Glacier Saga – Watts Up With That?

From Local weather And many others.

by Judith Curry

The lack of glaciers from Glacier Nationwide Park is among the most seen manifestations of local weather change within the U.S.  Indicators had been posted throughout the park, proclaiming that the glaciers can be passed by 2020.  In 2017, the Park began taking these indicators down.  What occurred, past the plain undeniable fact that the glaciers hadn’t disappeared by 2020?

Not solely are Montana’s glaciers an necessary icon for world warming (e.g. Al Gore’s Inconvenient Fact), it additionally appears that the glaciers are an necessary political icon for progressive politicians in Montana. Earlier this week, Reilly Neill, a (type of) politician in Montana, went after me on Twitter:

Plenty of progressive tutorial sorts are leaving twitter owing to Elon Musk’s takeover.  What???   And miss all this enjoyable???

Effectively, it simply so occurs that I’ve some analyses of Montana glaciers and local weather in my archives; possibly I will help Reilly (and the “actual scientists of Montana”) perceive what’s going on.

Variability of glaciers in Glacier Nationwide Park

The full space of Glacier Nationwide Park coated by glaciers shrank 70% from the1850s to 2015, based on US Geological Survey. Melting started on the finish of the Little Ice Age (circa 1850) when scientists consider 146 glaciers coated the area, versus 26 in 2019.

The primary surveys of glaciers in Glacier Nationwide Park started within the Eighties, with a lot of the concentrate on the 2 largest glaciers – Grinnell and Sperry. A 2017 publication issued by the U.S. Geological Survey entitled Standing of Glaciers in Glacier Nationwide Park [link]  features a desk of the areal extent of named glaciers within the Glacier Nationwide Park because the Little Ice Age (LIA) with markers at LIA, 1966, 1998, 2005 and 2015.   Evaluation of those knowledge present:

  • A ~50% loss from LIA to 1966 (~115 years), averaging a lack of ~4.5% per decade.
  • Extra ~12% loss from 1966-98 (32 years), averaging a lack of ~3.7% per decade.
  • Extra ~4.75% loss from 1998-2015 (27 years), averaging a lack of ~1.75% per decade.

A lot of the glacier loss occurred previous to 1966, when fossil-fueled warming was minimal.  The proportion charge of glacier loss throughout this early interval considerably exceeded the proportion charge of loss noticed within the twenty first century.  I believe that a lot of this melting occurred within the 1930’s (see subsequent part).

Trying a lot additional again, Glacier Nationwide Park was just about ice free 11,000 years in the past.  Glaciers have been current inside the boundaries of present-day Glacier Nationwide Park since about 6,500 years in the past. [link]  These glaciers have different in measurement, monitoring climatic variations, however didn’t develop to their current most measurement till the tip of the Little Ice Age, round 1850. An 80-year interval (~1770-1840) of cool, moist summers and above-average winter snowfall led to a fast development of glaciers simply previous to the tip of the Little Ice Age.  So, the current lack of glacier mass have to be understood in mild of the actual fact the glaciers reached their largest mass for the previous 11,000 years throughout the 19th century. [link]

The USGS hasn’t up to date its glacial survey since 2015 (gotta surprise why, with the large losses they had been anticipating).  Whereas the loss between 1998 and 2015 has decreased relative to prior many years, it seems that the ice loss has truly stalled or barely reversed since 2008 [link] This stall brought about the Glacier Nationwide Park in 2017 to start out taking down the indicators that anticipated the glaciers to vanish by 2020.

So, what’s going on?

The areal extent and mass stability of glaciers relies upon within the interaction between snow accumulation throughout the chilly season and the glacier melting throughout summer season.  There isn’t any prima facie purpose that gradual warming of the common annual floor temperatures will trigger internet lack of glacier space/mass.  There are robust interannual and multidecadal variations within the quantity of snowfall, and in some conditions hotter winter temperatures will be related to extra snowfall.  The summer season soften season is kind of brief.  The timing of the quixotic, weather-driven seasonal transition from snow to rainfall is a key determinant of the onset of the soften season and therefore its period.  Throughout summer season, the diurnal timing and general quantity of cloudiness could make a giant distinction in how a lot melting happens.  And at last, soot related to air air pollution can present a considerable accelerant for glacier melting; it is a enormous difficulty for the Hindu-Kush-Himalayan glaciers, however I don’t see any reference to soot in context of Glacier Nationwide Park.

You’ll not be shocked to be taught that ENSO, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) and Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) affect the atmospheric circulation patterns that affect each the chilly season snow accumulation and summertime soften (For an summary see LINK )

Lets first take a look at snow.  For the interval of instrumental snow measurements in Montana since 1955, there was an general declining pattern in April snowpack in Montana throughout the interval 1955-2015.  Nevertheless, since 2016, a lot of the final 7 years have proven regular to above regular spring snowpack throughout Montana. [link] This habits displays the variable nature of local weather on each seasonal and decadal scales.

To increase understanding of previous snowpack habits, paleoclimate data have been developed to complement the fashionable knowledge pool. These data embody lake sediment and tree ring knowledge. An necessary examine targeted on the American West was revealed in 2011, offering a knowledge file over 500 years. [LINK] This size of file revealed local weather variability on century scales together with options like The Little Ice Age. The examine additionally demonstrated extra short-term climatic options that present totally different anomalies between the northern and southern Rockies.  Of specific relevance, the examine recognized a snow drought throughout the Nineteen Thirties within the Larger Yellowstone Area (Montana) that’s much like low values seen towards the tip of the twentieth century.

Now think about summertime temperatures.  Proven listed below are Montana state averages from the NOAA State Local weather Abstract for Montana (2022).[link] Whereas the 20 years within the twenty first century have general been the warmest for Montana since 1900, there was no pattern in excessive summer season temperatures.  Montana’s warmest summer season temperatures had been within the Nineteen Thirties.

The variety of highly regarded days (≥95 oF) and heat nights (≥70 oF) was highest within the Nineteen Thirties.

Any shock right here if glacial retreat was notably robust within the 1930’s?

Montana’s chilly winters

The “greed” a part of Reilly Neill’s twitter rant appears to have one thing to do with fossil fuels. If there’s ever a spot you may wish to be stored heat by fossil fuels (or nuclear), Montana throughout winter is it.  Montana is among the coldest states within the U.S.   Of specific concern are wintertime “Arctic outbreaks,” which happen a number of occasions every winter with various magnitudes and durations. “Arctic outbreaks” periodically deliver exceptionally chilly temperatures to massive areas of the continental U.S., even on this period of world warming.

A little bit recognized JC biographical truth is that Arctic chilly air outbreaks and the formation of cold-core anticyclones was the subject of my PhD thesis). [link] [link]

An exceptionally chilly outbreak occurred in Montana throughout February and March 2019, with related outbreaks in 2014 and 2017. In February 2019, common temperature departures from regular in Montana had been as a lot as 27 to twenty-eight oF beneath regular, with Nice Falls on the coronary heart of the chilly. Temperatures didn’t rise above 0 oF on 11 days and dropped to 0 oF or beneath on 24 nights. Whereas the chilly in February was outstanding for its persistence, the next Arctic blast in early March 2019 delivered the coldest temperatures. Virtually two dozen official stations in Montana broke month-to-month data, with an all-time file state low temperature for March of -46F. [link]

I can’t even think about what it could be wish to be with out electrical energy and family heating below such chilly situations.  Aside from freezing and determining learn how to maintain heat, water pipes can be frozen; not only a lack of potable water, however large property injury as soon as the pipes thaw.

Luckily, Montana has a dependable energy system with about 50% renewables (largely hydro) with a lot of the relaxation produced by coal. There’s a nontrivial contingent in Montana that’s searching for 100% renewable energy (hydro, wind, photo voltaic).

Along with distinctive energy demand for residential heating throughout such Arctic outbreaks, any energy technology from renewables is at a minimal throughout such intervals.  Montana’s photo voltaic and hydropower capability are at their lowest throughout winter. Whereas winter winds are usually robust, the Arctic chilly air outbreaks are accompanied by massive areas of excessive stress which can be referred to as cold-core anticyclones The character of those circulations is that wind speeds are very low inside the excessive stress system, leading to very low quantities of wind energy manufacturing.

Whereas Arctic outbreaks usually influence the northern Nice Plains states the worst, the spatial extent of those outbreaks will be very massive. The chilly outbreak throughout February 2021 that impacted Montana additionally coated half of the U.S. and prolonged right down to Texas, the place large energy outages ensued that resulted in appreciable lack of life. The big horizontal scale of those excessive stress techniques signifies that distant transmission of extra power from someplace else shouldn’t be going to be of a lot assist if a lot of the continent can also be affected by chilly temperatures and low winds.  The lengthy period of those occasions makes battery storage massively infeasible.  The choices are nuclear, fuel and coal.


Nothing is straightforward in relation to understanding the causes of local weather change impacts.  The important thing to understanding is to take a look at the longest knowledge data obtainable, and attempt to interpret the causes of the historic and paleo variability.  When you perceive the pure variability, you aren’t so susceptible to attributing the whole lot to fossil-fueled warming and making naïve predictions of the longer term.  And when you perceive climate variability and extremes, you gained’t be so passionate about renewable power.

I hope that this little exposition helps Reilly Neill and the true scientists of Montana perceive the causes of the current variations in Montana’s glaciers.

Supply hyperlink

Subscribe to our newsletter
Sign up here to get the latest news, updates and special offers delivered directly to your inbox.
Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.