USGS hasn’t published Glacier National Park shrink data since 2015! But the agency is preparing to release data taken in record-hot 2021 to show massive melting.
By Roger Roots
The US Geological Survey (USGS) and National Park Service (NPS) have committed massive resources toward promotion of the glacier melt narrative at Glacier National Park (GNP). Various USGS and NPS signs, pamphlets, websites and films have predicted calamitous melting of the Park’s glaciers in the near future. During the winter of 2018-19, while the Park’s facilities were closed to the public, government workers quietly removed signs predicting the Park’s glaciers would all disappear by 2020.
Since 2015 the USGS and NPS have prominently displayed data tables on their websites indicating that GNP’s glaciers have been steadily decreasing each half decade. The data table is frequently referenced in news stories to describe the plight of the glaciers as steadily receding.
Measuring glaciers can be quite difficult. Many glaciers are oddly shaped. Glaciers are not always snow white and can even be brown or soil-colored due to rock or dirt deposits. Calendar dates and temporary weather changes can make huge differences. Fresh snow can easily obscure the contours of glacier boundaries. The USGS reportedly uses satellites or aircraft to photograph glaciers from the air and then calculates acreages from such photos. (For earlier years, USGS apparently calculates such glacier sizes from old photographs. There are many problems regarding this, to say the least.)
But for all the government resources dedicated to the size of glaciers at GNP in recent years, the official table hasn’t been updated since 2015–SIX years ago. (And as I write these words the table is missing from USGS sites.) Last fall I emailed officials at USPS and inquired. A USGS scientist named Caitlyn Florentine responded by claiming “We aim to update glacier margin data sets whenever late-summer, cloud-free, smoke-free satellite imagery covering GNP glaciers is acquired.” “The last few years this has not happened . . . .”
Just this past weekend Dr. Florentine emailed to let me know that “2021 aerial imagery of glaciers in Glacier National Park was aquired [during the Fall]” “Publication preparation is underway.”
Why is this significant? Because the summer of 2021 was unusually hot and dry across Montana and the Rocky Mountains. Many locations near the National Park experienced heat waves and set records for draught. The data soon to be released will likely show new record lows for Glacier Park’s 35-or-so glaciers. And these new low figures may not accurately reflect the true trajectory of size changes among the GNP glaciers.
Prior to the heat waves of 2021, many observers (including myself) perceived that glacier melt rates had largely stabilized over the past decade. In fact there were several recent winters with record cold and snowfall. A Masters thesis by Melissa Carrie Brett of Portland State University, “Glacier Inventories and Change in Glacier National Park,” found that GNP’s glaciers melted at faster rates prior to the 1970s than in later years–thus contradicting the catastrophic-global-warming-by-manmade-CO2 hypothesis.
BOTTOM LINE: in the very near future, USGS will probably publish data indicating GNP’s glaciers are steadily melting, in line with the climate-change theory; but USGS’ decision to delay measuring in 2019 or 2020 and instead measure the glaciers after the extremely hot summer of 2021 should significantly undermine such a conclusion.