January 9, 2010

Boulder Glacier Retreat, Mount Baker

Posted by Mauri Pelto

Boulder Glacier flows down the west side of Mount Baker a strato volcano in the North Cascades of Washington. This steep glacier responds quickly to climate change and after retreating more than 2 kilometers from its Little Ice Age Maximum, it began to advance in the 1950’s as observed by William Long. The glacier advance had ceased by 1979. From 1988-2008 we (NCGCP) have visited this glacier at least every five years recording its changes. In 1988 the glacier had retreated only 25 meters from its furthest advance of the 1950-1979 period. By 1993 the glacier had retreated 100 m from this position. At this time the lower 500 meters of the glacier was clearly stagnant. By 2003 the glacier had retreated an additional 300 m. In 2008 the glacier had retreated 490 meters from its 1980 advance position, a rate of 16 meters per year. The glacier as seen in 2008 despite the steep slope has few crevasses in the debris covered lower 400 meters of the glacier. This indicates this section of the glacier is stagnant and will continue to melt away. The transition to active ice in at the base of the icefall on the right-north side of the glacier. Below is the glacier in 1993 note the darkened cliff at adjacent to and right of the terminus. The picture below that is from 1998 again note cliff, than in 2003 from the same location as the 1993. Than an image from 2008 of the terminus from further upvalley, as it is not clearly in view from the previous location. And a picture from Asahel Curtis taken in 1908. This glacier after 25 years of retreat is still not approaching equilibrium and will continue to retreat. This is a reflection of continued negative mass balance as measured on the adjacent Easton Glacier. It does respond fast to climate change, and the climate has not been good for this glacier. The glacier does have a consistent accumulation zone and can survive current climate.Picture from August, 1993 of the terminus of Boulder Glacier Picture from August 1998 of the terminus of Boulder GlacierPicture from August 2003 of the terminus of Boulder Glacier.Boulder Glacier in August 2008. Boulder Glacier in 1908 viewed across the glacier at the present terminus location during a Mountaineers trip taken by Asahel Curtis. A satellite image from 2009 (green=2009, brown=2006, purple=1993 yellow=1984), shows additional retreat now at 515 meters from 1984 to 2009, 20 meters per year. An examination of the same view of the terminus in 1993 and 2009 indicates the extent of the retreat and the reduction in crevassing below the icefall. (boulder terminus change

For 30 years the North Cascade Glacier Climate Project has focused on observing the response of glaciers to climate change.