For those who embrace the goals of our Green Dental Society this abridged November 22, 2014 New York Times article on the diminishing glaciers of Glacier National Park will be a further call to action.
What will they call Glacier National Park once the glaciers are gone? A century ago this sweep of mountains on the Canadian border boasted some 150 ice sheets, many of them scores of feet thick, plastered across summits and tucked into rocky fissures high above parabolic valleys. Today, perhaps 25 survive. In 30 years, there may be none. A warming climate is melting Glacier’s glaciers, an icy retreat that promises to change not just tourist’s vistas, but also the mountains and everything around them.
Streams fed by snowmelt are reaching peak spring flows weeks earlier than in the past, and low summer flows weeks before they used to. Some farmers who depend on irrigation in the parched days of late summer are no longer sure that enough water will be there. Bull trout, once pan-fried over anglers’ campfires, are now caught and released to protect a population that is shrinking as water temperatures rise.
Many of the mom-and-pop ski areas that once peppered these mountains have closed. Increasingly, the season is not long enough, nor the snows heavy enough, to justify staying open…..
And while glaciers came and went millenniums ago, the changes this time are unfolding over a Rocky Mountain landscape of big cities, sprawling farms and growing industry. All depend on steady supplies of water, and in the American West, at least 80 percent of it comes from the mountains….
Glaciers and year-round snowfields — accumulations of snow in colder locations, like shadowed mountainsides, that never fully melt — pick up the slack in summer. But they, too, are vanishing… At Clements Mountain, with a summit some 8,800 feet above sea level, what used to be a glacier is now a shrinking snowfield that will vanish. According to Dr. Daniel B. Fagre, a United States Geological Survey research ecologist, “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.” For wildlife, Dr. Fagre said, the implications are almost too great to count. Frigid alpine streams may dry up, and cold-water fish and insects may grow scarce….
For people, the future is somewhat clearer. Rising temperatures and early snowmelt make for warmer, drier summers as rivers shrink and soils dry out. That is already driving a steady increase in wildfires, including in the park, and disease and pest infestations in forests. Moisture loss from early snowmelt is worsening a record hydrological droughton the Colorado River, which supplies water to about 40 million people from the Rockies to California and Mexico…
In the usually arid West, where reservoirs are vital, earlier and bigger snowmelt will disrupt the task of balancing water demand and supply. Experts anticipate an increase in disputes over water rights as a growing population competes for a shrinking resource. And farming, a major industry across much of the Rockies, will become even more of a gamble than fickle weather makes it.