The Glacier National Park is endangered by the global warming. The glaciers of this delicate ecosystem, which is home to hundreds of species of animals and thousands of plants, are rapidly melting. Scientists predict that the ice will completely disappear by the end of the century.
According to data published in May 2017 by the US Geological Survey and Portland State University, global warming has significantly reduced the size of 39 glaciers located in the park since 1966.
The National Park and its ice are in danger
After the end of the Little Ice Age in 1850, the park's glaciers retreated moderately until the 1910s.
Between 1917 and 1941, the retreat rate accelerated to 100m per year in some cases. A slight cooling trend from the 1940s to 1979 helped slow the retreat rate and, in some cases, allowed the glaciers to advance over ten meters; however, during the 1980s, the park's glaciers began a steady period of glacial ice loss, which continues into 2010.
In 1850, glaciers in the region near Blackfoot and Jackson covered 21.6 km², but in 1979 , the park region itself had glaciers that covered only 7.4 km². Between 1850 and 1979, 73% of the glacial ice had already melted.
At the time of the park's creation, Jackson Glacier was part of Blackfoot, but the two have since separated into single blocks. The impact of glacier retreat on park ecosystems is not fully known, but plant and animal species that depend on cold water could suffer from habitat loss.
The reduced seasonal melting of glacial ice can also affect stream flow during the hot summer and dry autumn seasons, reducing groundwater levels and increasing the risk of forest fires. It is estimated that the loss of glaciers will also reduce the visual aesthetic appeal that glaciers provide to visitors.
Glaciers National Park has a highly regarded global climate change research program: with a department in West Glacier and its headquarters located in Bozeman, the United States Geological Survey has carried out scientific research on specific studies relating to climate change since 1992.
In addition to study of retreating glaciers, the research carried out includes forest modeling studies in which fire ecology and habitat alterations are analyzed. In addition, changes in alpine vegetation patterns are documented, watershed studies where flow rates and temperatures of watercourses are frequently recorded in fixed measuring stations and atmospheric research where UV-B radiation, ozone and atmospheric gases are analyzed over time.
The research compiled contributes to a broader understanding of climate change in the park. The data collected, compared to other structures around the world, help to correlate these climate changes on a global scale.