The very visual and rapid disappearance of its mountain glaciers has made Glacier National Park a poster child for climate change. Former Vice President Al Gore, among others, quipped that the park may need a new name: The Park Formerly Known As Glacier National Park. The remaining 25 glaciers may all be gone before 2030.

But the impacts of a warming climate have cascaded across the park and its surrounding ecosystem, and melting glaciers may be the least of our worries.

Here are just a few of the impacts and future concerns that have been documented:

2006 flood at Many Glacier, NPS photo

2006 flood at Many Glacier, NPS photo

Visitor access – The Going to the Sun Road clings tenuously to the cliffs as it climbs the Continental Divide. The road is vulnerable to an increase in extreme weather events. A November 2006 deluge, for example, dumped 9 inches of rain in one day, which washed out big chunks of the Sun Road and overtopped the bridge at Many Glacier … at great cost to taxpayers.

Fire – A dramatic increase in wildfires over the past 20 years leave visitors choking and visibility clouded by smoke. Much of the park has been closed to visitors during severe fire summers. The number of acres burned every year in the northern Rockies is expected to double by 2050 over current levels.

Heat – Since 1900, the mean annual temperature in Glacier National Park has increased by 2.4 degrees Fahrenheit (1.3 degrees Celsius)—1.8 times the global mean increase. The number of days above 90 degrees has tripled since early last century, and the summertime span in which such hot days occur has almost doubled, to include all of July and most of August.

Pika - USFWS photo

Pika – USFWS photo

Wildlife – Glacier’s wildlife have evolved to thrive in a harsh mountain environment dominated by snow. Park biologists are concerned about the fate of snow-loving critters like wolverine and lynx and alpine species such as mountain goats, bighorn sheep and pika, a cute relative of rabbits that have limited heat tolerance.

Water supply, fish and farmers – Melting glaciers, dwindling snowpack and hotter summers means warmer rivers and lower flows in the late summer when trout most need abundant, cold water. This also means fewer fishing and rafting opportunities for visitors. Hundreds of miles downstream, farmers and rural Montana communities depend on the Milk River which historically was fed by melting glaciers.

 

 

 



 

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