July 29, 2022


Posted by Mauri Pelto

Mount Baker camp for Rainbow and Sholes Glacier (Illustration by Megan Pelto)

Science Director: Mauri S. Pelto, [email protected]
Art Director: Jill Pelto, [email protected]

2022 Field Season: For the 39th consecutive summer we are heading into the field to measure and communicate the impact of climate change on North Cascade glaciers. We will complete detailed measurements on 10 glaciers, three of which are part of the World Glacier Monitoring Service reference glacier network (42 glaciers globally), which have 30+ consecutive years of mass balance observations.

Who we are? NCGCP was founded in 1983 to identify and communicate the response of North Cascade glaciers to regional climate change. We are a fieldwork-based project with a focus on measuring changes in mass balance, glacier runoff, and terminus behavior. The project has an interdisciplinary scope — collaborating with a range of natural scientists, artists, journalists, and conservationists. The goal of this is to best document and share our research with a broad audience. We aim to bring stories of these places and their changes to as many people as we can, making our research feel personal to more than just our team. The North Cascades glaciers are important for the ecosystem, as a water resource to Washington, and as a place of recreation for so many. By monitoring them every year, we continue to provide critical data on glacier response to climate change and informed stories of their health that reveal the impacts of our warming world.

2021 Field Team for Rainbow Glacier

Why study glaciers in the North Cascades? Glaciers are one of the world’s best climate monitors and are a critical water resource to many populated glaciated regions. This is particularly true in the North Cascades where 700 glaciers yield 200 billion gallons of summer runoff and glaciers have lost 30 % of their area in the last century.  This has reduced glacier runoff in late summer in the region as the reduction in glacier area has exceeded the increase in melt rate. During heat waves this role is even more profound with the glacier fed North Fork Nooksack River discharge rising ~24% due to greater melt, while adjacent unglaciated South Fork Nooksack River discharge declines by ~20% (Pelto et al., 2022). The increased discharge limits the rise in river temperature during heat waves to 0.7 C in the North Fork, with the South Fork increasing by 2 C. This increases stress on the salmon in the South Fork (Pelto et al., 2022).

Terminus Change at Columbia and Easton Glacier.

This field season follows the 2021 season that featured a historic heat wave at the end of June and a period of extended warm weather that lasted until Mid-August. The heat led to a greater exposure of bare ice on glaciers earlier in the summer, particularly at higher elevations.  For ice surfaces with a higher albedo and greater density the observed melt rates are 7-9 cm per day water equivalent during warm weather events vs 4-6 for snow surfaces. This led to substantial mass losses on North Cascade glaciers, -2 m.

This summer we will have an opportunity to assess the long-term ramifications of the 2021 summer and measure the response of glaciers to the weather of 2022. This winter snowpack remained below average until a late season surge from April into May. The month of May and June had below normal temperatures leading to an above average snowpack. A hot July has melted into this snowpack and we will observe how much remains on the glaciers.

Field Team 2021:

Jill Pelto is an artist and scientist from New England who grew up loving winter sports and trips to the mountains. She incorporates scientific research and data into paintings and prints to communicate environmental changes. Her multi-disciplinary work weaves visual narratives that reveal the reality of human impacts on this planet. She completed both her B.A. degrees in Studio Art and Earth and Climate Science and her M.S. focused on studying the stability of the Antarctic Ice Sheet at the University of Maine, spending two field seasons at a remote camp in the southern Transantarctic Mountains. Jill will be joining the project for her 14th field season. She is excited about continuing to document the change in North Cascade glaciers that she has witnessed each of the last ten years — through science and art.

Mauri Pelto has directed the project since its founding in 1984, spending more than 700 nights camped out adjacent to these glaciers. He is the United States representative to the World Glacier Monitoring Service, author of the AGU blog “From a Glacier’s Perspective”, and associate editor for three science journals.  He is on the Science Advisory Board for NASA’s Earth Observatory. His primary position is Associate Provost at Nichols College, where he has been a professor since 1989.

Echo Allen is a rising Junior at UC Berkeley studying Architecture and Sustainable Design. Her studies deal with urban ecology and environmental justice in relationship to physical design. Echo finds inspiration for her studies in the backcountry as a NOLS backpacking student, avid rock climber, and kayak guide. Echo is currently working with the City of Richmond and SHAC (Sustainable Housing at Cal) to design and construct an affordable and scalable model of a solar-powered off-grid capable tiny house that will be used as affordable housing in Richmond CA. She hopes to help people understand the impact of climate change and implement possible mitigation strategies through her work in outdoor education and architecture.

Ellie Hall (she/her) is a recent graduate from the University of Colorado – Boulder with a BA in Environmental Studies, a minor in Geology, and a certificate in Arctic Studies. She is interested in researching and documenting the nuanced impacts of climate change on cold regions, and especially learning more about the relationship between decreasing snowpacks and increasing wildfires. She has spent the past two summers researching these areas, interning with INSTAAR’s Arctic Rivers Project and NASA’s ABoVE Campaign. She is excited to get into the field this summer to see the theoretical knowledge she’s learned be put into practice to collect valuable data. Ella’s other interests include backcountry skiing, mountain and gravel biking, rock climbing, and water sports.

Jenna Travers (she/they) is about to start her final year as a marine biology major at the University of Oregon. Her research focuses on the impacts of glacier retreat on salmon, how communities are affected by glacier loss and salmon declines, and how climate issues are communicated to the public. They are currently working as a writer with GlacierHub and a salmon identification contractor with the Wild Salmon Center, and they have also worked as a legislative intern for the Oregon State Legislature, a Water Justice intern with a local nonprofit. In her free time, Jenna enjoys hiking, skiing, rock climbing, and playing games with her roommates.

Field Partners 2022

Alia Khan’s research team including grad students Sally Vaux and Shannon Healy focus on environmental chemistry in the cryosphere, including black carbon and snow algae to document global change of glacier and snow melt in mountainous and polar regions. Western Washington University Cryosphere Studies and Aquatic Biochemistry Lab.

Claire Giordano is an environmental artist, writer, and educator creatively telling the stories of science, climate change, and the modern experience of nature. From creating rain-dappled sketches in an old growth forest to filming a watercolor class beside a glacier, careful observation of nature inspires her goal is to connect people and place through art.  In 2021 she founded the Adventure Art Academy – a series of virtual watercolor classes filmed outside – to invite others into the joy of painting outside.

Jaclyn Baer is an artist and photographer in the PNW. She is new to the climate change artist role, but excited to learn and share. She loves painting with gouache in her studio and watercolor out in the field. Besides painting, she spends her free time hiking and backpacking with her husband Ryan.

Nooksack Indian Tribe, for the 11th consecutive year, we will be conducting field work aimed at providing field validation and streamflow calibration data below Sholes Glacier for the ongoing work of the tribe.

Crevasse Stratigraphy on Easton Glacier

 2022 Field Schedule

Jul 31:  Hike in Columbia Glacier
Aug. 1:  Columbia Glacier
Aug. 2:  Columbia Glacier
Aug. 3:  Hike Out Columbia, Hike in Ptarmigan Ridge
Aug. 4:  Sholes Glacier
Aug. 5:  Rainbow Glaciern
Aug. 6:  Rainbow Glacier
Aug.7:   Hike out, Hike in Lower Curtis Glacier
Aug. 8:  Lower Curtis Glacier
Aug. 9:  Hike out, Hike in Easton Glacier
Aug. 10: Easton Glacier
Aug. 11: Easton Glacier
Aug. 12: Hike out Easton/Hike in Daniel
Aug. 13: Ice Worm Glacier Survey
Aug. 14: Daniel and Lynch Glacier Survey
Aug. 15: Ice Worm ablation, Hike out
Aug. 16: Field season concludes