Julian: In the Rocky Mountains of Montana lies an iconic American landscape, Glacier National Park. It's called the “Crown of the Continent.”
Corrie Holloway: I think it's the gem in the Crown.
Julian: Over tens of thousands of years, massive sheets of ice slowly slid and chewed away at the rock carving out these valleys. But now these frozen forces of nature, where the park gets its name, are disappearing.
Corrie: Personally, it's sad! I mean, I have kids that I would love to be able for them to see this at this stage. You know, and it just keeps getting smaller.
Dan Fagre: We are into something that is very unusual.
Julian: Dan Fagre is a scientist with the United States Geological Survey. He's been studying glaciers in Glacier National Park for twenty years.
Dan: The glaciers are continuing to shrink every year and at some point they will be gone. I can remember exactly where a lot of these glaciers used to be, and see how much smaller they are.
Julian: He has the pictures to prove it. They show how in just a few decades many of the park's glaciers have shrunk dramatically. Since 1966, eleven of them have completely melted away.
The glaciers have been shrinking since 1850. Yet scientists say climate change, fueled by human pollution, has made the melt quicker and more extreme. The average temperature in the park has risen two degrees. Spring arrives about three weeks earlier and the snowpack has been declining for fifty years.
Corrie: The snow is melting faster than it's being added to, so the glaciers are just getting smaller.
Julian: Back in 1938, Grinnell Glacier covered nearly an entire valley. Between 1981 and 2009, it started to quickly shrink.
Corrie: We've made a lot of top 10 lists lately. You know, that you have to come here before a certain time before the glaciers melt and see the glaciers.
Laurel Meeks: The glaciers are just shrinking and shrinking.
Laurel Meeks first hiked to Grinnell 23 years ago. She's shocked by how much of it is gone.
Laurel: It's quite interesting to see it change that fast. I just find that a glacier sounds pretty permanent and all of a sudden you’re like, ‘no way, it can't. It can’t change that quickly’ and yet it is.
Julian: The disappearing glaciers in Montana are not just about the changing scenery.
Corrie: This is a huge portion of our fresh water on this earth. And when they're gone, we lose that. That's huge.
Julian: No snow means no water, which means no lifeline for the animals that call this place home, such as Bighorn sheep and moose. With hotter summers, some wild flowers are already disappearing. The forests are drier and weaker and there are more extreme wildfires. In 2003, ten percent of the park burned. From the air, you can see the ashen scar stretched across entire hillsides and valleys.
Dan: It's not just the glaciers, it's an entire ecosystem changing.
It'll still be a terrific landscape to come and enjoy but it will have been changed by climate change.
Julian Dujarric, Channel One News.
- What are some of the problems facing Glacier National Park?
- Why is Glacier National Park called the ‘Crown of the Continent’?
- What has caused the shrinking of the glaciers?
- What effect does the shrinking glaciers have on the ecosystem?