August 20, 2018

35th Annual Field Season Monitoring North Cascade Glaciers Preliminary Assessment

Posted by Mauri Pelto

We monitor the response of North Cascade glacier to climate change and the consequent impacts for water resources and the ecosystem, as illustrated here by Megan Pelto and Jill Pelto.

For the 35th consecutive year I headed to the North Cascade Range, Washington to monitor the response of glaciers to climate change. During the course of this study we  observed several of the glaciers we monitor disappear.  Two of the glaciers we monitor are now part of the 42 glaciers comprising the World Glacier Monitoring Service reference glacier network, where annual mass balance has been assessed for more than 30 years consecutively.

The 2018 winter season featured relatively normal snowpack despite a winter of wide temperature fluctuations, Feb freezing levels 400 m below the mean and December 500 m above the mean. Summer melt conditions featured a high freezing levels in May, normal freezing levels in June and high levels in July (NA Freezing Level tracker). The summer melt season through Aug. 20th has been exceptionally warm and dry, which has also helped foster forest fires. The melt rate during the August field season was 35% above normal.

We assessed the mass balance of eight glaciers.  All eight will have significant negative mass balances in 2018. Retreat was measured on six of the glaciers where the terminus was exposed, all had retreated since 2017.

Sholes Glacier Runoff Monitoring Location in early August 2018

This year the field team consisted of:

Mariama Dryak, UMaine graduate student quantifying iceberg melt rates and meltwater fluxes around the Antarctic Peninsula using satellite imagery.  She is the US national committee representative for the Association of Polar Early Career Scientists, co-chair of USAPECS and helps coordinate the USAPECS blog. Mariama is also the creator and editor of an environmental advocacy blog Let’s Do Something BIG., which highlights the need for effective science communication and the need for greater diversity in the earth sciences.

Erin McConnell, UMaine graduate student, who is studying ice core stable isotope records from the Eclipse Icefield, St. Elias Range, Yukon.She has written about the equal importance of communicating science and the science itself..

Jill Pelto, UMaine graduate student studying paleoclimate records recording past ice sheet changes in the Transantarctic Mountains and an artist, joining the field team for the 10th year. Her work has taken her to Antarctica, New Zealand and Falkland Islands and has been widely featured by Earth Issue,  The Smithsonian, and Edge Effects.

Mauri Pelto, Nichols College academic dean, World Glacier Monitoring Service Representative and director of the North Cascade Glacier Climate Project .  I am heading into the North Cascades for the 35th year. The results will from this year will be promptly published with the AGU From a Glaciers Perspective Blog and the North Cascade web site.  A video encapsulation of the field year will also be developed as in past years. Putting the long term record in perspective was the 2018 Water publication on the long term mass balance record.

Observing snowpack thickness retained in August on Rainbow Glacier

Mapping terminus of Lower Curtis Glacier

Terminus of Columbia Glacier with evident forest fire smoke haze.

Easton Glacier Icefall at 2500 m, indicating a typical 2.25 m thick accumulation layer.