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Why You Need to Visit Glacier National Park ASAP

Lake Sherburne, in the Many (shrinking) Glacier region of the park. NPS photo.

Rugged, wild, and incredibly scenic. Gorgeous alpine lakes, dancing Northern Lights, abundant wildlife, meadows brimming with wildflowers, and mighty glaciers all find their place in Montana’s Glacier National Park.

But what will we call it when the glaciers are gone?

NASA’s latest report has some grim news: By 2030, Glacier National Park will no longer have any glaciers. The shrinking of the ice is real, and it’s happening fast.

Don't Focus on the Date 

An aurora arc dances over Lake McDonald. NPS photo. 

When President Taft created Glacier National Park in 1930, it was home to around 150 glaciers. Since then, the number has dropped to fewer than 30. "Things that happen in geologic time are happening during the span of a human lifetime," Dr. Daniel Fagre, a research ecologist for the Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center, told National Geographic. "It's like watching the Statue of Liberty Melt."

"People focus too much on the date," Dr. Fagre tells NASA. "But the basic story is still true. These glaciers will be more or less gone in the next several decades." 

A TOUGH TIME FOR WILDLIFE 

Changing climates and ecosystems means less of these guys. NPS photo.

At Clements Mountain, with a summit around 8,800 feet above sea level, what used to be a glacier has now become a shrinking snowfield. “This snowfield will vanish,” said Fagre in an interview with New York Times. “When that happens, this whole area will dry up a lot. A lot of these alpine gardens, so to speak, are sustained entirely by waterfalls and streams like this. And once this goes, then some of those plants will disappear.”

Can't hide from mountain lions forever. NPS photo. 

Dr. Fagre said that the implications are “almost too great to count” for wildlife.

Tree lines may creep up mountains, and the meadows where mountain goats keep watch for mountain lions will be gone. Hummingbirds that depend on glacial lilies for nectar may arrive in spring, only to find that the lilies have already blossomed and there is no food. With less snowfall and glacial runoff, streams may dry up, and cold-water fish and insects may become sparse.

RIGHT BEFORE OUR EYES

GNP's shrinking glaciers. Jesse Allen/NASA graphic. 

The Blackfoot-Jackson basin contains the largest glaciers in the park. This animation shows the shockingly quick retreat of the glaciers from 1984-2015. The blue color represents “permanent” snow and ice, and the red a burn scar from the Thompson forest fire.

As the global and regional climates continue to warm, the frequency of fires in the park is expected to increase. The clearest indication of climate change is melting ice and glaciers

Approaching 2030, the glaciers will become “small insignificant lumps of ice on the landscape,” Fagre said. “These tiny remnants could last 10 to 15 years past that time if they are in sheltered places, but the park will no longer really have viable glaciers.”

If you want to see Glacier's glaciers, you'll have to visit soon.

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