In 1910, Glacier National Park possessed 150 glaciers. Today, it's down to 25. The photos documenting these melting glaciers are absolutely stunning.
St. Mary’s Lake, Glacier National Park Source: Wikipedia
Imagine taking a trip all the way to Montana to see one of the 25 active glaciers in Glacier National Park, only to find the park barren and dry. According to some scientists, this may be reality in a mere 15 years.
The national park covers one million acres and sub-ranges of the Rocky Mountains, with its elevation, alpine meadows and 130 lakes making it an ideal habitat for various cold-weather animals. When established in 1910, the park featured 150 glaciers. But as of 2010, only 25 active glaciers remained. The “Crown of the Continent” has survived various warming and cooling trends since the Ice Age ended 10,000 years ago, but recent ice retreat has been significant. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) has determined that if current warming trends continue, the remaining glaciers will disappear by 2030.
Part of USGS’s study is the Repeat Photography Project. Scientists discovered historical photos of Glacier National Park and sought to take the same photo from the same location in current time to visually depict glacier retreat. In some cases, the images are shocking. Thirteen of the 25 glaciers in the park are one-third of the size they were in 1850, and the ice keeps melting.
Researchers don’t know for certain what the ecological impacts will be when the glaciers are gone, but they can hypothesize. Cold water-dependent plants and animals could suffer due to loss of habitat. Reduced seasonal melting of glacial ice may also negatively affect stream and water flow in the valleys during the dry summer and fall, increasing the risk of forest fires and depleting the water table. And of course, glacial melting isn’t restricted to Montana. These issues are being witnessed in other mountain ranges, like the Himalayas, Alps and the southern Andes, along with coastal regions like Greenland.
Check out these comparison photos to see the extent of glacier retreat in the park:
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The Agassiz Glacier in 1913. The glacier is located southeast of Kintla Peak and west of the Continental Divide. Source: USGS
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The glacier retreat is noticeable in this photo of the Agassiz Glacier, taken in 2005. Between 1996 and the time this photo was taken, the glacier had lost a third of its surface area. Source: USGS
The Shepherd Glacier as viewed from Pyramid Peak in 1913. Source: USGS
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The Shepherd Glacier in 2005. It is now considered a glacier remnant or glacieret. Since 1966, the glacier has lost 56 percent of its acreage. Source: USGS
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The Grinnell Glacier is the center of Glacier National Park and has long been one of the most photographed glaciers there. This picture dates back to 1936. Source: USGS
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At the end of the Little Ice Age in 1850, the glacier measured 710 acres. It was a mere 220 acres by 1993. This photo from 2014 shows the depletion in the ice. Source: USGS
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Grinnell Glacier from an overlook in 1940. Source: USGS
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Grinnell Glacier from the same overlook in 2013. Source: USGS
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This photo from 1887 displays the expanse of the once hefty Grinnell Glacier. Source: USGS
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Repeating the photo from 1887 was challenging for researchers, as glacier retreat and heavy vegetation growth made it difficult to find the precise location. Source: USGS
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Boulder Glacier lies to the west of the Continental Divide and once covered a vast expanse, as seen in this photo from 1932. Source: USGS
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Jump to 2005 and most of Boulder Glacier has disappeared, leaving behind exposed bedrock. The glacier only covers 13 acres. To be considered an active glacier, formations need to cover at least 25 acres. Source: USGS
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A view of Boulder Glacier from Chapman Peak in 1910. Beyond the right side of the glacier is a part of Agassiz Glacier. Source: USGS
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The repeated image of Boulder Glacier from Chapman Peak was taken in 2007. The ice has all but vanished. Source: USGS
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In 1914, when this picture was captured, the Blackfoot and Jackson glaciers were so expansive that they joined together. Source: USGS
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By 2009, the Blackfoot Glacier retreated from the Jackson Glacier and moved into its own cirque. They covered 1,875 acres when they were united; today, they only cover 441 acres. A piece of the glacier broke off in 2007, causing an ice avalanche and diminishing its footprint further. Source: USGS
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Piegan Glacier, photographed here in 1938, is one of the few glaciers in the park that hasn’t changed significantly over the years. Source: USGS
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The glacier is located in a cirque on the southeast slope of Piegan Mountain. It has only retreated by ten percent since 1966. Source: USGS
What’s Glacier National Park Without Glaciers?
Below, watch a time-lapse of retreating glaciers:
And then, the largest glacier calving (when ice chunks break off a glacier's edge) ever recorded: