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Terminus behavior and response time of North Cascade glaciers, Washington, USA


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Observation of the terminus behavior of 38 North Cascade glaciers, Washington, U.S.A., since 1890 shows three different types of glacier response: (1) Continuous retreat from the Little Ice Age (LIA) advanced positions from 1890 to approximately 1950, followed by a period of advance from 1950 to 1976, and then retreat since 1976. (2) Rapid retreat from 1890 to approximately 1950, slow retreat or equilibrium from 1950 to 1976, and moderate to rapid retreat since 1976. (3) Continuous retreat from 1890 to the present. Type 1 glaciers are notable for steeper slopes, extensive crevassing and higher terminus-region velocities. Type 2 glaciers have intermediate velocities, moderate crevassing and intermediate slopes. Type 3 glaciers have low slopes, modest crevassing and low terminus-region velocities. This indicates that the observed differences in the response time and terminus behavior of North Cascade glaciers in reaction to climate change are related to variations in specific characteristics of the glaciers. The response time is approximately 20-30 years on type 1 glaciers, 40-60 years on type 2 glaciers and a minimum of 60-100 years on type 3 glaciers. The high correlation in annual balance between North Cascade glaciers indicates that microclimates are not the key to differences in behavior. Instead it is the physical characteristics - slope, terminus velocity, thickness and accumulation rate - of the glacier that determine recent terminus behavior and response time. The delay between the onset of a mass-balance change and initiation of a noticeable change in terminus behavior has been observed on 21 glaciers to be 4-16 years. This initial response time applies to both positive and negative changes in mass balance.
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Journal of Glaciology
Mauri S. Pelto, Department of Environmental Science
Nichols College, Dudley, MA 01571
Cliff Hedlund, Oregon State University
Corvallis, OR 97331
Observation of the terminus behavior of 38 North Cascade glaciers since 1890 illustrates three
different types of glacier response 1) Continuous retreat from the Little Ice Age advanced positions, from
1890 to approximately 1950, followed by a period of advance from 1950-1976, and then retreat since 1976.
2) Rapid retreat from 1890 to approximately 1950, slow retreat or equilibrium from 1950-1976, and
moderate to rapid retreat since 1976. 3) Continuous retreat from 1890 LIA to the present.
Type 1 glaciers are notable for steeper slopes, extensive crevassing, and higher terminus region
velocities. Type 2 glaciers have intermediate velocities, moderate crevassing and intermediate slopes.
Type 3 glaciers have low slopes, modest crevassing and low terminus region velocities. This indicates that
the observed differences in the response time and terminus behavior of North Cascade glaciers to climate
change are related to variations in specific characteristics of the glaciers. The response time of North
Cascade glaciers approximately 20-30 years on Type 1 glaciers, 40-60 years on Type 2 glaciers, and a
minimum of 60-100 years on Type 3 glaciers.
The high correlation in annual balance of North Cascade glaciers indicate that microclimates are
not the key to differences in behavior. Instead it is the physical characteristics slope, terminus velocity,
thickness, and accumulation rate of the glacier that determines Ts recent terminus behavior and response
The delay between the onset of a mass balance change and initiation of a noticeable change in
terminus behavior has been observed on 21 glaciers to be 4-16 years. This initial response time of North
Cascade glaciers applies to both positive and negative changes in mass balance.
Observation of the differing terminus behavior of North Cascade glaciers in response to the same
climate changes during the last century (Tangborn and others, 1990), has prompted the evaluation of the
terminus behavior of 38 glaciers in the North Cascades for the 1890-1990’s period. The objective is to
determine the characteristics that lead to differential terminus behavior among North Cascade glaciers.
To complete this task requires examination of the response time of glaciers to climate change. For
any glacier there is a lag time (Ts) between a significant climate change and the initial observed terminus
response (Paterson, 1994), this is also referred to as the reaction time of the glacier. It should be noted that
Ts cannot be considered a physical property of a glacier and is expected to depend on the mass balance
history and physical characteristics of the glacier. In this paper Ts is simply defined as the time lag from an
observed climate shift to the initial observed change from an advancing to a retreating termini or from a
retreating to an advancing termini.
In addition, for each glacier there is a response time to approach a new steady state for a given
climate driven mass balance change (Tm), referred to as length of memory by Johannesson and others
(1989). Johannesson and others (1989) defined Tm as the time-scale for exponential asymptotic approach to
a final steady state (approximately 63% of a full response), resulting from a sudden change in climate to a
new constant climate. The magnitudes of Ts and Tm are crucial to interpreting past and current glacier
fluctuations and predicting future changes (Paterson, 1994; Johannesson and others, 1989).
In nature a step change in climate causing an evolution from an initial to a final steady state never
happens (Schwitter and Raymond, 1993). The variability of climate forcing and the continuous changes in
the glacier superimpose new disturbances on the response of the glaciers to previous climate. This leads to
the conclusion that Tm cannot be defined directly from observations in nature. However, Tm cannot be
accurately defined from models alone either.
In this study we recognize that the response of the terminus is influenced by ongoing changes in
forcing, limiting the accuracy of determination of Tm from terminus observations. We use terminus
observations to establish limits on the range of Tm, rather than attempting direct calculation of Tm from
observations. We use terminus observations to establish time limits on the range of Tm. Our estimates of
Tm are based on the understanding that, during a period of relatively constant climate, the glacier should
advance to about 2/3 of its final adjustment in its terminus positions and the rate of advance/retreat of the
terminus should be reduced to approximately 1/3 over a time period of length Tm. The difficulty of
examining terminus response to a specific step change is minimized with respect to the post Little Ice Age
warming , because the climate change and associated terminus response is large compared to climate
changes and resulting terminus changes that have occurred in the last half-century
(Schwitter and Raymond, 1993; Burbank, 1981; Porter, 1986).
In the North Cascades the disparate terminus behavior of glaciers has been noted by Hubley
(1956), Post and others (1971), Tangborn and others (1990) and Pelto (1993). The primary goal of this
paper is to examine the observed terminus behavior and glacier geographic characteristics of 38 North
Cascade glaciers to determine why the terminus behavior history varies. The secondary goal is to identify
the ranges of Ts and Tm for the response of North Cascade glaciers to climate changes.
The North Cascade Glacier Climate Project (NCGCP) has been observing terminus behavior on 47
North Cascade glaciers and measuring annual balance on 9 glaciers since 1984 (Pelto, 1993; 1996). The
primary objective of this glacier research has been to identify the magnitude and timing of glacier response
to a climate change. This NCGCP data set is extensive in its breadth, but not in its length of record,
extensive USGS aerial photographic collections and the ongoing research by the USGS on South Cascade
Glacier have been indispensable to this research in providing long-term records.
Terminus Observations
The magnitude of terminus changes from the Little Ice Age Maximum (LIAM) has been measured
on 38 glaciers by utilizing 720 USGS vertical aerial photographs, taken by Austin Post between 1962 and
1979, 150 aerial photographs taken by Richard Hubley at the University of Washington from 1950 to 1955,
and 120 photographs taken by J.B. Richardson and William Long of the US Forest Service from 1940 to
1960 (all of these photographs have been donated to NCGCP by William Long, Austin Post, and the
Schwitter and Raymond (1993) noted the ease of identification and utility of the well-preserved
Little Ice Age moraines for reconstructing former glacier profiles in the North Cascades and elsewhere.
The distance from the typically well preserved, fresh LIA moraines and trimlines to the current glacier front
has been measured in each case using a laser ranging device (+1m). Additionally on each of the 38 glaciers
field measurements from the same LIA moraines to the current glacier front was completed on at least two
occasions between 1984 and 1998. The goal being to verify both the LIAM and the actual terminus
position changes from 1984-1998. In cases where the field measurements and photographic
measurements differed by more than 20 m the glacier is not used in this analysis. This was the case on two
Terminus change from 1850-1950 is the distance from the aforementioned LIAM and the position
of the glacier terminus as in 1950 noted by Hubley (1956). Terminus change from 1950-1979 is the
change between the position noted by Hubley (1956) and the USGS aerial observations in 1979. Neither,
1950 or 1979 perfectly match the timing of climate changes noted in the following section; however, they
are closest to the climate shifts, beginning in 1944 and 1976 respectively, for which adequate aerial
photographic observations were made. Terminus change from 1979 to the present is based on comparison
of the USGS aerial observations and repeated field measurements of the North Cascade Glacier Climate
Project from 1984-1998 (Pelto, 1993; 1996).
To determine Ts a group of 21 North Cascade was observed to switch from retreat to advance
shortly after 1944, and from advance to retreat shortly after 1976. Observations of the initial post-1944
glacier advances were made by Long (1955 and 1956) and Hubley (1956). Observations of the onset of
retreat after 1976 are from Heikinnen (1984), NCGCP field observations (Pelto, 1993) and USGS aerial
photographs from 1979.
Glacier Characteristics
On seventeen of the aforementioned 38 glaciers more detailed observations are used to calculate
theoretical estimates of Tm for comparison with observations of terminus behavior. Each of these 17
glaciers had at least five terminus observations during the 1850 to 1998 period (Table 1)(Hubley, 1956;
Long, 1955; Meier and Post, 1962; Pelto, 1993; Post and others, 1971). To be able to calculate Tm
terminus velocity u(t), mass balance near the terminus b(t), ice thickness (h) and glacier length (l) have to
be determined. Nine of the 17 glaciers have had annual balance measurements over a span of more than 10
years (Table 1)(Pelto, 1996; Krimmel, 1996). Krimmel (1999) has observed b(t) and u(t) on South Cascade
Glacier. On the other 16 glaciers b(t) and u(t) have been directly observed for at least two hydrologic
years using stakes drilled into the glacier terminus area by NCGCP (Pelto, 1996; Krimmel, 1999).
Measurement of u(t) relied on at least three points, in the lower 25% of the glacier’s length, which is within
200 m of the terminus in each case. The longer term annual balance measured on nine of these glaciers
indicates that the period of record for terminus mass balance measurement (1994-1996) was close to the
1984-1997 mean.
In 1998, Krimmel (1999) observed the length of the South Cascade Glacier. Glacier length on the
other 16 glaciers length has been taken from the most recent USGS maps compiled from aerial photographs
between 1982 and 1984, and adjusted for the observed retreat up 1998.
Glacier thickness (h) has been measured on three North Cascade glaciers South Cascade Glacier
(Krimmel, 1970), Easton Glacier (Harper, 1993) and Lewis Glacier. The first two are both comparatively
large glaciers for the area. Each had a maximum mean profile depth of 60-80 m. These measurements
along with those of Driedger and Kennard (1986) on Cascade volcanoes, which yielded a mean thickness of
50 m on Mt. Rainier, and 35 m on Mt. Hood, illustrate that these glaciers are comparatively thin. On Lewis
Glacier the thickness was measured in a moulin that reached the base of the glacier in 1985, 1986 and 1987.
The thickness of each of the other 14 glaciers where direct measurement has not been made is assumed to
be 50 m on thin concave or slope glaciers and 100 m on thicker convex or valley glaciers. In both cases the
resulting h is a maximum value, thus the Tm would be a maximum value too (Post and others, 1971).
Climate Data
A good single climate indicator for North Cascade glaciers behavior is the Pacific Northwest
Index (PNI), developed by Ebbesmeyer and others (1991). Figure 1 is a graph of the PNI during this
century. The index is based on March 15 snowpack depth at Paradise on Mt. Rainier, WA, mean annual
temperature at Olga, WA., and total annual precipitation at Cedar Lake, WA. Positive values reflect
negative glacier mass balances.
Since the maximum advance of the Little Ice Age (LIA) there have been three climate changes in
the North Cascades sufficient to substantially alter glacier terminus behavior. During the LIA mean annual
temperatures were 1.0-1.5oC cooler than at present (Burbank, 1981: Porter, 1986). The lower temperatures
in the North Cascades led to a snowline lowering of 100 to 150 m during the LIA (Porter, 1986; Burbank,
1981). Depending on the glacier, the maximum advance occurred in the 16th, 18th, or 19th century
(Miller, 1971; Long, 1956). North Cascade glaciers maintained advanced terminal positions from 1650-
1890, emplacing one or several Little Ice Age terminal moraines.
Retreat from the LIAM was modest prior to a still stand in the 1880’s (Burbank, 1981, Long,
1956). Miller (1971) mapped the age of terminal moraines in front of Chickamin and South Cascade
Glacier and found in each case that a late-19th century moraine was emplaced within 100 m of the LIAM.
On Mt. Rainier, just south of the study area, mapping of terminus changes by (Burbank, 1981) indicate that
rapid and continuous retreat of Mt. Rainier glaciers from their LIAM began after the 1880-1885 still stand.
Long (1953) noted that retreat on Lyman Glacier and Easton Glacier became substantial only after 1890.
Long (1955) noted that the Lyman Glacier has been retreating steadily since the 1890’s. Climate warming
and retreat began about 1850, but because of the modest retreat and subsequent stillstand or advance of
North Cascade glaciers around 1880, 1890 is used as the approximate time for the climate change that
initiated a continuous substantial retreat from the LIA advanced positions in the North Cascades.
This first substantial climate change was a progressive temperature rise from the 1880’s to the
1940’s. The warming led to ubiquitous rapid retreat of North Cascade Range alpine glaciers from 1890 to
1944 (Rusk, 1924; Burbank, 1981; Long, 1955; Hubley, 1956). Each North Cascade glacier retreated
significantly from its LIAM. It must be emphasized that the entire retreat noted from the LIAM to 1944
did not occur in the 1890-1944 interval, observations do not exist on most glaciers to distinguish the exact
timing of the initial post LIAM retreat, though retreat was minor before 1890 on glacier where observations
exist. Average retreat of glaciers on Mt. Baker was 1440 m from LIAM to 1950 (Pelto, 1993). Average
retreat of the 38 North Cascade glaciers in this study was 1215 m.
The PNI from 1895-1923 is rising, but has a comparatively low mean (-0.34), that is still capable
of generating retreat on North Cascade glaciers, that are all still in advanced positions from the LIA. The
PNI average during the 1924 1944 was the high at 0.44. This warm dry period has been noted around the
world and in the North Cascades as a period of rapid glacier retreat (Burbank, 1981; Long, 1955; Hubley,
1956). The second substantial change in climate began in 1944 when conditions became cooler and
precipitation increased (Hubley 1956; Tangborn, 1980). The climate change in 1944 is evident in the PNI
record (Figure 1). The mean PNI from 1945-1976 was -0.37. This drop in the PNI average of 0.76 from the
previous interval marks the climate change that initiated the advance of some North Cascade glaciers and
the more positive mass balance for that period (Tangborn, 1980; Hubley, 1956).
Hubley (1956) and Long (1956) noted that North Cascade glaciers began to advance in the early
1950s, after 30 years of rapid retreat. This change was reflected in the mass balance of North Cascade
glaciers. A Runoff-Precipitation model constructed for South Cascade Glacier (Tangborn, 1980) yielded a
mean annual balance of 1.15 m/a from 1924-1944, compared to 0.15 m/a from 1945-1976.
Approximately half the North Cascade glaciers advanced during the 1950-1979 period (Hubley,
1956; Meier and Post, 1962). Advances of Mount Baker glaciers ranged from 120 m to 750 m, ana verage
of 480 m, and ended in 1978 (Heikkinnen, 1984; Harper, 1993; Pelto, 1993). All 11 Glacier Peak glaciers
that advanced during the 1950-1979 period emplaced an identifiable maximum advance terminal moraine,
the mean advance was 295 m. Of the 47 glaciers that NCGCP has observed during the 1984-1998 period,
15 advanced during the 1950-1978 period.
The final climate change was a step change in 1977 to a drier-warmer climate in the Pacific
Northwest (Ebbesmeyer and others, 1991). The mean PNI from 1977-1998 was 0.53, even higher than the
1924-1944 period, indicating a warmer drier period that reestablished the ubiquitous retreat of North
Cascade glaciers (Pelto, 1993). This change impacted glacier mass balance, alpine streamflow, and alpine
snowpack (Ebbesmeyer and others, 1991). The impact on North Cascade glacier mass balance is evident
from the USGS long-term record of South Cascade Glacier (1958-1998), where mean annual balance was
0.15 m/a from 1958-1976, in contrast to 1.00 m/a from 1977-1998 (Krimmel, 1999).
The retreat and negative mass balances of the 1977-1998 period have been noted by Harper
(1993), Krimmel (1994 and 1999), and Pelto (1993 and 1996). By 1984, all the Mount Baker glaciers,
which were advancing in 1975, were again retreating (Pelto, 1993). In 1997-98, NCGCP measured the
retreat of eight Mount Baker glaciers from their recent maximum position (late 1970’s-early 1980’s). The
average retreat had been -197 m. All of the Mt. Baker termini are still in advance of their 1940 position as
observed in photographs from J.B. Richardson, and observations by Austin Post (pers. comm.). However,
the glacier region between the current terminus and 1940 terminus is nearly stagnant on each of the
glaciers. Between 1979 and 1984, 35 of the 47 North Cascade glaciers observed annually by NCGCP had
begun retreating. By 1992 all 47 glaciers termini observed by NCGCP were retreating (Pelto, 1993), and
two had disappeared, Lewis Glacier and Milk Lake Glacier.
The time between the onset of a mass balance change and the onset of a significant change in
terminus behavior is called the initial terminus response time or reaction time (Ts). As indicate previously
Ts is a descriptive quantity that quantifies the time lag between climate forcing and terminus response for a
particular climate event, rather than a physical property of a glacier Ts in this study is based solely on the
first observed terminus change from retreat to advance after 1944, and from advance to retreat after 1976.
Ts has been identified from the response of North Cascade glaciers to the relative cooler and wetter weather
beginning in 1944 (Hubley, 1956; Long 1955 and 1956; Tangborn, 1980), and to the subsequent warmer
and drier conditions beginning in 1977 (Ebbesmeyer and others, 1991; Pelto, 1988; Pelto, 1993; Krimmel,
1994; Harper, 1993).
Focusing on 21 North Cascade glaciers that responded to these two climate shifTs, all having an
area under 10 km2, the initial terminus response invariably is less than 16 years (Pelto, 1993; Hubley, 1956;
Harper, 1993). Table 2 is a list of 21 North Cascade glaciers where Ts has been noted for both advance
and retreat for the post-1944 period by Hubley (1956), or Long (1955 and 1956). In each case the glaciers
were observed to be in retreat during the 1940’s, and subsequently each advanced within 16 years of the
climate change. Table 2 also notes the response of the same glaciers from a period of advance by each
glacier in the early 1970’s to retreat by 1988, 12 years after the climate change (Pelto, 1988 and 1993;
Harper, 1993). The observed Ts is not significantly different on individual glaciers for initiation of
advance, versus initiation of retreat.
Many North Cascade glaciers did not respond to these two climatic changes. This may be the
result of a longer Ts, or as more likely is either due to an ongoing retreat caused by continuing negative
mass balances, or that climate change was insufficient to substantially alter mass balance on these glaciers.
The 38 North Cascade glaciers, where the terminus history has been determined for the 1890-1998
period exhibit three distinct patterns (Table 3): 1) Retreat from 1890 to 1950 then a period of advance from
1950-1976, followed by retreat since 1976. 2) Rapid retreat from 1890 to approximately 1950, slow retreat
or equilibrium from 1950-1976 and moderate to rapid retreat since 1976. 3) Continuous retreat from the
1890 to the present. Distinction of a glacier’s Type is based solely on iTs terminus behavior in this
From 1890-1946 a retreat of at least 1000 m occurred on each of the significant glaciers (over
1.0km2) on Mt. Baker and Glacier Peak. Each of these glaciers is a Type 1 glacier: Mazama, Rainbow,
Easton, Squak, Talum and Boulder Glacier on Mt. Baker and, Ermine, Dusty, N. Guardian, Kennedy,
Scimitar, Ptarmigan and Vista Glacier on Glacier Peak are used in this study. The two strato-volcanoes,
Glacier Peak and Mt. Baker are the highest peaks in the North Cascades. The ability to advance was not
limited to the high elevation glaciers of the two large volcanoes, as this advance was also noted on other
North Cascade glaciers Ladder Creek, Challenger, Quien Sabe, Lower Curtis, Sulphide and N. Klawatti
Glacier (Hubley, 1956).
Even in 1940 at the height of retreat Type 1 glaciers were extensively crevassed and quite active in
the photographs taken by William Long and J.B. Richardson of the National Forest Service (Figure 2).
Today despite moderate to rapid retreat rates of 10-30m/a, all Type 1 glaciers remain extensively crevassed.
Each Type 1 glacier was still retreating appreciably in 1940 but had approached close enough to
equilibrium that the climate shift beginning in 1944, indicated by a decrease of the mean PNI of
approximately 1, brought about a rapid change from retreating to advancing conditions (Hubley, 1956).
The 50 years of continuous retreat reflects Type 1 glacier response to the initial climate shift in
approximately 1890, the progressive warming during the 1895-1923 period, and the warmth of the 1924-
1944 period (Long, 1955 and Burbank, 1981). None of the glaciers had achieved a full adjustment by
1940, but certainly seemed to be approaching it, suggesting that Tm is in the 20-30 year range for Type 1
Similarly by 1976 advance had brought these glaciers close enough to equilibrium, as evidenced
by the slow rate of terminus change (Harper, 1993), that the modest (10%) recent decline in winter
precipitation and rise in summer temperature (1.1oC) resulted in glacier retreat (Pelto, 1993 and 1996;
Harper, 1993). This again indicates that Tm is in the range of 20-30 years. It must be acknowledged that
these glaciers became smaller since the post Little Ice Age warming, and Tm should therefore be shorter.
Each of these glaciers retreated substantially from 1890-1950, followed by nearly stable terminus
positions between 1955 and 1979, and an increasing retreat rate since 1984. Type 2 glaciers in this study
are Columbia, Watson, Cache Col, Yawning, Sahale, Neve, Ice Worm and Suiattle Glacier. The maximum
retreat or advance of this group was less than 30 m from 1955-1984. Since 1984 the retreat rate has been
increasing for this group of glaciers, average retreat for the 1992-1998 period was 8 m/a. In 1998 the
retreat rate remains modest as the glaciers still seem to be adjusting slowly to climate change.
An increase in crevassing was noted on the Neve, Yawning and Suiattle Glacier in 1955, but little
or no advance occurred, though the retreat did end in the early 1970’s on these three glaciers. This suggests
that that the climate change was insufficient to generate an advance, but did manage to halt the ongoing
After continuously retreating from 1890-1950 the Type 2 glaciers had not approached close
enough to equilibrium for the 1944 climate shift to stop retreat initially. This suggests that Tm for Type 2
glaciers is on the order of 40-60 years, since each glacier termini was close to equilibrium after the 1944
climate change, but had not yet attained equilibrium due to the 1890 climate change. Exponential filtering
of the PNI index also indicates that a response time in this range is required to approximately halt the
retreat in the period 1944-1976 (Johannesson, personal communication).
This group includes South Cascade, Honeycomb, Foss, Hinman, Milk Lake, Lyman, Whitechuck,
White River, Lewis, Sholes and Colonial Glacier. Each of these glaciers has retreated continuously
throughout this century. The most rapid retreat period has varied; however, each glacier retreated more
than 100 m between 1950 and 1979 and thinned aprreciably, when many North Cascade glaciers were
advancing or in equilibrium (Hubley, 1956; Meier and Post, 1962).
Type 3 glaciers all have a low slope, limited crevassing and in general low velocities for their
respective size. South Cascade Glacier is a typical Type 3 glacier. Lyman, Hinman, Foss and Colonial
Glacier have each lost more than 50% of their area in the last 50 years (Figure 4). Of these four only
Lyman Glacier is still moving at a detectable rate. The others three had continuously negative mass
balances and will disappear with our current climate. None of the Type 3 glaciers has neared a post LIA
The disappearance of two glaciers in this group, Lewis Glacier in 1989 and Milk Lake Glacier in
1993, illustrates that after nearly 150 years of adjustment these glaciers still had failed and did fail to
achieve a new equilibrium. That none of the glaciers had achieved equilibrium by 1975, after 85 years of
retreat, indicates a Tm of at least 60-100 years for Type 3 glaciers. The complete melting away of Hinman
and Foss Glacier may take another 50 years despite their small size.
South Cascade Glacier is the most studied glacier in the North Cascades. The USGS has
monitored the mass balance since 1952. The mass balance trend through time indicates that from 1958-
1976 mean annual balance was 0.15 m/a (Krimmel, 1999). The 1945-1975 period of more positive mass
balance that generated advance for many North Cascade glaciers, resulted only in smaller negative
balances, but a significant ongoing retreat (Krimmel, 1996). From 1977-1998 mean annual balance on
South Cascade Glacier was 1.0 m/a (Krimmel, 1999), and retreat has been rapid. During the 1940-1998
period for which terminus observations exist, South Cascade Glacier has not approached equilibrium.
None of the Type 3 glaciers has approached a steady state since the end of the LIA regardless of
the fluctuations in mass balance and the low values of the proxy forcing function PNI from 1945-1976.
Type 3 glaciers are still adjusting in part to the post Little Ice Age climate change, which has been
reinforced by recent warming. It therefore, seems likely that Type 3 glaciers and South Cascade Glacier are
still adjusting to the post LIA warming after a century of retreat and that Tm is at least 75 years.
Each of the three glacier types was established based solely on terminus behavior history;
however, it is apparent that each type has specific characteristics (Figure 2-5). Figure 6 illustrates the
different terminus behavior history of North Cascade glaciers. The slower initial response to climate
change of Type 3 glaciers is evident. The long-term result of the slow start is a more persistent retreat.
Table 3, lists the mean slope, mean altitude and area of each glacier of the 38 glaciers. Mass balance
measurements in the accumulation zone exist for 12 of the glaciers in this study. Type 1 glaciers have the
highest mean elevations (2200 m), largest mean slope (0.42, +0.07), highest measured mean accumulation
(Pelto, 1988; 1996), most extensive crevassing and highest measured terminus region velocity (20 m/a, + 3
m/a ). Type 3 glaciers have the lowest slopes (0.23, +0.06), least crevassing, and lowest mean terminus
velocity (5 m/a, + 3 m/a) of any of the glacier types. Type 2 glaciers have on average, a lower slope (0.35,
+0.08), a lower terminus region velocity (7 m/a, +4 m/a), less crevassing, and a lower mean accumulation
rate than Type 1 glaciers (Figure 3).
There is no significant relation between aspect and glacier type. A larger mean slope, higher
accumulation rates, more extensive and higher velocity either reflect or lead to increased glaciers velocities
and longitudinal strain rates. The greater the longitudinal strain rate the faster the glacier can adjust to
changing climate conditions (Paterson, 1994). The terminus region velocities on large alpine glaciers may
be quite independent of glacier velocity as a whole. On the smaller North Cascade glaciers the terminus
region velocity is, on the other hand, a good indicator of mean glacier velocity.
The three glacier types illustrate that persistent differences in glacier behavior are explainable
based on the basic characteristics of the glacier which in turn determine response time, and not unique to
specific glaciers. This is reinforced by the exceptionally high degree of correlation in annual balance
between North Cascade glaciers (Pelto, 1997). The lowest cross correlation value for annual balance,
between any pair of nine glaciers observed by the USGS and NCGCP, is 0.79.
The different behavior of adjacent glacier termini based on differing topographic characteristics in
the North Cascades was observed on S. Klawatti and N. Klawatti Glacier (Tangborn and others, 1990).
From 1947-1961 N. Klawatti Glacier lost a volume equivalent to a mean thickness of 8.3m, continuing its
ongoing retreat. S. Klawatti Glacier gained a thickness equivalent to a mean thickening of 5.8 m
(Tangborn and others, 1990). This is not an unusual case in the North Cascades. Based on the
classification of glacier type in this study S. Klawatti is a Type 1 glacier and N. Klawatti a Type 3 glacier.
The difference in the degree of crevassing alone indicates a notable difference in flow. The adjacent
glaciers differing responses fit the overall pattern for glaciers of their respective types in the North
Cascades, and are not an anomalous case. We identified no important microclimatic effects that created
differing mass balance conditions on glaciers across the North Cascades (Pelto, 1996 and 1997).
An even more poignant example is that of the Neve and Ladder Creek Glacier, which share the
same accumulation zone and have termini that both end at approximately 1680 m. The shared
accumulation zone between 2000 m and 2400 m flows into a pass at 2000 m where the glacier turns both
east and west. The Ladder Creek Glacier flows northwest and is a Type 1 glacier and has a steep, shorter
terminus, 1200 m to terminus from the pass, comparatively rapid velocity, and was noted to advance by
Hubley (1956). Neve Glacier is a Type 2 glacier, it is slightly larger than the Ladder Creek Glacier and has
a longer terminus region, 1920 m from the pass. This results in a gentler slope and consequently slower
velocity. This glacier did not advance, though crevassing did increase within 500 m of the terminus
slowing the retreat to a standstill.
Observation of different responses of glacier types to a climate change is not unique to the North
Cascades. In Switzerland a sample of 38 glaciers with 150 year long terminus records was classified into,
four different classes, with different types of terminus responses for each glacier class (Herren and others,
1999): 1) Large valley glacier such as the Gornergletscher which has retreated rapidly and continuously.
2) Small mountain glaciers such as the Saleina, which has advanced twice during this century, though
retreat has been more pronounced. 3) Large mountain glaciers, such as the Tschierva, which follow the
same pattern as Saleina except with more significant retreat. 4) Small cirque glaciers, such as the Gran Plan
Neve, which has retreated slowly throughout the century.
A primary difficulty in the identification of Tm is that after a climate change climate conditions do
not reach a new steady state for periods comparable to the Tm of glaciers. Each glacier is then adjusting to
the continually changing climate conditions and never achieves a steady state, due to the non-steady state
climate (Schwitter and Raymond, 1993). Schwitter and Raymond (1993) noted that these difficulties are
minimized with regard to changes from the LIAM to the present, since the basic climate change since the
late 1800’s has been from a LIA climate favorable to glaciers and a post LIA climate unfavorable for
glaciers. Changes in North Cascade terminus behavior and glacier thickness from the LIAM to the present
are large compared to changes in response to more recent climate changes (Schwittter and Raymond,
The observed terminus record of North Cascade glaciers indicates a range of Tm from 20 to 30
years on Type 1 glaciers, approximately 40-60 years on Type 2 glaciers, and a minimum of 60-100 years
on Type 3 glaciers. How do these values compare to those calculated from the equations of Johannesson
and others (1989).
Johannesson and others (1989), compared two means of calculating Tm:
Tm=f L /u(t) (1)
Tm=h/-b(t) (2)
Tm in these equations is potentially dependent on four variables: L the glacier length, u(t) velocity of the
glacier at the terminus, h the thickness of the glacier, and b(t) the net annual balance at the terminus. The
former equation, which was proposed by Nye (1960), produces longer full response times of 100 to 1000
years, the latter full response times of 10 to 100 years (Johannesson and others, 1989). The variable f is a
shape factor that is the ratio between the changes in thickness at the terminus to the changes in the
thickness at the glacier head (Schwitter and Raymond, 1993). Similar changes in ice thickness will yield a
value of f= 1, f=0.5 corresponds to a linear decrease of thickness change from a maximum at the terminus
to zero at the head. The mean value of f has been determined as 0.3 (Schwitter and Raymond, 1993), and
this value of f is applied. This equation is quite sensitive to terminus velocity, which is often spatially
Table 4 displays the variables used in determining Tm for 17 North Cascade glaciers, the
calculated Tm from equation 1, and Tm from equation 2. Each variable, except h, has been observed on
each glacier by the USGS (South Cascade Glacier) or NCGCP.
It is evident that equation 2 yields values that are lower than the estimates of Tm for North
Cascade glaciers of Types 2 and 3 glaciers, but the difference is smaller for Type 1 glaciers. Equation 1
overestimates Tm and because of the wide spatial variability of u(t), it is not expected to yield a consistently
accurate result on alpine glaciers.
South Cascade Glacier, like all Type 3 glaciers, is still adjusting to post LIA warming and the
discontinuous but progressive warming of this century. This is not unique to the North Cascades, many
alpine glaciers have not yet fully adjusted to post LIA warming. The Ptarmigan and Lemon Creek Glacier,
Alaska; Gornergletsher and Rhonegletscher in Switzerland; Athabasca Glacier, Canada, and in the Darwin
Cordillera, Chile several glaciers have retreated continuously during this century (Marcus and others, 1995;
Herren and others, 1999; Holmund and Fuenzalida, 1995).
North Cascade glaciers had a varied terminal response to the 1944 climate change, with only Type
1 glaciers advancing. Based on this study, the failure of Type 2 and Type 3 glaciers to advance is a
function of their incomplete adjustment to the post LIA progressive warming. Thus, they were still
significantly out of equilibrium in 1944, after approximately a half-century of retreat (Burbank, 1981), and
the modest positive mass balances did not trigger a glacier advance. Pelto (1996) noted the high cross
correlation in observed annual balance on North Cascade glaciers (Figure 7). This similarity is true
regardless of glacier type. This is evidence that microclimates are not the key to differences in behavior.
Instead it is the physical characteristics slope, terminus velocity, thickness, and accumulation rate of the
glacier that determines its recent terminus behavior and response time.
An example is the adjacent N, Klawatti and S. Klawatti Glaciers. S. Klawatti advanced in the
1950-1975 interval and N. Klawatti continued to retreat. The glaciers have different area-altitude
distributions, to which Tangborn and others (1990) attributed the differential terminus response. However,
the different area-altitude distribution is both a result of slower response and a reflection of the differing
topographic setting.
Porter (1986) noted that many alpine glaciers experienced nearly synchronous reversals in
terminus behavior around 1950. This change in glacier terminus behavior prompted Johannesson and
others (1989) to suggest that, alpine glacier behavior is dominated by short-term climate effects. In the
North Cascades, this synchronous reversal to advance and later to retreat of only Type 1 glaciers indicates
that in the North Cascades only glaciers close to equilibrium had a reversal in terminus behavior due to the
short-term climate effects. Glacier termini such as the Honeycomb, Lyman, Columbia, Milk Lake, and
South Cascade Glacier were only modestly affected by the recent short-term climate changes in the North
North Cascade glaciers occupy an exceptionally temperate maritime climate for glaciers. Ts on
North Cascade glaciers are short (Hubley, 1956), ranging from 4-16 years in response to both positive
negative mass balance changes.
Tm varies considerably even between similarly sized glaciers in this region. The key variables that
decrease Tm are factors that increase mean glacier velocity, accumulation rates and glacier slopes in
particular. The response times of 30-100 years for most of these small glaciers indicates that with a
substantial climate change the initial response may be rapid, but full adjustment is not rapid in the North
Cascade Range.
The comments of Roger LeB Hooke, M. Hoelzle, W. Haeberli, T. Johannesson, M. Sturm and J.G.
Cogley have been most helpful. The USGS maps and photographs provided by Austin Post and David
Hirst were essential to this project. The fine ongoing research initiated by Mark Meier and currently
guided by Robert Krimmel of the USGS on South Cascade Glacier provided essential long-term data.
Burbank, D.W. 1981. A chronology of late Holocene glacier fluctuations on Mt. Rainier. Arctic and
Alpine Res., 13, 369-386.
Driedger, C.L., and P.M. Kennard. 1986. Ice volumes on Cascade Volcanoes. USGS Prof. Paper, 1365.
Ebbesmeyer, C.C., D.R. Cayan, D.R. McLain, F.H. Nichols, D.H. Peterson, and K.T. Redmond. 1991.
1976 step in the Pacific Climate: Forty environmental changes between 1968-1975 and 1976-1984. In
Betancourt, J.L. and Tharp, V.L., Proc. On the 7th Annual Pacific Climate Workshop, 129-141.
Harper, J.T. 1993. Glacier terminus fluctuations on Mt. Baker, Washington, USA, 1940-1980, and climate
variations. Arctic and Alpine Res, 25, 332-340.
Heikkinen, A. 1984. Dendrochronological evidence of variation of Coleman Glacier, Mt. Baker.
Washington. Arctic and Alpine Res., 16, 53-54.
Herren, E.R., M. Hoelzle and M.Maisch.1999. The Swiss Glaciers 1995/96 and 1996/97. Glaciological
Commision of the Swiss Academy of Sciences, Zurich, Report No. 117-118.
Holmund, P. and H. Fuenzelida. 1995. Anomalous glacier responses and 20th century climatic changes in
Darwin Cordillera, southern Chile. J. Glaciol., 41(139), 465-473.
Hubley, R.C. 1956. Glaciers of Washington's Cascades and Olympic Mountains: Their present activity and
iTs relation to local climatic trends. J. Glaciol., 2(19), 669-674.
Johannesson, T., C. Raymond, and E. Waddington. 1989. Time-scale for adjustment of glacier to changes
in mass balance. J. Glaciol., 35(121), 355-369.
Krimmel, R.M., 1970. Gravitimetric ice thickness determination, South Cascade Glacier. Northwest
Science, 44(3), 147-153.
Krimmel, R.M. 1994. “Water, ice and meteorological measurements at South Cascade Glacier, WA 1993
balance year. USGS OFR-94-4139.
Krimmel, R.M. 1996. “Water, ice and meteorological measurements at South Cascade Glacier, WA 1995
balance year. USGS OFR-96-4174.
Krimmel, R.M. 1999. Mass balance and volume of South Cascade Glacier, Washington. Geografiska
Annaler, 81A, 653-658.
Long, W.A. 1953. Recession of Easton and Deming Glaciers. The Scientific Monthly, 76, 241-245.
Long, W.A. 1955. What’s happening to our glaciers. The Scientific Monthly, 81, 57-64.
Long, W.A. 1956. Present growth and advance of Boulder Glacier, Mt. Baker. The Scientific Monthly, 83,
Marcus, M.G., F.B. Chambers, M.M. Miller and M. Lang. 1995. Recent trends in
The Lemon Creek Glacier, Alaska. Phys. Geogr., 16(2): 150-161.
Meier, M.F. and Post, A. 1962. Recent variations in mass net budgets of glaciers in western North
America. IAHS 58, 63-77.
Miller, C.D. 1971. Chronology of neoglacial moraines in the Dome Peak Area, North Cascade Range,
Washington. Arctic and Alpine Research 1, 49-66.
Nye< J.F. 1960. The response of glaciers and ice-sheets to seasonal and climate changes. Proc. of the
Royal Society of London, Ser. A, 256(1287), 559-584
Paterson, W.S.B. 1994. Physics of Glaciers, third edition. Pergamon Press, Oxford, UK.
Pelto, M.S. 1988. The annual balance of North Cascade, Washington Glaciers measured and predicted
using an activity index method. J. Glaciol., 34, 194-200.
Pelto, M.S. 1993. Current behavior of glaciers in the North Cascades and iTs effect on regional water
supply. Washington Geology, 21(2), 3-10.
Pelto, M.S. 1996. Annual balance of North Cascade glaciers 1984-1994. J. Glaciol., 41, 3-9.
Pelto, M.S. 1997. Reply to the comments of Meier and others on “Annual net balance of North Cascade
glaciers 1984-1994” by Mauri S. Pelto. J Glaciol. 43, 193-196.
Porter, S.C. 1986. Pattern and forcing of Northern Hemisphere glacier variations during the last
millenimum. Quaternary Res., 26, 27-48.
Post, A., D. Richardson, W.V. Tangborn, and F.L. Rosselot. 1971. Inventory of glaciers in the North
Cascades,Washington. USGS Prof. Paper, 705-A
Rusk, C.E. 1924. Tales of a Western Mountaineer. Houghton Mifflin Co., New York.
Schwitter, M.P., and C. Raymond. 1993. Changes in the longitudinal profile of glaciers during advance
and retreat. J. Glaciol, 39(133), 582-590.
Tangborn, W. V. 1980. Two models for estimating climate-glacier relationships in the North Cascades,
Washington, USA. J.Glaciol., 25, 3-21.
Tangborn, W.V., A.G. Fountain and W.G. Sikonia. 1990. Effect of area distribution with
altitude on glacier mass balance- a comparison of the North and South Klawatti glaciers, Washington State,
USA. Ann. Glaciol. 14, 278-282.
121 48
121 46
121 50
121 49
121 48
121 47
121 07
121 06
N. Guardian
121 05
121 07
121 07
121 08
121 07
Quien Sabe
121 03
Lower Curtis
121 37
Ladder Creek
121 09
121 07
Cache Col
121 03
121 21
121 06
121 07
121 02
121 46
121 02
121 11
Ice Worm
121 10
121 10
White River
121 05
121 05
-182 *
120 48
121 08
120 54
121 12
121 14
S. Cascade
121 03
White Chuck
121 07
121 04
Milk Lake
121 11
Table 3. Retreat, in meters, of North Cascade glaciers for three intervals since the LIAM. The
longitude and latitude of each glacier is noted in degrees and minutes, the mean slope of the
glacier surface, the mean altitude of the glacier, and the surface area of the glacier are also listed.
*Lewis and Milk Lake Glacier the retreat ended with the loss of the glacier.
Table 1. Number of terminus observations used in this study for each glacier of the 17 glaciers where Tm
has been both derived from field observations and calculated from theoretical equations, and the interval of
mass balance and velocity observations at the terminus of each glacier, (b(t) and u(t) respectively.
Glacier 1950-55 1964-67 1970-72 1979 1984-98 b(t) and u(t)
Colonial 2 1 2 1 5 1992-1996
Columbia 2 1 2 1 15 1984-1998
Daniels 3 1 2 1 15 1984-1998
Easton 4 2 2 1 7 1991-1996
Foss 2 1 2 1 15 1984-1998
Honeycomb 3 2 2 1 3 1994-1996
Ice Worm 3 1 2 1 15 1984-1998
Kennedy 3 2 2 1 4 1994-1996
Ladder Creek 2 1 2 1 4 1992-1996
Lewis 2 1 2 1 15 1984-1989
Lower Curtis 3 1 2 1 15 1984-1998
Lyman 3 1 2 1 6 1994-1996
Lynch 3 1 2 1 15 1984-1998
Neve 2 1 2 1 4 1992-1996
Rainbow 2 1 2 1 15 1984-1998
South Cascade 4 4 3 1 15 1958-1998
Yawning 2 1 2 1 15 1984-1998
Advance Retreat
Glacier Observed Observed
Coleman 1949 1979
Easton 1960 1989
Deming 1955 1986
Boulder 1954 1985
Squak 1955 1985
Rainbow 1955 1985
Kennedy 1955 1986
Chocolate 1950 1986
N. Guardian 1955 1986
Dusty 1955 1986
Ptarmigan 1960 1988
Vista 1960 1988
Ermine 1955 1986
Ladder Creek 1955 1987
Eldorado 1955 1984
Quien Sabe 1955 1984
Yawning 1955 1986
Lower Curtis 1955 1987
Challenger 1955 1985
Price 1954 1987
Chimney Rock 1955 1987
Table 2. Date of first observed advance following the 1944
climate change. Date of the first observed retreat following
the climate change in 1976-77.
Ice Worm
Ladder Creek.
Lower Curtis
South Cascade
Table 4. Variables used in equations 1 and 2 and the calculated and observed Tm. L= glacier length (m),
u(t)= terminus region velocity (m/a), h= ice thickness (m) near terminus, b(t)=annual
balance (m/a) in the terminus region, l= change in glacier length (m) since Little Ice Age maximum,
Tm1=Tm from equation 1 with f=0.3, Tm2=Tm from equation 2.
Figure Captions:
Figure 1. Five-year running mean of PNI (Ebbesmeyer and others, 1990), note the increasingly high values
from 1895-1945, low values from 1945-1975 and high values from1980-1996.
Figure 2A. Glacier Peak in 1988, North Guardian and Dusty Glacier are typical Type 1 glaciers steep,
crevassed and with high accumulation rates. The glacier is undergoing slow retreat at the time of this
Figure 2B. Dusty and North Guardian Glacier in 1972 indicating increased crevassing during a period of
Figure 3A. Lynch Glacier in 1972 a Type 2 glacier despite being steep it has fewer crevasses, and has not
stopped retreating during this century. Foss Glacier on the right is a Type 3 glacier with a lower slope, and
less crevassing.
Figure 3B. Lynch Glacier in 1997 having retreated out of the basin in the foreground, which is now
occupied by Pea Soup Lake.
Figure 4A. Honeycomb Glacier in 1967, a Type 3 glacier, which has no crevassing or motion in the
terminus region. This is still a large glacier, though it did retreat 480 m from 1979-1997.
Figure 4B. Honeycomb Glacier in 1995, picture taken from the 1967 terminus position.
Figure 5. The shared accumulation zone of Neve and Ladder Creek Glacier. The gentle Neve Glacier
terminus is in foreground. The top of the steeper Ladder Creek Glacier terminus region is just visible on
left with crevassing increasing.
Figure 5 (alternate). Klawatti Glacier from the north. Note the difference in surface slope and crevassing
of South Klawatti Glacier (left) and North Klawatti Glacier (right).
Figure 6. Cumulative terminus position change on seven North Cascade glaciers since approximately
1850. Easton, Mazama, Boulder and Rainbow are four Type 1 glaciers and all show a period of advance.
Columbia Glacier, a Type 2 glacier, has a moderate but continuous retreat. Lyman and South Cascade
Glacier retreated slowly at first, but have now accelerated.
Figure 7. Annual balance of nine North Cascade Glaciers from 1984 to 1998 in meters of water equivalent
(Pelto, 1996; Krimmel, 1999).
... The SFN is a 57-km long tributary with salmon habitat extending 52 km upstream of the junction of with the Nooksack River. From 1985 to 2017 mean July-September discharge is 8. From 1950-1980 the areal extent of glaciers in the NFN basin increased, with all Mount Baker glaciers advancing [17,18]. Since 1980, all glaciers in the basin have retreated significantly, with the retreat accelerating since 2000 [17,18]. ...
... From 1985 to 2017 mean July-September discharge is 8. From 1950-1980 the areal extent of glaciers in the NFN basin increased, with all Mount Baker glaciers advancing [17,18]. Since 1980, all glaciers in the basin have retreated significantly, with the retreat accelerating since 2000 [17,18]. On Mount Baker the average glacier retreat was 430 m during 1979-2015 [19]. ...
... Mass balance measurements indicate the cumulative loss as −17.3 m water equivalent (w.e.), equivalent to 20-30% of glacier volume lost during 1984-2015 [3]. From 1950-1980 the areal extent of glaciers in the NFN basin increased, with all Mount Baker glaciers advancing [17,18]. Since 1980, all glaciers in the basin have retreated significantly, with the retreat accelerating since 2000 [17,18]. ...
Full-text available
The thirty-eight-year record (1984–2021) of glacier mass balance measurement indicates a significant glacier response to climate change in the North Cascades, Washington that has led to declining glacier runoff in the Nooksack Basin. Glacier runoff in the Nooksack Basin is a major source of streamflow during the summer low-flow season and mitigates both low flow and warm water temperatures; this is particularly true during summer heat waves. Synchronous observations of glacier ablation and stream discharge immediately below Sholes Glacier from 2013–2017, independently identify daily discharge during the ablation season. The identified ablation rate is applied to glaciers across the North Fork Nooksack watershed, providing daily glacier runoff discharge to the North Fork Nooksack River. This is compared to observed daily discharge and temperature data of the North Fork Nooksack River and the unglaciated South Fork Nooksack River from the USGS. The ameliorating role of glacier runoff on discharge and water temperature is examined during 24 late summer heat wave events from 2010–2021. The primary response to these events is increased discharge in the heavily glaciated North Fork, and increased stream temperature in the unglaciated South Fork. During the 24 heat events, the discharge increased an average of +24% (±17%) in the North Fork and decreased an average of 20% (±8%) in the South Fork. For water temperature the mean increase was 0.7 °C (±0.4 °C) in the North Fork and 2.1 °C (±1.2 °C) in the South Fork. For the North Fork glacier runoff production was equivalent to 34% of the total discharge during the 24 events. Ongoing climate change will likely cause further decreases in summer baseflow and summer baseflow, along with an increase in water temperature potentially exceeding tolerance levels of several Pacific salmonid species that would further stress this population.
... A number of previous studies have discussed the transient behavior of glaciers in the Cascades. Several have analyzed the climatic drivers and glacier characteristics that led a number of glaciers in the region to advance in the 1950s-1970s (Hubley, 1956;Harper, 1993;Pelto and Hedlund, 2001;Rasmussen and Conway, 2001;Stevens and others, 2018). For example, Rasmussen and Conway (2001) interpreted differences between South Cascade glacier and Blue Glacier (in the nearby Olympic Mountains) partly as a result of their different adjustment timescales. ...
... For example, Rasmussen and Conway (2001) interpreted differences between South Cascade glacier and Blue Glacier (in the nearby Olympic Mountains) partly as a result of their different adjustment timescales. Additionally, Pelto and Hedlund (2001) estimated response times for 21 glaciers in the Cascades, and drew conceptual links between these estimates and terminus behavior. ...
... These tendencies on H and b t are supported by observations (Tables 1 and 2), and short response times on the volcanoes have also been proposed based on 20th-century fluctuations (e.g. Harper, 1993;Pelto and Hedlund, 2001). Our estimates of t, while uncertain for individual glaciers, set us up to investigate what the range of response times implies for the state of glaciers throughout the Washington Cascades. ...
Full-text available
Mountain glaciers have response times that govern retreat due to anthropogenic climate change. We use geometric attributes to estimate individual response times for 383 glaciers in the Cascade mountain range of Washington State, USA. Approximately 90% of estimated response times are between 10 and 60 years, with many large glaciers on the short end of this distribution. A simple model of glacier dynamics shows that this range of response times entails consequential differences in recent and ongoing glacier changes: glaciers with decadal response times have nearly kept pace with anthropogenic warming, but those with multi-decadal response times are far from equilibrium, and their additional committed retreat stands well beyond natural variability. These differences have implications for changes in glacier runoff. A simple calculation highlights that transient peaks in area-integrated melt, either at the onset of forcing or due to variations in forcing, depend on the glacier's response time and degree of disequilibrium. We conclude that differences in individual response times should be considered when assessing the state of a population of glaciers and modeling their future response. These differences in response can arise simply from a range of different glacier geometries, and the same basic principles can be expected in other regions as well.
... If this interpretation is correct, it would mean that the glacial response time is close to 1 year. Pelto and Hedlund [39] and Kulkarni et al. [40] indicated that the response time of other small glaciers varies between a few years and several decades. Prior to 2012, there were no mass balance studies, so it is certainly not possible to reject the possibility that this advance is a reaction to a slightly earlier positive mass balance, which would mean that the response time is slightly longer. ...
... Thus, the response time would have to be 1 year or more than 3 years, which also cannot be excluded. The small size of the glacier (low length, width and thickness), slight slope of its surface, and a relatively large area of accumulation zone which increase the sensitivity of a glacier to climate change and shorten the response time [39,41], are favorable conditions supporting the suggestion of a 1 year response time. The Ecology Glacier meets all of these conditions, has a length of about 4 km [25], a width of about 1 km, a thickness in the frontal zone of about 40-45 m, a slope of about 0.1 in the frontal area, and an AAR (Accumulation Area Ratio) of about 0.8. ...
Full-text available
This paper presents changes in the range and thickness of glaciers in Antarctic Specially Protected Area (ASPA) No. 128 on King George Island in the period 1956–2015. The research indicates an intensification of the glacial retreat process over the last two decades, with the rate depending on the type of glacier front. In the period 2001–2015, the average recession rate of the ice cliffs of the Ecology Glacier and the northern part of the Baranowski Glacier was estimated to be approximately 15–25 m a−1 and 10–20 m a−1, respectively. Fronts of Sphinx Glacier and the southern part of the Baranowski Glacier, characterized by a gentle descent onto land, show a significantly lower rate of retreat (up to 5–10 m a−1). From 2001 to 2013, the glacier thickness in these areas decreased at an average rate of 1.7–2.5 m a−1 for the Ecology Glacier and the northern part of the Baranowski Glacier and 0.8–2.5 m a−1 for the southern part of the Baranowski Glacier and Sphinx Glacier. The presented deglaciation processes are related to changes of mass balance caused by the rapid temperature increase (1.0 °C since 1948). The work also contains considerations related to the important role of the longitudinal slope of the glacier surface in the connection of the glacier thickness changes and the front recession.
... Ablation season temperature changes of as little as 0.58C or accumulation season precipitation changes of 10% may be sufficient to alter glacier mass balance (Tangborn, 1980) and ultimately shift termini. Measurable alpine glacier size changes may occur in as few as 1-5 years (Burbank, 1982) to a more decadal scale (Johannesson, 1989;Pelto and Hedlund, 2001;Kovanen, 2003) following climate forcing (Burbank, 1982). Glacier termini measurements have long been used to assess glacier response to climate (Nesje and Dahl, 2000). ...
... Further, even the termini of the Coe, Eliot, and Ladd glaciers occupied their most upvalley points at different times during the past century. Such differences in overall glacier response and response time may occur because of a myriad of local factors (Nesje and Dahl, 2000;Pelto and Hedlund, 2001;Klok and Oerlemans, 2004). ...
Terminus fluctuations of five glaciers and the correspondence of these fluctuations to temperature and precipitation patterns were assessed at Oregon’s Mount Hood over the period 1901–2001. Historical photographs, descriptions, and climate data, combined with contemporary GPS measurements and GIS analysis, revealed that each glacier experienced overall retreat, ranging from −62 m at the Newton Clark Glacier to −1102 m at the Ladd Glacier. Within this overall trend, Mount Hood’s glaciers experienced two periods each of retreat and advance. Glaciers retreated between 1901 and 1946 in response to rising temperatures and declining precipitation. A mid-century cool, wet period led to glacier advances. Glaciers retreated from the late 1970s to the mid-1990s as a result of rising temperatures and generally declining precipitation. High precipitation in the late 1990s caused slight advances in 2000 and 2001. The general correspondence of Mount Hood’s glacier terminus fluctuations with glaciers in Washington and Oregon suggests that regional, decadal-scale weather and climate events, driven by the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, play a key role in shaping atmosphere-cryosphere interactions in Pacific Northwest mountains. Deviations from the general glacier fluctuation pattern may arise from local differences in glacier aspect, altitude, size, and steepness as well as volcanic and geothermal activity, topography, and debris cover.
... Because terrestrial termini lack 398 oceanic or lacustrine forcing, changes in ice-margin extent are typically a delayed response to regional 399 climatic forcing, with inter-glacier variability arising from glacier-specific factors, including: glacier 400 geometry; hypsometry; debris-cover; and local climatic conditions (e.g. Pelto and Hedlund, 2001; The correlations between rate of ice-margin change and lake area and intersect length respectively 457 ( Figure 6c-d, Table 5), suggest that lake size exerts a control on rates of mass loss at lacustrine margins. 458 ...
Full-text available
There has been a progressive increase in the number and area of ice-marginal lakes situated along the south-western margin of the Greenland Ice Sheet (GrIS) since the 1980s. The increased prevalence of ice-marginal lakes is notable because of their capacity to enhance mass loss and ice-margin recession through a number of thermo-mechanical controls. Although such effects have been extensively documented at alpine glaciers, an understanding of how ice-marginal lakes impact the dynamics of the GrIS has been limited by a sparsity of observational records. This study employs the Landsat archive to conduct a multi-decadal, regional-scale statistical analysis of ice-margin advance and recession along a ~ 5000 km length of the south-western margin of the GrIS, incorporating its terrestrial, lacustrine and marine ice-margins. We reveal an extended and accelerating phase of ice-margin recession in south-west Greenland from 1992 onwards, irrespective of margin type, but also observe considerable heterogeneity in the behaviour of the different ice-marginal environments. Marine ice-margins exhibited the greatest magnitude and variability in ice-margin change, however lacustrine termini were notable for a progressive increase in ice-margin recession rates from 1987 to 2015, which increasingly outpaced those measured at terrestrial ice-margins. Furthermore, significant correlations were identified between lake parameters and rates of lacustrine ice-margin recession, including lake area, latitude, altitude and the length of the lake – ice-margin interface. These results suggest that ice-marginal lakes have become increasingly important drivers of ice-margin recession and thus mass loss at the GrIS, however further research is needed to better parameterise the causal connections between ice-marginal lake evolution and enhanced ice-margin recession. More widely, a detailed understanding of the impacts of ice-marginal lakes on ice-margin dynamics across Greenland is increasingly necessary to accurately forecast the response of the ice sheet to enhanced ice-marginal lake prevalence and thus refine projections of recession, mass loss and sea level rise.
... Medial moraines form when continuation of two merged lateral moraines from each flow unit (Schomacker, 2011). or measuring alterations in the glacier surface level (Østrem and Brugman 1991, Pelto and Hedlund 2001, Kaser et al. 2002. However, field observation methods are hard to apply, due to the remoteness of glacier locations, harsh weather conditions, and presence of glaciers in politically sensitive regions, which hampers ground-based monitoring by limiting activity to small areas. ...
... In brief, the Pinedale maximum (used here in the strict sense of the timing of maximum downvalley glacier extent) might have been time-transgressive (Young et al., 2011) and spatially variable owing to (i) microclimates modulating regional/global climate differently so local forcings were asynchronous; (ii) differences in valley glacier response times (e.g. Pelto and Hedlund, 2001;Brugger, 2007a) related to glacier hypsometries, (Chenet et al., 2010;Young et al., 2011) or valley topography (Pratt-Sitaula et al., 2011) that led to asynchronous behavior; and/or (iii) maximum glacier extent is not indicative of the mean glacial climate but rather a reflection of a single, transient response(s) to stochastic interannual variations in temperature (Anderson et al., 2014). Therefore, attaching inordinate significance to minor differences in estimates of LGM temperature depression should perhaps be avoided. ...
New cosmogenic 10Be surface exposure ages from 17 moraine boulders in the Mosquito Range of Colorado suggest that glaciers were at their late Pleistocene (Pinedale) maximum extent at ∼21–20 ka, and that ice recession commenced before ∼17 ka. These age limits suggest that the Pinedale Glaciation was synchronous within the Colorado Rocky Mountain region. Locally, the previous (Bull Lake) glaciation appears to have occurred no later than 117 ka, possibly ∼130 ka allowing for reasonable rock weathering rates. Temperature‐index modeling is used to determine the magnitude of temperature depression required to maintain steady‐state mass balances of seven reconstructed glaciers at their maximum extent. Assuming no significant differences in precipitation compared to modern values, mean annual temperatures were ∼8.1 and 7.5 °C lower, respectively, on the eastern and western slopes of the range with quantifiable uncertainties of + 0.8/−0.9 °C. If an average temperature depression of 7.8 °C is assumed for the entire range, precipitation differences − that today are 15–30% greater on the eastern slope due to the influence of winter/early spring snowfall − might have been enhanced. The temperature depressions inferred here are consistent with similarly derived values elsewhere in the Colorado Rockies and those inferred from regional‐scale climate modeling.
Recent studies indicate that - due to climate change - the Earth is undergoing rapid changes in all cryospheric components, including polar sea ice shrinkage, mountain glacier recession, thawing permafrost, and diminishing snow cover. This book provides a comprehensive summary of all components of the Earth's cryosphere, reviewing their history, physical and chemical characteristics, geographical distributions, and projected future states. This new edition has been completely updated throughout, and provides state-of-the-art data from GlobSnow-2 CRYOSAT, ICESAT, and GRACE. It includes a comprehensive summary of cryospheric changes in land ice, permafrost, freshwater ice, sea ice, and ice sheets. It discusses the models developed to understand cryosphere processes and predict future changes, including those based on remote sensing, field campaigns, and long-term ground observations. Boasting an extensive bibliography, over 120 figures, and end-of-chapter review questions, it is an ideal resource for students and researchers of the cryosphere.
From 1981 to 2019 I have spent every summer working on alpine glaciers examining the mass balance response to climate change. It is evident that the changes are significant, not happening at a “glacial” pace and are profoundly affecting alpine regions. The World Glacier Monitoring Service (2020) provides a detailed examination of alpine glacier mass balance change from region to region around the world. There is a consistent response that reverberates from mountain range to mountain range emphasizing that though the regional glacier responses differ, as does the regional climate, that global changes are driving the response. The mass balance of a glacier is simply a measure of the difference between the gain of snow/ice and loss of snow/ice from the glacier system. The term is synonymous with mass budget. Mass balance and changes in mass balance are the key input for glacier dynamics and future behavior. Accumulation is the equivalent of income to a glacier system, and ablation losses is equivalent to the expenditures of a glacier system, together they determine the overall mass budget. Changes in either the income or expenditure changes the mass balance state of the glacier. Mass balance is a measure of the health of a glacier, a glacier that consistently has a positive mass balance is in good health and will thicken, expand in area and advance. A glacier that consistently has a negative balance is in declining health will decline in thickness, area and will retreat. Just as people need to consume as many calories as the expend or they will lose mass, glaciers need to accumulate as much snow and ice as is lost to melt and calving icebergs in order to survive. After 32 consecutive years of alpine glacier mass loss it is evident the “diet/lifestyle” of alpine glaciers is not healthy and as the climate they live in changes, alpine glaciers will continue a downward health spiral.
Ice is critical within the Earth system in its role in modifying land surface albedo and therefore Earth's radiative heat balance. While many studies have examined cryospheric impacts on heat balance (sensitivity), these results vary significantly, depending on model setup. This study examines the climate sensitivity of different elements of Earth's cryospheric system, as revealed in the literature, and seeks explanation for the radiative behavior of these different elements through examining the different properties and dynamics of these elements. Thus, an understanding of cryospheric sensitivity is set within an Earth systems context. This allow for a better understanding of equilibrium rather than transient climate sensitivity, especially under global climate change.
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Annual net balance eight North Cascade glaciers during the 1984-94 period has been determined by measurement of total mass loss firn and ice melt and ice melt and, residual snow depth at the end of the Summer season. Overall spatial density of measurment points is 200 points km−2. Mean annual balance of North Clascade glaciers from 1984 to 1994 has been −0.38 ma−1. The resulting 4.2 m loss in water-equivalent thickness is significant, since North Cascade glaciers have an average thickness of 30–50 m. Cross-correlation of annual net balance Ior eight glaciers ranges from 0.83 to 0.97. This indicates the mass balances of the eight glaciers have been responding similarly to elimate conditions despite their range of topographic and geographic characteristics. Annual net balance of individual glaciers was correlated with climate records. The highest ablation-season correlation coefficient is mean May–August temperature, ranging from 0.63 to 0.84. The highest accumulation-season correlation coefficient is total accumulation-season precipitation, ranging from 0.35 to 0.59.
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Annual net balance eight North Cascade glaciers during the 1984-94 period has been determined by measurement of total mass loss firn and ice melt and ice melt and, residual snow depth at the end of the Summer season. Overall spatial density of measurment points is 200 points km ⁻² . Mean annual balance of North Clascade glaciers from 1984 to 1994 has been −0.38 ma ⁻¹ . The resulting 4.2 m loss in water-equivalent thickness is significant, since North Cascade glaciers have an average thickness of 30–50 m. Cross-correlation of annual net balance Ior eight glaciers ranges from 0.83 to 0.97. This indicates the mass balances of the eight glaciers have been responding similarly to elimate conditions despite their range of topographic and geographic characteristics. Annual net balance of individual glaciers was correlated with climate records. The highest ablation-season correlation coefficient is mean May–August temperature, ranging from 0.63 to 0.84. The highest accumulation-season correlation coefficient is total accumulation-season precipitation, ranging from 0.35 to 0.59.
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The length of time τM over which a glacier responds to a prior change in climate is investigated with reference to the linearized theory of kinematic waves and to results from numerical models. We show the following: τM may in general be estimated by a volume time-scale describing the time required for a step change in mass balance to supply the volume difference between the initial and final steady states. We suggest that τM for mountain glaciers can be substantially less than the 102-103 years commonly considered to be theoretically expected. -from Authors
There is an asymmetric pattern response of glaciers in Darwin Cordillera (54–55° S, 69–71° W) to the climate of the 20th century. This asymmetry is suggested here as a cause of an increased wind activity which has a pronounced orographic effect. Although climatic records for the last 50 years show a warming trend, as well as no trend in precipitation in the area, some glaciers are advancing. The area is characterized by strong climatic gradients, with high rates of precipitation on the southwestern side of the range and dry conditions on the northern side. Glaciers on the northern and eastern sides show a general trend of receding fronts. With a few exceptions, these glaciers have gradually and uninterruptedly been shrinking since the turn of the century. On the southern rim, the present extents of some glaciers are similar to their 20th century maximum extents. These are, in turn, similar or close to the Holocene maximum. The most extreme sites are the glaciers on either side of Mount Darwin, which is 2469 m high. The north-facing glacier Ventisquero Marinelli has retreated several hundred metres per year over the last two decades, while the south-facing glaciers in the Pahia Pia basin have advanced during the same period. In this study, the frontal changes over the last 50 years of 20 glaciers have been analysed. Aerial photographs (verticals) from 1943 and 1984 have been used, as well as oblique aerial photographs from 1993. The general result is that glaciers with accumulation areas facing south and west show somewhat stable fronts, while glaciers facing east and north show receding fronts.
Reply to the comments of Meier and others on “Annual net balance of North Cascade glaciers, 1984–94” by Mauri S. Pelto - Volume 43 Issue 143 - Mauri S. Pelto
Lichenometric studies permit close dating for the timing of stabilization of the late Holocene moraines built by North Mowich, Carbon, Winthrop, Cowlitz, and Ohanapecosh glaciers on Mount Rainier. The moraine chronologies indicate synchronous responses among these glaciers during the past 200 yr. Periods of glacier recession began between 1768-1777, 1823-1830, 1857-1863, 1880-1885, 1902-1903, 1912-1915, and 1923-1924. Since the early 19th century, the mean equilibrium-line altitude has risen about 160 m on Mount Rainier. Minimum ages for earlier glacier variations are based on lichenometric, dendrochronologic, and tephrochronologic data. These data indicate that recessional phases commenced about 1328-1363, 1519-1528, 1552-1576, 1613-1623, 1640-1666, 1690-1695, 1720, and 1750. Whereas the pattern of glacier fluctuations at Mount Rainier agrees with the general chronologic framework of late Holocene variations from many other areas, comparisons of the detailed moraine chronologies from Mount Rainier for the past two centuries with those from Swedish Lapland indicate several differences in the timing of moraine stabilization. These differences imply some nonsynchrony in Northern Hemisphere glacier variations during the late Holocene.
The terminus positions of six glaciers located on Mount Baker, Washington, were mapped by photogrammetric techniques at 2- to 7-yr intervals for the period 1940-1990. Although the timing varied slightly, each of the glaciers experienced a similar fluctuation sequence consisting of three phases: (1) rapid retreat, beginning prior to 1940 and lasting through the late 1940s to early 1950s; (2) approximately 30 yr of advance, ending in the late 1970s to early 1980s; (3) retreat though 1990. Terminus positions changed by up to 750 m during phases, with the advance phase increasing the lengths of glaciers by 13 to 24%. These fluctuations are well explained by variations in a smoothed time-series of accumulation-season precipitation and ablation-season mean temperature. The study glaciers appear to respond to interannual scale changes in climate within 20 yr or less. The glaciers on Mount Baker have a maritime location and a large percentage of area at high elevation, which may make their termini undergo greater fluctuations in response to climatic changes, especially precipitation variations, than most other glaciers in the North Cascades region.
Coleman Glacier is situated on the ice-clad Mount Baker volcano in the Pacific Northwest of North America. It is fronted by several forested terminal moraines, minimum ages of which have been determined by tree-ring counts. Nine of the 150 conifers studied were trees damaged by glacial advances; others were the oldest trees found on the moraines themselves. The tree-ring patterns of the former set of conifers revealed the years when glacier readvances reached their maxima, whereas the number of tree rings in the latter group only provided minimum ages for moraine stabilization. Together with historical records, the tree-ring counts date moraines to the following years: 1978-79, ca. 1922, ca. 1908-12, 1886-87, ca. 1855-56, ca. 1823, ca. 1740, and the early 1500s. Excluding the last two dates, the ages date the maximal glacier readvances relatively closely. The moraine chronology over the past two centuries developed for Coleman Glacier has great similarity to chronologies on Mount Rainier, Washington, and in Scandinavia. Because of the short response time of Coleman Glacier to climatic changes, the obtained dates of glacial readvances are consistent with the climatic information available.
This paper reports the 1989 re-mapping of Lemon Creek Glacier, Alaska, and, in conjunction with 1948 and 1957 maps of the glacier, calculation of 9-year and 32-year changes of glacier mass and terminal position. As in the earlier maps, the new map is at a scale of 1:10,000 with a 5-m contour interval for the glacier surface. Changes between 1957 and 1989 were determined by use of the geodetic method for determining mass balance. Net water equivalent change was -118.71 × 106 m3. The glacier's respective 1957–1989 area and volume losses were 0.878 × 106 m2 and -131.90 × 106 m3 (14.6%). The terminus retreated an average 700 m.
Two models based on standard observations of precipitation, temperature, and run-off at low-altitude weather and gaging stations have been devised to calculate annual glacier balances in the North Cascades of Washington. The predicted glacier balances of the Thunder Creek basin glaciers, determined by a run-off–precipitation (RP) model during the 1920–74 period, are compared with balances predicted by a precipitation–temperature (PT) model for the same period. Annual balances determined by the PT model are also compared with balances measured by field techniques at South Cascade Glacier since 1958. In the PT model, winter snow accumulation (winter balance) is determined by winter (October–April) precipitation observed at the Snoqualmie Falls weather station. Summer (May–September) ablation (summer balance) on the glaciers is estimated by a technique which utilizes maximum and minimum air temperatures, also observed at Snoqualmie Falls. Ablation calculations incorporate summer cloud cover as a variable by using a relationship between cloud cover and the range in daily maximum and minimum air temperatures. Annual mass changes for the 1884–1974 period in both South Cascade Glacier and the Thunder Creek glaciers were reconstructed by utilizing the PT model. The fluctuations in glacier mass during this period generally agree with historical observations and show that a definite change in glacier activity from marked recession to stability or an advancing state occurred about 1945. During the 1900–45 period, South Cascade Glacier lost mass at a rate of 1.4 m per year and the Thunder Creek glaciers (which are at a higher altitude) at 1.1 m per year. These models suggest that the relationship of glacier mass balance to precipitation and temperature is a very sensitive one. It appears from these studies that a decrease in summer air temperature of just over 0.5 deg or an increase in winter accumulation of slightly more than 10% (350 mm) from the 1920–74 average would cause these glaciers to grow continuously.