Easton Glacier Assessment, Washington

In August we will be making a detailed study of the Easton Glacier for the 23rd consecutive summer. Our main focus is measurement of snow depth and snow melt on the glacier. We will be mapping the terminus position and two profiles of the surface elevation across the glaciers at 1800 m and 1950 m. We will also examine two new bedrock knobs that have melted out in the midst of the glacier at 2050 m. The Easton Glacier is important as a water resource for the Baker lake and Baker River Hydropower system. This hydropower system is capable of producing 170 MW of power. The runoff from Easton Glacier would normally flow into the Baker River below Upper Baker Dam, however it is extracted from the normal stream and routed through a pipeline to enter Baker Lake and then produce power via Upper Baker Dam (second image), note yellow dots showing runoff pathway. The Easton Glacier retreated over 2 km from its Little Ice Age maximum to 1955. By 1965 the glacier was advancing, this advance ended in the early 1980’s and by 1987 retreat from the moraine was evident. Beginning in 1990 we have made an annual survey of the glacier terminus noting a retreat of 320 m from 1987-2010. The first image below is of Easton Glacier from 1912 the second from 2011 with the same locations highlighted. A prominent knob on the upper glacier has changed little, ocher arrow. The lower margin of the glacier on either side of the main Easton at the blue arrow and red arrow show substantial thinning and retreat. The purple arrow indicates the terminus change. The lower Easton Glacier has changed a great deal in the last 100 years, not the upper glacier. This is an indication of a glacier adjusting to climate change that is retaining an accumulation and can survive. The last image in the sequence indicates the Little Ice Age terminus yellow line, the 1993 terminus orange, 1998 terminus is purple, 2004 terminus is green and 2009 terminus is ochre.
In the above image the red arrows indicate the location of the two survey profiles we complete across the glacier. The green arrows indicate two locations of investigation for the summer, to the left is the top of the Deming Glacier Icefall that will visit and the right green arrow a new bedrock knob that emerged from beneath the glacier in 2009. A month from now we will be surveying the glacier covering the glacier top to bottom and side to side. We will be joned by Peter Sinclair who is going to use is videography skills to examine how we measure glacier change. The first image below is from Steph Abegg a superb climber and photographer who was with us in 2010 as part of Team Juicebox working on the Uncertain Ice documentary. The main goal of our research each year is assessing the glacier’s mass balance. This is the equivalent of its bank account, with snow accumulation being deposits and snow-ice melt being withdraws. We map the changes across the glacier and determine if the bank account grew or declined, 2011 map is below. Since 1990 the bank account has lost 10 meters of thickness of an average of 70 m total. Last year the glacier did gain over a meter. A key measure is the percent of the glacier in the accumulation zone (AAR), below 65% is a loss above a gain, bottom image. The 2012 winter was a La Nina which tends to lead to very good snowpack, the transition out of La Nina took place in late spring-early summer leading to greater melting than 2011, we will see in three weeks.


Mass Balance of the Easton Glacier 2009

Immediately below is Easton Glacier on Mt. Baker in the North Cascades in late May 2009. The glacier is still completely snow covered. The bench where the small gray cloud shadows are at 6000 feet averages 20 feet of snow remaining.
easton 5-20-09 (1)Easton Glacier extends from the terminus at 5600 feet to the slopes near Sherman Crater at 9000 feet. Each summer since 1990 NCGCP has measured the mass balance of this glacier. View Youtube for a pictorial review of the full 2009 field season . The glacier has retreated 300 m since 1990. During this same period the glacier has lost a cumulative mean of 13 m of thickness. Given a thickness in 1990 between 60 and 75 m, this is about 20 % of the total glacier volume. The image below shows the terminus in 2009(green=2009, 2006=brown, red=2003, purple=1993 and yellow=1984). Measuring mass balance requires assessing snowpack depth and areal extent at the end of the summer melt season and the amount of melting in areas where blue ice or firn (snow more than a year old) is exposed. Below is measuring crevasse stratigraphy and below that emplacing a stake to measure ablation with weather instruments on it. f25f18

Mass Balance = residual snow accumulation – ice-firn melting.

The melt season began a bit late just when the May picture was taken Winter snowpack was between 75and 90% of normal in the area as of April 1. The melt season had been late to begin and snowpack by late May was near normal. Record heat was experienced at the end of May and the start of June, quickly causing snowpack to fall below normal.Each year we measure the snow depth via probing and crevasse stratigraphy at more than 200 locations. These depth measurements allow the completion of a map of snow distribution. This map is completed in early August and updated, based on a smaller number of observation in late September. The amount of melting is assessed from stakes emplaced in the glacier and the recession of the snowline in areas where snow pack depth has been assessed. below are images from early and then mid-August indicating the rise of the snowline. DSC02239easton8-16-09
A warm June and July caused exceptional snow pack melt and by early August when we began assessing snow pack depth retained, the snowcover had receded to the 6400 foot level, 300-400 feet higher than normal. Snowpack remained below normal all the way to the 8600 foot level. the snowpack since early July had been rising nearly 100 feet per week. By mid-August at right the snow line on the glacier averaged 6800 feet. By mid and Late September the snowline had risen to 7400 feet a rate of rise of 150 feet per week since mid-August. Below is an image from mid-September 2009. The amount of melting on the glacier in July was the highest we have measured totaling, 2.1 m. This led to the exposure of a couple of new bedrock knobs evident in the picture at right near the 2100 meters, black arrows. Overall the mass balance of the glacier in 2009 was a negative 2.06 m. This glacier averages 55-70 m in thickness and this mass balance loss represents a 3% volume loss in a single year for the glacier.