Disappearing Glaciers

I wish I could paint a beautiful and vivid picture of what it is like to see a glacier in person. I have seen hundreds of pictures and watched movies about their formation, structure, and retreat, but I haven’t had the privilege to see one face to face.

I am young. There is time to travel to the US’s Glacier National park or other mountain peaks and witness the glory of these icy creatures, but time’s running short for glaciers all around the world.

In as little as 15 years, the mountains once capped in thick layers of slow moving ice will be gone. Tick, tock. Tick, tock.

The USGS (United States Geological Survey) has some great and very stark before and after pictures of glacial retreat. Check them out here. 

Way up high in the upper reaches of the atmosphere, the air is thin and impressively cold. Even in the height of summer, snow can fall in this arctic air. Over time, the snow accumulates and accumulates and starts to condense–think about the snow that collects on your driveway during the winter, and if you don’t shovel it, it turns into a treacherous, bumpy ice rink. A driveway glacier.

During my junior year, I took the class Glaciers and Climate Change. I was super geeked and talked about it nonstop before the semester started because it’s all about what I study. But once I was in it (it’s a 300-level geology course…), it felt like this intimidating figure I had to hang out with and try to understand. Despite the intimidation, I was still blown away when I learned about the dynamic, inner-workings of glaciers.

It’s like they’re alive. They move by creeping and crawling, flowing inch by inch. They find balance.

Since glaciers are made of ice, they melt when it’s warm. They spit out water from a labyrinth of channels that weave in the base of the ice. Lots of melting means the glacier loses mass–they’re out of balance, but in the winter, snow falls and helps to compensate for that loss.

Now, imagine an unusually warm winter on a mountain peak that’s normally capped in the thin, frigid air. The air this winter bites skin a little less. The sky is laden with a thick coat of clouds, but no white flakes make the dizzy dance to earth.

It’s a warm winter because humans chug, chug CO2 molecules into the atmosphere. The sun strikes those molecules that trap their heat like a pan on stove.

The glaciers start to sweat. Streams of water run down their slopes just like a runner that picks up her pace, sweat starts to drip.

The situation above sucks the most for glaciers and their majestic beauty, but that’s not the only cost of the disappearance of alpine glaciers.

In the west and elsewhere in the world, a whole lot of people and creatures depend on the winter meltwater from glaciers to fill their streams with fresh, crisp mountain water.

When these glaciers run too far and sweat themselves shriveled, there won’t be any melting anymore. The landscape will dry and shake off its icy grip, inviting trees to creep up the mountain. Wolverines will paw the ground, looking for the snow that once created their dens. Plants will turn into brittle tinder that fuel raging wildfires.

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