The Real Story About a “Melting” Mount Rainier

From the Cliff Mass Weather Blog

Cliff Mass

As many readers of the blog know, I often provide a reality check for over-the-top and often inaccurate Seattle Times articles dealing with climate change. 

It is unfortunate that the Seattle Times has moved to an advocacy role on the issue of climate change, often exaggerating the effects of global warming.  They often fail to provide reliable information to their readers on this important topic.

In yesterday’s online paper, they had a front-page story written by their columnist, Danny Westneat:  Mount Rainier is melting.  Can anything be done to stop it?

As you can imagine, they are talking about the glaciers on Mt. Rainier.  The story references a new “piercing” National Park Service report and talks about the substantial reduction in glacier ice volume. 

The message in the article is clear:  Rainier’s glaciers are now rapidly retreating and that human CO2 emissions are the cause.   We need to act now.

It’s climate change before your eyes.” 

“We’ve really got to focus on how we emit carbon into the air.”

This is a very deceptive article designed to convince us that a signature aspect of our region is being lost due to human carbon emissions.

The truth is that Rainier’s glacial melt has been predominantly natural, with human carbon emissions a small part of the story.

Although the story was supposedly motivated by a new report by Scott Beason and associates of the National Park Service (a very nice piece of work, I might add), this article NEVER mentions that most of the glacial loss on Rainier has little to do with human-caused climate change produced by increasing CO2, and the proof of this statement is found in the report itself.   

Consider Figure 6 of the report, which shows the change in glacial ice area on Mount Rainier since 1895 (below).  The glacial area has been reduced from around 130 km2 to around 75.   Note that most of the loss was between 1895 and 1970, a period when there was very little human-caused global warming.

Ice Volume shows the same story (see below)

Viewing the ice volume of Rainier’s largest glacier (Emmons) shows that nearly ALL of the loss occurred during the 1895-1915 period.

There is, a large literature demonstrating the impacts of human greenhouse gas emissions is only significant after approximately 1980. Thus, the majority of the loss of Rainier’s glacial ice had to be natural.

In fact, we have a good idea of what happened.  From roughly 1350 to 1850 AD, a large portion of the Northern Hemisphere was in the Little Ice Age, a period of cold temperatures and enhanced snowfall.  There are a variety of proposed mechanisms, including changes in solar radiation and shifts in ocean circulation, all caused by natural processes.  Starting during the late 1800s, the world and our region started to warm, and glaciers began to melt and retreat…as shown in the figure above.

Don’t get me wrong:  global warming due to our emissions of greenhouse gases is slowly warming the planet and such warming would contribute to glacial melt during the past few decades.  But that contribution has been quite modest compared to natural variability, something that is not mentioned in the article.

But there is more.

The amount of warming that has occurred over Rainier (and our region in general) has been relatively small due to the presence of the Pacific Ocean, which has slowed regional warming considerably.  And this is particularly true of the windward (western) side of the Cascades, of which Rainier is a part.

We can show this explicitly using observations at Paradise on Mt. Rainier, located at roughly 5000 ft ASL.  Below is a plot of annual temperatures at Paradise from 1917 to 2022, covering the period following the end of the Little Ice Age.  

There is NO WARMING.  In fact, the trend line shows slight cooling.   This hardly suggests a major warming that would cause massive glacial melt.  There are periods of slightly warmer and cooler temperatures, but no overall trend.

I should note that there was little change in precipitation over the entire period at this location.

But let’s take this one step further.  Glaciers are controlled by additions during the winter and melting during the summer, so let’s look at the trend of summer (June, July, August) temperatures at the Paradise Ranger Station (below).   There is a small upward trend of roughly 1°F.   Less ocean influence during the summer.

The long-term perspective is critical for looking at such climatological data.  Imagine I plotted only the last 30 years of Rainier summer temperatures (see below).  

YIKES. Now the temperatures have warmed by 4F!    Folks would start to panic.

The Bottom Line

A detailed look at the excellent National Park Service report and long-term glacial and meteorological data suggests the following story.

There has been a substantial loss of glacial area and mass on Mount Rainier during the past 130 years. 

Most of the loss has been natural and occurred before human-forced global warming could have been significant.

Mount Rainier, downstream of the slow-to-warm Pacific Ocean, has experienced very little warming over the entire year since the early part of the 20th century.   Summer warming has been weak over the past century, but there has been some short-term warming during the past decades.  

I believe a reasonable conclusion of all this is that most of the glacial loss on Rainier during the past century has been natural, but that human-caused warming could be making a modest contribution to glacial loss during the past few decades.

I wish Seattle Times reporters such as Danny Westneat would take the time to provide their readers a scientifically accurate, nuanced understanding of what is occurring.   And no, I don’t think his idea of putting tarps or glass beads on the glacier is a good idea.

Finally, let me note that it SNOWED at Paradise this morning.  Mother Nature is telling us something.

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June 18, 2023 10:17 am

“…between 1895 and 1970, a period when there was very little human-caused global warming.”

Is there any ACTUAL EVIDENCE that any warming was caused by mankind?

Asking for a friend.

Besides, it is my understanding that “a melting Mt. Ranier” is being done from the inside…

Reply to  Kpar
June 18, 2023 10:24 am

Please list a reference for the last sentence…thanks.

Richard Page
Reply to  Kpar
June 18, 2023 11:22 am

Mt. Rainier is not ‘melting from the inside’ – there is a small amount of heat that has kept snow off the crater rims and melted some of the ice within both craters, but there simply hasn’t been enough heat to permeate through the solid rock to the glaciers. Volcanoes in South America and elsewhere have shown what a non-eruptive glacier melt can do and it isn’t pretty – Lahars or debris flows are characteristic of such melting and none have been observed around Mt. Rainier.

Reply to  Richard Page
June 18, 2023 11:54 am
Nicholas McGinley
Reply to  JamesB_684
June 18, 2023 12:15 pm

And the bigger the glaciers, the worse the potential for death and damage during the inevitable next eruption, eh?

Richard Page
Reply to  JamesB_684
June 18, 2023 12:18 pm

Whups, sorry about that – serves me right for not doing enough research. In my defence though, I was talking about large observed Lahars rather than evidence of historic ones. Thanks for the link though, well worth a look.

Reply to  Richard Page
June 18, 2023 12:50 pm

Spend some time on the mountain and you’d see stark evidence of huge debris flows.

John Hultquist
Reply to  JamesB_684
June 18, 2023 1:26 pm

True. However, it helps to have done some reading beforehand. Many people walk on the evidence and have no idea of the formative factors. An example:  Take the Inter Fork Trail from the White River Campground Amphitheater and go left on a half mile side trail heading up Emmons Moraine. End up here:
46.893077, -121.678743

June 18, 2023 10:20 am

Thanks, Cliff, for preparing and publishing this post, and thank you, WUWT, for cross posting it here.


Joseph Zorzin
June 18, 2023 10:24 am

“Don’t get me wrong: global warming due to our emissions of greenhouse gases is slowly warming the planet…”

Is it? Actually, the planet is a big, massive object. It’s not warming. Maybe, and just maybe, the climate is warming a trivial amount. But since it’s fair to critique that journalist for an air head story- I thought it’s fair to point out that the planet ain’t gonna warm until the sun turns into a red giant. 🙂

As for “Danny Westneat:  Mount Rainier is melting. Can anything be done to stop it?”

He should use plain language- not scary sounding, fear mongering language. And if the glacier melts, who says we need to stop it? Can’t these fools ever see anything positive about a slightly warming climate? One reason my favorite author is Ernest Hemingway is that his journalism and novels were written in a direct, no bullshit style. Plain English but powerfully written.

The mountain melting- reminds me of Gore’s “the oceans are boiling” lunacy.

Reply to  Joseph Zorzin
June 19, 2023 8:18 am

Just imagine these people 16,000 years ago. ”The Ice Sheet over Canada is melting. Can anything be done to stop it?”

Have they never heard of the Little Ice Age ? We are just still recovering from this coldest period of the interglaciar we are lucky enough to live in.

June 18, 2023 10:26 am

Seemed to have plenty of snow when I went up it in the winter of 81-2. Boarded a C-141 at Westover in MA, Flew across country and my team rigged in flight and jumped in at Ft. Stewart. Trucked the next day to the foot of the mountain. Climbed it with the intention of doing 3 days of winter warfare training near the summit.

About noon the day after reaching the summit and then setting up camp got a call on the guard net on the ANPRC 77 ordering us to get off the mountain ASAP. Two civilian climbers on the west face had got caught in an avalanche and were missing. Conditions were forecast to continue to deteriorate. We hustled down the mountain.

No matter how good you are. No matter how in shape you are. The mountain has the last say. Even a mountain like Ranier, has the bodies of people that were victims stashed away.

Rud Istvan
June 18, 2023 10:33 am

Nice post. Glaciers everywhere in the NH have been receding since the end of the LIA. Montana, the Alps, the Himalayas, not just Seattle’s Mt. Rainier.

Seattle Times has a long history of erroneous climate alarm reporting. Some years ago they ran a several part series on ‘ocean acidification’ culminating in a major summary article “Sea Change, the Pacific’s perilous turn”. It used two illustrations, Milne Bay coral and Whiskey Creek oyster hatchery. The only problem was that the scientific papers behind both ST ‘perilous’ examples comprised easily proven clearcut academic misconduct. Deconstructed it all with illustrations and more in essay Shell Games in ebook Blowing Smoke.

Dave Fair
Reply to  Rud Istvan
June 19, 2023 1:06 pm

Rud’s “Blowing Smoke” is a great reference. At 10 bucks its the price of a cheap lunch.

June 18, 2023 10:54 am

These media outlets are not in the business of “ truth” ,they are more like gossip columns with some sort of faint cloak of credibility. The Pacific northwest is one of the few places in the US I have not been . Always wanted to live and sail around the area. But I am not sure I could handle the woke atmosphere out there currently.

Rud Istvan
Reply to  John Oliver
June 18, 2023 11:30 am

Seattle and Portland are definitely woke. The rest of Washington and Oregon, not so much. I have a brother and a sister who live in Washington. One directly on the Sound west of Tacoma, the other on a 700 acre cattle ranch east side of the Cascades just below the Canadian border.

Reply to  Rud Istvan
June 19, 2023 11:16 am

Yup. So far as Oregon is concerned, Salem and Eugene (west of the Cascades) and Bend and Hood River (east of the Cascades) are pretty woke. The rest of us east of the Cascades definitely not (hmmm, fudging a bit for Wallowa County with a lot of transplants).

Jeff Alberts
Reply to  John Oliver
June 18, 2023 2:56 pm

John, there isn’t much woke around Whidbey Island where I live. And it’s a lovely place to sail.

Bar Code
Reply to  John Oliver
June 18, 2023 6:14 pm

F*** ’em. Go anyway. I moved there from the midwest in 1977 and have no regrets.

Pat from Kerbob
June 18, 2023 11:48 am

Thanks Cliff

Please show me the proof that melting after 1980 was caused by us instead of a continuation of natural warming.

Reply to  Pat from Kerbob
June 19, 2023 11:24 am

Exactly, Pat. Cliff says, regarding the Paradise station, “There is NO WARMING.  In fact, the trend line shows slight cooling.  This hardly suggests a major warming that would cause massive glacial melt. There are periods of slightly warmer and cooler temperatures, but no overall trend.” I’m not a climate scientist, but my guess is that any regional warming is due more to the Urban Heat Island effect and not so much “moderated” by the Pacific, which moderates just about everything in the PNW. But that’s just my nonscientific opinion….

Nicholas McGinley
June 18, 2023 11:50 am

People seem easily convinced that glaciers are a source of water, and we need for them to be staying the same or growing in order to have a safe water supply. Or something like that, IDK.
But logically, this is nonsense.
Glaciers that are growing are locking up precipitation in the unusable form of ice on a mountain. And that ice is highly destructive to every living thing on it’s path. They literally removed and kill all life down to the bedrock and beyond.

A stable glacier, neither getting larger or smaller, means that the amount of new snow falling on them is exactly balanced by ablation at the foot of the glacier…IOW a wash when it comes to water. Ice and snow are melting at the same rate new snow is falling onto the glacier, feeding rivers downstream.

It is only a melting glacier, one getting smaller (in reality, several factors determine if a glacier advances or recedes, not simply melting vs new snowfall), that provides water in the form of a liquid and usable resource to those living downstream.

Where did the delusion arise, that human survival depends on the preservation of perpetually frozen wastelands remaining just as they are?

The actual disaster was the onset of glaciation, which wiped out entire continents of life from the Earth, a catastrophe that is ongoing to this very day.
That is the real climate crisis…we are living in a frickin’ ice age, and we have no idea when the warm respite we have been enjoying will end for a few hundred thousand years.

Besides for ice sheets where we now have cities and forests and croplands, we will experience rapidly falling sea levels. Ugh! The whole planet will smell like low tide on the back bay, for thousands of years!

Jeff Alberts
Reply to  Nicholas McGinley
June 18, 2023 2:54 pm

and we need for them to be staying the same or growing in order to have a safe water supply”

If they were growing, that would be another catastrophe, as towns and villages are slowly crushed into rubble.

That would be our fault, too.

Nicholas McGinley
Reply to  Jeff Alberts
June 18, 2023 6:31 pm

And that ice is highly destructive to every living thing on it’s path. They literally removed and kill all life down to the bedrock and beyond.”

None of it has anything to do with people of course, at least in terms of causality.
But yeah, anyone who thinks it is a great thing when glaciers advance is historically ignorant, not to mention 100% wrong.

June 18, 2023 12:11 pm

Very nice Cliff. You are being too kind to the Times with this statement.

”I wish Seattle Times reporters such as Danny Westneat would take the time to provide their readers a scientifically accurate, nuanced understanding of what is occurring.”

A better statement would be for these people to stop lying and tell the truth for a change.

Reply to  Bob
June 18, 2023 12:29 pm

But, but, it’s so easy to blame everything on “climate change”. It is a ready made excuse for all kinds of things. Peoples houses get burned in a wildfire due to improper forest management, it’s “climate change”! Peoples homes get flooded because they built in a flood plain, or because corrupt politicians have allowed development in areas known to be susceptible to storm surge in the event of a hurricane it’s all the fault of “climate change”!

One of these years Ranier is going to fire up again and if humans are still around a whole lot of people are going to learn about the power of natural forces and how puny us humans are in the face of such forces, first hand!

BTW Tacoma is built on a massive Lahar deposit that came when the east slope of Ranier collapsed.

Love Nick on the Rocks, and his downtown lectures.

Reply to  rah
June 18, 2023 1:15 pm

Very nice video.

John Hultquist
Reply to  rah
June 18, 2023 1:46 pm

 Some might wonder about the word “east”, used by Nick. That is explained here, with “northeast” being used. Additional flows are covered.
See Osceola Mudflow.

Reply to  John Hultquist
June 18, 2023 3:05 pm

Or here is Nick again in a 1 hour downtown lecture on the subject and he explains why that flow went the way it did among many other things.

But if there is a single main point that I brought away from it, it would be that when Ranier has its next full blown eruption it will make what happened at Mt. St. Helens look very small indeed.

It is believed that the next time it happens it will be the west slope that fails. He does not get into why that is. But anyway a whole lot of great stuff, not on only Ranier but on the whole Cascade range.

Oh and BTW there are several pictures of ice caves in glaciers formed by the geothermal activity of the mountain and so, YES there is evidence that some of the melt is from the mountain itself.

Reply to  rah
June 18, 2023 3:55 pm

OH they do touch on why they believe the west flank of Ranier will be the next to go at the end of the video.

Reply to  rah
June 18, 2023 5:59 pm

Very nice.

Reply to  rah
June 19, 2023 8:32 am

Yep. Nick Zentner really knows how to communicate geology stuff to us normal folks. Great teacher.

Reply to  rah
June 19, 2023 3:30 am

Like I said they use “climate change” as an excuse for almost everything.
Climate Change Causing Fecal Contamination At US Beaches | Watch (

Reply to  rah
June 19, 2023 12:59 pm

Like I said:

Jeff Alberts
Reply to  Bob
June 18, 2023 2:51 pm

Westneat gets paid to use exactly the words that the Seattle Times wants him to use. None of it is an error or accidental.

John Hultquist
June 18, 2023 1:07 pm

Speak Up About Mount Rainier’s Plan to Require Permits for Entry — Washington Trails Association (

The issues at Mount Rainier involve access. See the above link.
It is a wonderful place to hike (I’ve worked on trails there as a volunteer with WTA).
Trail crews have to pause and step aside when hikers come through the work areas.
Some days we are forced to be idle almost as much as we work, or so it seems.

The earlier melting has been well documented. There were post on the topic on WUWT a number of years ago, maybe 12 or 15.

Reply to  John Hultquist
June 19, 2023 3:14 am

Nice place to work when the weather and tourists cooperated.

June 18, 2023 2:23 pm

It’s always nice to see that all of the glaciology intel I received from a really fantastic professor at Beloit College – Dick Stenstrom – has stood the test of time. When I bring up these fundamental concepts to any random person terrified by the end of the world catastrophic human caused global warming, these historical glacial concepts are immediately dismissed as impossible, because “everybody knows that glaciers are melting faster than they ever have in the history of the world” – this scientifically unsupportable glacial malarkey is believed to be as solid of a fact as gravity – I have had no luck at all getting anybody to understand a long understood historical truth and that’s the real tragedy of a constant stream of lies and exaggeration in modern media…

June 18, 2023 3:53 pm

Oh no, the glaciers are already gone according to climate models.

michael hart
June 18, 2023 3:56 pm

My extensive research in Seattle revealed that Rainier was not great, but was better than Bud Light.

Dave Fair
Reply to  michael hart
June 19, 2023 1:38 pm

Were you there during the annual Running of the Rainiers? A magnificent example of the wonders of natural brewing.

June 18, 2023 5:51 pm

The only melting occurring is the minds of frenzied warmists.

Bar Code
June 18, 2023 6:10 pm

I was a John Muir fan as a kid and it was my dream to visit the Glacier Bay he described. I was disappointed when I started backpacking in 1971 and found that the glaciers there had retreated so much.

June 18, 2023 7:42 pm

Don’t get me wrong: global warming due to our emissions of greenhouse gases is slowly warming the planet 

Where does this nonsense come from? It is an absurd throwaway with no physical support.

Snowfall on Mt Ranier has been trending up since at least the 1920s. This is the consequence of the northern ocean warming through completely natural cycle. So far the peak solar intensity at 40N has risen 2W/m^2 over the past 1500 years and will increase a further 23W/m^2 over the next 8,000 years. The northern oceans are just beginning to increase in surface temperature that will continue rising for thousands of years until most of the land north of 40N is covered in ice again. That means more snowfall and it will eventually overtake snow melt. So far that is only occurring on Greenland and Iceland that have greater exposure to the moist air off oceans.

If CO2 had any impact, the Southern Ocean would not be cooling and the Nino34 region of the tropics would be warming rather than a slightly cooling trend..

June 18, 2023 8:15 pm

Mount Rainier is melting. So?

Can anything be done to stop it? No.

Next question?


Well, tldr for people who don’t have the attention span to read anything longer than a bumper sticker or a tweet or don’t care to get some perspective on global warming because they think they know why it’s happening (they don’t).

Glaciers have been melting everywhere for the last 13,000 years ever since Earth started warming from the prior cold glacial period that lasted about 100,000 years. The current warm geologic epoch is called the Holocene. Temperatures sort of stabilized about 10,000 years ago which was a great thing for humans but fluctuated a couple degrees celsius over hundreds or thousands of years a few times causing glaciers to retreat and grow.

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We’re in a modest warming era and glaciers are retreating again. We don’t know how long it will last but it’s so slow that we can easily adapt to its effects. Humans didn’t cause the growth and retreat of glaciers in the past and they aren’t causing it now. There’s a possibility that our modern CO2 emissions are adding a little warming to the current natural warming but even if we weren’t there’s nothing we can do to stop Earth’s natural temperature variations because we don’t understand what causes them yet. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a zealot. But we can adapt, which is what made humans so successful over the last 10,000 years. We live in a relatively brief age, geologically, when global temperatures are particularly beneficial to humans and agriculture.

We may see glaciers retreat for another couple thousand years. No one knows. We do know that oceans are still 5 or 6 meters lower than they were during the warmest period, 125,000 years ago, of the previous warm interglacial period, called the Eemian epoch; the one that preceded the cold glacial period we emerged from.

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Don’t worry. Be happy. And adapt.

Capt Jeff
June 18, 2023 10:58 pm

Don Easterbrook’s book Mt Baker Eruptions and Glaciations shows that mountain’s glacier retreat and advancement in more detail. Deeming Glacier advance from 1947 to 1979 until it again started to retreat.
Also, book has pictures of wood from ancient forest buried in morraine from when little Ice Age glaciers advanced.

Reply to  Capt Jeff
June 19, 2023 1:13 am

1979! There’s that date again.

Steve Oregon
June 19, 2023 8:04 am

If any, there is so little human warming that it is less worrisome than a space alien invasion.
The lunatic left has abandoned science in every way it suits their desires to direct the behavior of humankind. Coupled with being the truly most ignorant people, their lust for tyrannical control is limitless.

Bruce Cobb
June 19, 2023 8:47 am

If it’s melting, stop throwing water on it. Problem solved!

Dave Fair
June 19, 2023 12:59 pm

I wish Seattle Times reporters such as Danny Westneat would take the time to provide their readers a scientifically accurate, nuanced understanding of what is occurring.”

If they did it would not sell newspapers nor support the Leftist agenda.

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