The Glaciers Of Glacier National Park: Will They Disappear By 2030?

The scenic landscape of the Glacier National Park.

Where Is Glacier National Park?

Glacier National Park is located in the US state of Montana along the US-Canada border. It covers an area of more than 1 million acres, within which are 130 lakes, 2 mountain ranges, over 1,000 plant species, and 100 animal species. Additionally, Glacier National Park is home to approximately 37 named glaciers, of which 25 are considered to be "active," meaning they are over 25 acres in area. In 1850, there were around 150 glaciers. This article takes a closer look at what is happening with the glaciers of Glacier National Park.

The Glaciers of Glacier National Park

Harrison Glacier

Of the active glaciers, Harrison is the biggest. As of 2005, it covered an area of approximately 466 acres south of Mount Jackson. Between 1966 and 2005, this glacier lost an estimated 9% of its surface area. Because of its altitude, Harrison Glacier has been able to retain its mass.

Gem Glacier

Gem Glacier is the second highest in Glacier National Park and also the smallest. It covers an area of around 5 acres and is located to the east of the Continental Divide, above Grinnell Glacier. This hanging glacier lost 30% of its mass between 1966 and 2005.

Sperry Glacier

As of 2005, Sperry Glacier covers an area of around 216 acres. This represents a 75% decrease since the mid-19th century when it measured 933 acres. Between 1966 and 2005, it decreased in size by 35%. Its reduction has left behind new geological features, including moraines, lakes, and streams.

Why Might The Glaciers Disappear By 2030?

By the middle of the 20th century, scientists began to note a significant retreat in the glacial coverage of Glacier National Park. Photographs indicated that many of the 150 previously identified glaciers had disappeared. Between 1850 and 1979, around 73% of the glaciers had been lost. By the 1980’s, the US Geological Survey began to study the remaining glaciers more closely, the same decade that the glaciers began a continuous pattern of retreat.

The disappearance of these glaciers (and others around the world) has been attributed to global warming. Since 1900, the average temperature in this park has increased by 2.4°F, 1.9 times more than the global average. If the global climate change trends continue, researchers predict that Glacier National Park will no longer have glaciers by 2030. Many of the remaining active (over 25 acres) glaciers will be gone before that date.

Can The Glaciers Be Saved?

Today, most researchers believe it is too late to save the glaciers at Glacier National Park. Park officials do, however, teach about the effects of global climate change and encourage sustainability in personal and professional life. One of the first steps, they say, is to calculate the carbon footprint of certain activities in order to learn how small changes in lifestyle or business practices can reduce greenhouse gas emissions around the world. Additionally, researchers suggest following the 3R’s: reduce, reuse, and recycle. Reducing energy use, taking public transportation or walking, and eating locally are all changes that can be made to save other glaciers and environments around the world.

The 37 Named Glaciers of Glacier National Park

RankGalciersApproximate area (acres)
1Harrison 466
2Blackfoot 441
3Pumpelly & Pumpkin310
9Grinnell 152
10Weasel Collar136
12Chaney 93
13Old Sun91
17Two Ocean67
19Dixon 59
22Ipasha 52
23Carter 50
25The Salamander42
26Miche Wabun25
27Red Eagle24
29Baby 19
30North Swiftcurrent19
33Boulder 13
34Herbst 13
35Harris 8
36Hudson 8
37Gem 5

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