the Sun Road did not even open for car traffic until Jul 13 — tying for the latest opening date ever. Some back country campsites — like the one at Boulder Pass– didn’t even open up until the end of the 1st week in August. SO, I would expect that the glaciers did indeed grow!

rah
Reply to  john b
October 30, 2022 7:30 pm

Looking like great snow pack coming for this winter also.

John Galt III
October 31, 2022 2:33 pm

I was in Glacier Park yesterday. I live near it and go every weekend it is open on the East side of the Park. Look, GNP is named after the u shaped valleys and scouring that glaciers formed thousands of years ago. If you think a glacier is a river of ice like you see in BC and Alaska then there are no glaciers in GNP. There are small snow/ice fields that do not totally melt 100%. That is about it.

Where I live in Montana near Glacier NP we had about 3,000 to 5,000 feet of ice with Glacial Lake Missoula just south of us. I am glad the ice is gone but then most of the Cordilleran Ice Sheet is gone. The Columbia Ice Field in Banff National Park is about all that is left of a a glacial river of ice and it is retreating.

Well, so what. it’s been retreating for 20,000 or so years. Are we still in the Pleistocene? I don’t know, but I am glad the giant glaciers are gone so I can live here.

David Harris
November 1, 2022 3:28 am

Regarding the measurement date for 1966, the USGS document “1966_Glacier margins derived from USGS 1966 topographic maps for the named glaciers of Glacier National Park, MT and environs” states:

“These data are based on USGS 7.5 minute quadrangle mapping published from 1966 through 1968 which were the result of the earliest park-wide aerial surveys of snow and ice features in GNP. Examination of the aerial photographs shows that seasonal snow was present at some of the glaciers, limiting the ability of the 1966-1968 cartographers to see and map the glacier ice margins.”

“Seasonal snow was present”, which suggests that the photographs were not taken in September.

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