Where Did My Glaciers Go?


© — When I was 20, I went on an 8-day backpacking trip in Glacier National Park.  It is an extraordinarily beautiful place, and one of America’s great treasures.  The hike was fantastic, and was followed by a tour through the park.  The mountains and lakes gorgeous; the glaciers my favorite sight.  White with aquamarine faces, they sparkled like crown jewels. As a mountaineer, I have spent a lot of time on glaciers, and have studied them.  They have a very long life-cycle; they are born from consolidated snow high in the mountains, and die at the warmer reaches below, continuously.  In a sense, glaciers can be considered alive.  I love my glaciers.

Having looked at Glacier National Park on the internet recently, I have discovered that my glaciers are gone; most have completely disappeared.  Today the park has 26 glaciers, with over 100 having disappeared since the opening of the park in 1910; it is expected that the rest will all be gone by 2030 or sooner.  This I find alarming, as it takes, depending on the local temperature, over 1,000 years to form even a modest glacier, so the glaciers will not be seen again for at least dozens of generations.  Soon, the only way to see the glaciers will be at the park museum, with a plaque explaining why we call this section of bare mountains Glacier National Park. Very sadly, most of our children will have never seen these glaciers, perhaps only a handful of our grandchildren will have seen them, and most likely none of our great-grandchildren will ever see them.

So, just where did my glaciers go?

In driving to the park in my 1966 VW camper bus, I burned a lot of fuel.  This use of hydrocarbons was part of the warming of the planet.  Since the glaciers in the park are only remnants of an enormous glacial mass that once covered much of North America, they live at the edge of survival, and are very delicate.  The minor heating of the planet we have had so far, likely attributable to human activity, has warmed the mountains just enough to cause the glaciers to melt.  The runoff traveled down a stream at the base of the glacier, into creeks and rivers, and out into the sea.  From Triple Divide Peak, North America’s hydrological apex, the glacial water traveled southeast into the Missouri River, then down the Mississippi, and out into the Gulf of Mexico.

There, the glacial water was evaporated by energy from the sun, and was lifted into the sky.  The water then blew in over Florida, billowed up into clouds, and rained upon the Everglades.  It seeped underground into the Biscayne aquifer, and headed east toward the Atlantic.  From beneath Miami, glacial water was pumped up into the city water system.  It then poured out of a faucet into the kitchen sink of a lovely suburban home.  At this point, I lost track of my glaciers.

It’s been raining glaciers for some time now.  Coming to your lawn soon: polar ice pack.  Dress accordingly.

Bob Hansen

Robert W. Hansen – 2012

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