Climate Crocks on Ice Update
August 7, 2012
Got in yesterday, after a couple of last minute stops to pick up some odds and ends, heading up to the woods this afternoon. Got a room somewhere near the base of Mt Baker, hope I can post tomorrow before meeting Dr. Pelto and his team on thursday.
As I write this, it is 89F in Seattle–record heat for this date.North Cascade Glacier Climate Project field report 2012, Columbia GlacierAugust 1-4.This is not a complete report, as the team is currently in the field, on the Rainbow-Sholes-Lower Curtis leg of the season. I will rejoin Thursday on the Easton Glacier.This is the 29th consecutive year Mauri (Dr. Mauri Pelto – Director – PS) has measured the Columbia Glacier as a part of the North Cascade Glacier Climate Project. This year’s team consists of Jill Pelto, Ben Pelto, PI/founder Mauri Pelto and various visitors along the way, including a film maker from Michigan, and a member of the Nooksack Tribe.It was an amazing four days–perfect weather, no bugs and simply a delight to evaluate the Columbia Glacier. Approach was done Wednesday evening under fair skies and temps around 70. The predicted rain never did show up Wednesday night or Thursday, and better still, no dew fell, so the brush was completely dry for the “hike” around Blanca Lake. In reality, this is a bushwhack that Mauri dubbed “The Decathlon”, as it involves stream fording, steep terrain, tons of brush, and a few wet steps along the margin of the lake.Thursday was mostly cloudy and cool–a nice break from the scorching sun, while still fair enough to not impede data gathering (using laser range gear). Friday was brilliantly sunny, with skies so blue it is hard to believe. Imagine visiting a beach in Hawaii that’s covered in aluminum foil, and you get the idea of what it’s like to be on a glacier on a cloudless, hot summer day. The radiation is intense–any exposed skin is burned in minutes, and sunglasses and a hat are not optional. It was a hot, sweaty day with temps around 80 at the top of the glacier, which experiences very calm conditions thanks to the high crags surrounding the glacier.We saw very few animals, mostly birds and a few marmots. Close along Blanca Lake we saw large bullfrogs and other “forest frogs”. I mentioned “no bugs”–in reality, the glacier was littered with dead bugs of all kinds, and Rosy Finches were out and about, much like sandpipers on a beach, dining on the menu of frozen goodies.The snowpack is impressive, with about 3 meters of snow on areas “normally” (as of the last three decades) melted out to blue ice. This is a welcome sign, as it portends a chance at a plus-half-meter (+ .5m) mass balance this year. I say a chance because days like today melt away 8 inches of snow, and we have about 60 days of potential melting left this year. As you can see, this surplus of snow can go away in a matter of a couple weeks under warm summer conditions.Mauri and I are recognizing that the avalanche fans feeding the glacier from Columbia Peak, and to a lesser extent Kyes Peak and Monte Cristo Peak will likely be the last vestiges of the glacier in 100 years or so, as this glacier has a strong transverse component. That is, the traditional accumulation zone at the top of the glacier does not exist on the Columbia: it is all below the trim line/ablation zone, and what survives of the glacier will come from the “top of the sides”.Northwest climbing legend Fred Beckey is not one easily given to superlatives, but he writes that the “basin containing Blanca Lake and the Columbia Glacier is one of the most magnificent settings in the Cascade Range.” High praise indeed, especially considering these mountains barely reach 7,000 feet elevation. But as seen in the following photo gallery, such praise is well-founded, such is the local relief. I am thankful and fortunate to be a part of this great lab of planetary science, the source of life-giving cold, clean water for all of us things making a living here.