October 7, 2010

Quien Sabe Glacier Retreat

Posted by Mauri Pelto

The Quien Sabe Glacier in the North Cascades of Washington has experienced rapid retreat in the last 20 years. This glacier is the largest in Boston Basin near Cascade Pass, its name translates to “who knows?”, well we all know it is not enjoying recent climate. In the 1960 Austin Post photograph he gave to me in 1994, the glacier was heavily crevassed and advancing. By 1975 the advance had ceased, but little retreat occurred until 1987. This glacier faces south and is fed by avalanching off of Forbidden and Sahale Peak. The glacier retreated 1200 meters from its Little Ice Age maximum (moraine indicated with blue arrows) until 1950. Richard Hubley noted the advance by 1955, the total advance was 55 meters by 1975 (advance moraines noted with orange arrows). We were able to identify the advance moraine in 1985 when it was still quite evident. The smooth bedrock, Granodiorite in the basin, provides little friction for this glacier as it moves over the polished slabs. Today the terminus moraines from 1975 range from 150-250 meters from the current glacier terminus averaging just over 200 meters. For a glacier that averages 700 meters in length this is a significant loss of total area. There are a number of bedrock outcrops that have appeared above the terminus indicating how thin the terminal area is and that retreat is ongoing. . In 2009 the glacier lost almost all of its snowcover an occurrence that has become frequent in the last 18 years. In this August image the glacier is 25% snowcovered. Fortunately 2010 was a better year in terms of snowcover, with more than 50% of the glacier snowcovered at the end of the summer, photograph from Neil Hinckley.
Quien Sabe Glacier viewed from a similar location on the western side of the glacier in 1985 and 2007. The reduction in crevassing, thickness is evident as is the marginal retreat and emerging bedrock.