Glacier park's ice fields may be gone by next decade

Posted: Monday, June 15, 2009

BILLINGS, Mont. - On the eve of Glacier National Park's 100th birthday, some of its distinctive features - glaciers - are disappearing and may not be around for the park's bicentennial party.

The parks' remaining glaciers might not last longer than the next decade, said Dan Fagre, a U.S. Geological Survey mountain ecologist who has been studying the park's glaciers for 18 years.

For an ice field to be classified as a glacier, it must be more than 25 acres in size, be on the move and sculpt the landscape.

A 2003 study predicted park glaciers might be gone by 2030. But, because temperatures are warming at a more rapid rate than a few years ago, glaciers could disappear by 2020, Fagre said. In 1900, about 150 glaciers lay in what is now the national park.

Now only 25 glaciers are 25 acres or larger, Fagre said.

Although the size and number of glaciers have been decreasing over the past century, glaciers now are shrinking at three to four times the rate that they were in the 1950s and 1960s.

Although Glacier is relatively cool compared with many other parts of the world, temperatures in the park have increased two to three times as much as than the global average temperature increase, Fagre said.

Based on aerial surveys, photos and data from monitoring devices used by Fagre and others, including University of Montana researchers, every glacier could disappear over the next 10 years, although some ice fields might remain.

If the glaciers disappear, the park's name will remain because it was named after the glaciation process that created Glacier's dramatic mountains, not glaciers themselves, said Amy Vanderbilt, a park spokeswoman.

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