Recent glacier and climate variations in the Pacific Northwest


Quaternary Research Center, University of Washington

There does not appear to be a date on this article nor does it appear to be peer reviewed in a scientific journal. The author does appear to have some credibility though as it credits him as being with the University of Washington and URL implies that he is with the faculty of that august learning institution. His website also credits him with writing multiple articles since 1962.

The article tracks a specific glacier and its shrinking over the course of several hundred years. It is very apparent from the graph from that article that the shrinking has been relatively consistent since the mid 1800s and in fact may have slightly slowed down in recent decades (maybe we could put a hockey stick on this and show that the glacier is actually growing now).

Since about 1850, glaciers worldwide have experienced fluctuating retreat, so that today we commonly see belts of sparsely vegetated deglaciated terrain beyond receding ice margins. Whereas the largest glaciers have retreated a mile or more during the past century, some small glaciers have disappeared entirely in recent decades in response to the general 20th century warming of the climate.

The most accessible is Nisqually Glacier, which originates at the summit of Mount Rainier (14,400 feet altitude) and descends to an altitude of about 5000 feet. The position of the glacier front was first recorded in 1857, and sporadically thereafter until the end of the century. More-or-less continuous recordings of its frontal position were made after the mountain became a National Park, which brought increasing numbers of visitors, as well as scientists, to observe its glaciers. Together with geologic dating of moraines that record past glacier-margin positions, this observational record provides a relatively detailed picture of the variations of Nisqually Glacier and of the climatic trends which controlled its fluctuations.

The overall pattern of 20th century glacier retreat is consistent with the warming trend seen in the later part of the global temperature trend for the last 350 years, which displays an abrupt warming in the early part of the century to values well above those of the Little Ice Age.

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