RICHLAND, Wash. – New research shows that glaciers on Mount Adams are shrinking at a faster rate than neighboring peaks.
Over the past century the glaciers have shrunk almost in half on Mount Adams in southwest Washington. Compare that to Mount Hood, which has lost about one-third of its glaciers, and Mount Rainier, which has lost about one-fourth.
Portland State University geologist Andrew Fountain says he’s not sure why there’s such a difference in the Northwest’s glacial decline. Perhaps, he says, geography has something to do with it.
“Mount Adams is just a little bit east of the crest of the Cascades, such that maybe it’s not getting quite as much precipitation as the other mountains, and maybe it’s a little bit warmer in the summertime, so the glaciers are retreating a little bit faster,” he says.
Smaller glaciers mean more drought conditions for alpine plants. It’s possible that further glacial shrinkage can be prevented by curbing greenhouse gas emissions, Fountain says. But for the next several decades, we’re on a track that we cannot get off.
Portland State’s study lends urgency to an earlier federal report that shows the water content of Cascade Mountain snowpacks could dwindle by as much as 50 percent by the 2070s.
Fountain said air temperatures in the Cascades are warmer than in other, higher-elevation mountain ranges, making snow amounts more susceptible to gradually warming temperatures.
Fountain presented his findings during an inaugural conference in Trout Lake late last year entitled “Mount Adams in a Warming Climate.”
The implications posed by warming temperatures and less snow overall prompted a congressionally mandated studies to project what the effects would be and how federal agencies should respond.
The federal studies looked at conditions across the West, but also included reviews for specific basins like the Columbia River Basin. One response could be to encourage additional water conservation to make the more limited supply meet the needs. Another more controversial potential is adding more storage.
Projections also draw on work done by the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington.
Ingrid Tohver, a research scientist with the Seattle-based team, says the team’s work suggests the total amount of precipitation may not change very much.
It’s how that precipitation will occur — more rain and less snow — that could cause the impacts. She said mid-elevation basins like the Yakima and Skagit valleys are at greater risk from the effects of climate change.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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