2014 North Cascade Glacier Field Season, 31st consecutive year.

This is the 31st consecutive field season for the North Cascade Glacier Climate Project. This project begun in 1984 monitors the response of North Cascade glaciers to climate change and monitors the mass balance of more glaciers than any other program in North America. This entails measuring mass balance, terminus position, surface elevation changes and glacier runoff. This is done with a combination of field measurements and satellite imagery. The unique aspect is we use no helicopter or outside support, everything is backpacked in by us. This summer our main focus will be continued work with the Nooksack Indian Tribe particularly Oliver Grah and Jezra Beaulieu, who have worked with us in 2012 and 2013. We are quantifying the role of glacier runoff on conditions for salmon in the Nooksack River. The critical aspect of this is underscored by our findings on the impact on stream discharge and temperature. Our utilization of satellite imagery and ground truth measurements caught the attention of NASA last summer. We will continue our annual mass balance survey of 10 glaciers, terminus survey of which ever glaciers have exposed termini, mountain goat survey on Ptarmigan Ridge and ice worm survey on Sholes Glacier. What we do is march around each glacier and measure the snow accumulation, ablation, survey the terminus and elevations across the glacier, then head back to our tents for the night.  We will look to again combine our field data with Landsat 8 imagery.

Selected Posts on the glaciers we will be observing.  There will be no new posts for three weeks during the field season.

Columbia Glacier, Washington**********************Deming Glacier, Washington
Lower Curtis Glacier Annual Survey, Washington*****Easton Glacier Assessment, Washington
Mount Baker Mass balance, Washington**********Ptarmigan Ridge Glacier, Washington
Rainbow Glacier, Washington********************Daniels Glacier, Washington
Nooksack Basin********************************Mount Baker Glacier Mass Balance

The snowpack on June 1 was quite normal at glacier elevations in the North Cascades. The peak mean snow depth is typically on May 10th, but this year it was May 3rd. An El Nino is forecast to begin during the fall, though the forecast is not robust. This typically leads to warm conditions in the North Cascades. June and July have been warm and dry leading to forest fires east of the Cascade Crest, snow levels have dropped below normal by July 1, and a warm July had led to more exposed ice on the glaciers than usual. The field crew for 2014 consists of scientists and visual artists. The value of the scientific data from this program, the most extensive in monitoring glaciers in the United States continues to increase as the time series extends. It is equally evident that the data does not speak for itself to most people. This year we will have an additional focus on production of video and illustrative art that tells the story of glacier change in a different fashion. The goal will be to weave the four threads of science, nature, video and illustrations into the most compelling narrative we have produced.

Mauri Pelto:
The director of the project for 31 years and also the US representative for the World Glacier Monitoring Service. This includes more than 600 nights in a tent in the North Cascades measuring glaciers.

Ben Pelto
Ben has finished his MS at UMASS-Amherst in geosciences and will be heading to University of Northern British Columbia in the fall for a doctoral program. This will be his tenth year working in the North Cascades. He has also worked on glaciers at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro and has taken part in scientific drilling voyage on the USCGC Healey in the Arctic Ocean.

Jillian Pelto:
Jill is a senior double major in Earth Sciences and Art at UMaine. She will be spending her sixth year in the field on North Cascade glaciers. This year she also worked in the Dry Valleys of Antarctica with a research team from the University of Maine and UC-Davis.

Ashley Edwards:
Is a senior in geology at Central Washington University, and has worked as an Aquatic Ecologist in Alaska. Most importantly is an avid skier.

Justin Wright Is a senior at Oregon State University. He has worked as a web developer before getting smart and going into the earth sciences. He has worked and climbed on Mount Saint Helens and Mount Adams.

Tom Hammond
Has spent portions of 11 field season with us. And visits one of our glaciers at the end of each melt season. He is Vice President of the North Cascades Conservation Council. He is also Project Manager at the University of Washington in the Information Technology and Services area.
Tom was in the Cascades for a spring avalanche assessment and has a report on it at NCCC

Visual Crew consists of

Melanie Gajewski, Videographer
Melanie has just graduated with a degree in business at Nichols College and is enrolled in the MBA program. At Nichols College she directed most of the TV commercials used by the college in the last two years. Her aim is to be a videographer specializing in Environmental Awareness issues. She is an avid hiker, this is a first trip to glaciers.

Welcome to Visual – Melanie Gajewski from Visual Communications on Vimeo.

Megan Pelto, Illustrator:

Megan is a senior in the Illustration program at Savannah College of Art and Design. She has an extensive camping background, but this will be a first visiting the glaciers.

Jillian Pelto, Painting and Printing: I a senior Art major at University of Maine.

Hike into Easton Glacier
Survey Easton Glacier terminus and Lower Bench
Survey Upper Easton Glacier
Hike out Easton Glacier-Hike in Heliotrope
Heliotrope Glacier survey
Hike Out Heliotrope- Hike in Rainbow Glacier
Sholes Glacier Survey
Rainbow Glacier Survey
Hike out Rainbow Glacier-Hike in Lower Curtis Glacier
Lower Curtis Glacier Survey
Hike out Lower Curtis Glacier; Hike in Columbia Glacier
Columbia Glacier survey
Hike out Columbia Glacier
Hike in Mount Daniels
Ice Worm Glacier Survey
Mount Daniels Survey
Lynch Glacier Survey
Hike out Mount Daniels


Pacific Northwest Glacier Mass Balance 2013

North Cascades Climate Conditions:
The 2013 winter accumulation season featured 93% of mean (1984-2013) winter snow accumulation at the long term USDA Snotel stations in the North Cascades, Washington (Figure 1). The melt season was exceptional by several measures. The mean summer temperature from June-September and July-September at Lyman Lake is tied with the highest for the 1989-2013 period (Figure 2). The average minimum temperature at Lyman Lake was the highest since 1989 for the July-September period, and tied with the highest for the June-September period (Figure 3). SeaTac airport minimums were high as well indicating the regional nature.

Glacier Mass Balance:
Snow depth was measured at a 30 m spacing across the entire glacier on August 4th. The position of the snowline indicates the location where snow depth is zero. Assessment of stakes emplaced in the glacier from Aug. 3-20 indicates mean ablation during the period of 7.8 cm/day. Assessment of ablation from remapping of the snowline on Sept. 1 indicates mean ablation of 7.5 cm/day during the August 4th-Sept. 1st period. A preliminary map of Sholes Glacier mass balance for Aug. 8th is seen below (Figure 6). The contours are in meters of water equivalent, which is the amount of water thickness that would be generated if the snow or ice was melted. Note the similarity of the 1.75 m contour and the Sept,. 12th snowline.The best measure of ablation over the period from August 4th to Sept. 12th is the shift in the snowline, as identified in satellite imagery (Figure 7 and 8). The snow depth at a particular location of the snowline on Sept. 12th indicates the snow ablation since August 4th. Observations of the snowline margin on Aug. 20, Sept. 1 and Sept. 12 indicated mean ablation of 7.4 cm per day from Aug. 4th to Sept. 12th.

sholes 2013 August melt
Figure 4 Comparison of snowpack on Sholes Glacier on August 4th and September 1st, 2013

sholes glacier network
Figure 5. Sholes Glacier snow depth measurement network

sholes 2013 8-8
Figure 6. Snow depth distribution in snow water equivalent on Sholes Glacier on Aug. 8th, 2013.

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Figure 7 August 4th satellite image showing snowline on Sholes Glacier from Landsat imagery.

sholes 9-12-2013
Figure 8. September 12 snowline on Sholes Glacier from Landsat imagery

Snow depth observations on Easton Glacier on the bench below the main icefall at 2000 m, yielded an average depth of 3.1 m on Aug. 10th. The bench was completely snowcovered on Aug. 10th. GPS measurements of the snowline on Sept. 15th indicate ablation of 2.75 m since Aug. 10th. This is an ablation rate of 7.6 cm of snow melt per day. This is 0.2 cm/day higher than Sholes Glacier. The time period is not identical either. The southern orientation of Easton Glacier typically leads to higher ablation rates at specific elevations than on Sholes Glacier. Satellite observations of the change in snowline position compared to snow depth observations from Aug. 4th to Sept 12th indicate mean ablation of 7.2-8.0 cm/day.

On the four Mount Baker glaciers a total of 380 snow depth measurements were made on (Figure 9). The initial mass balance assessment is -0.78 m on Columbia Glacier. -1.58 m on Easton Glacier, -0.5 m on Foss Glacier, -0.76 m Ice Worm, -0.85 m on Lower Curtis Glacier, -0.40 m Lynch Glacier, -1.85 m on Rainbow Glacier, -1.7 m on Sholes Glacier and -1.15 m on Yawning Glacier. easton crevasse depth
Figure 9 Snow depth in crevasse on Easton Glacier.

columbia glacier Ba 2013
Figure 10 Mass balance map for Columbia Glacier in meters of water equivalent.

On the Juneau Icefield in southeast Alaska the ablation season was warmer and longer than normal. The result was snowlines rising above average at Lemon Creek and Taku Glacier, where the Juneau Icefield Research Program measures mass balance. For Taku Glacier the ELA was 1050 m, 75 m above an equilibrium snowline, and 1115 m, 100 m above an equilibrium snowline for Lemon Creek Glacier. The final mass balance for these glaciers will be in the -0.5 to -1.0 m range for both. Further north the USGS reports preliminary results, from there two Alaskan benchmark glaciers, which indicate that Gulkana Glacier in the Alaska Range, mass balance was the 5th most negative year. At Wolverine Glacier in the Kenai Mountains mass balance will likely be the most negative on record. In British Columbia both the Helm Glacier and Place Glacier are observed annually for mass balance. On Sept 12, 2013 Landsat imagery indicates limited remaining snowcover on both of these glaciers. The snowline is at 2050 m on Helm Glacier and 2300 m on Place Glacier, red arrows. The snowcovered area is less than 20% on Helm Glacier and 30% on Place Glacier, which will lead to large negative mass balances (Figure 11 and 12). Hence, all 16 glaciers examined here will have significant negative mass balances in 2013.

taku lemon creek snowline 2013
Figure 11. Landsat image indicating the snowline on Sept. 24, 2013 on Lemon Creek and Taku Glacier.

helm glacier 2013
Figure 12 Helm Glacier in Landsat imagery 9-12-2013

place glacier 2013
Figure 13 Place Glacier in Landsat imagery 9-12-2013

Building a 30-year Glacier Mass Balance Time Series

The above video looks at the effort behind a long term field study, looking at images from 11 of the 30 years of our research, digital cameras became good then. Long term monitoring programs have until recently been unattractive for federal grantmakers, since they are not directly advancing the frontiers of science. However, many long duration time series from monitoring programs do advance science eventually as the response to changes in environmental or climate conditions are documented. In 1984, I responded to a request from the US National Academy of Sciences, “to monitor glaciers across an ice clad mountain range”, something that was not being done anywhere in Norther America. Thirty years later we are still pursuing this project. We have developed a 30 years time series of glacier mass balance on glaciers across the North Cascades of Washington. To ensure that the program could be sustained, we did not pursue any federal funding for the project. The data we, collect is submitted to the World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS) each year, the regional time series built in the North Cascade is just part of the contribution to the global glacier mass balance time series at WGMS. The cumulative North Cascades glacier mass balance record is in fact quite similar to the cumulative global mass balance time series. For the globe there have been 22 consecutive years of negative mass balance, that is the reality of the impact of global warming on mountain glaciers around the globe. The impact on the glaciers of Mount Baker was recently published Pelto and Brown (2012)

North Cascade Glacier Climate Project 2013 Field Report

The 2013 winter season provided close to average snowpack in the North Cascades as indicated by the average SWE at SNOtel stations in the range. The summer melt season has proved to be long, warm and dry. The May-August mean temperature at the station closest to a glacier, Lyman Lake, has been tied for the 2nd warmest in the last 25 years with 2009 and only 2004 warmer. The summer has lacked record periods of warmth and has featured sustained warm temperatures and higher than average humidity, reducing the number of nights when the glacier surface has frozen. The average minimum temperatures at Lyman Lake are the highest in the last 25 years for July and August. The humidity was the strikingly high during our field season, note diagram from a Cliff Mass article on the topic. The net result will be significant negative glacier mass balances in the North Cascades. There is one month left in the melt season most glaciers are close to an equilibrium balance already.

The field team included Stewart Willis and Matt Holland, Western Washington University, Jill Pelto, U of Maine, Ben Pelto, UMass,-Amherst, Jezra Beaulieu and Oliver Grah, Nooksack Indian Tribe research scientists And Tom Hammond, North Cascade Conservation Council. Alan Kearney, Photographer worked with us for the first week capturing time lapse imagery of our work.

After a month of perfect summer weather we arrived to a foggy and wet conditions on the Columbia Glacier. The Columbia Glacier terminus was exposed and has retreated 85 m since 1990. The glacier had a substantial area of blue beginning 200 m above the terminus and extending along the western side of the basin for 400 m. The area of blue ice on August 1 was 50,000 square meters, by Aug. 21 the area had expanded to 200,000 square meters, the shift of the 2013 winter snowline during this period indicates a melt of m during the three weeks.

The Lower Curtis Glacier terminus was exposed early in the summer resulting in a continued retreat of 20 m since 2011, the area of thick seraced terminus lost since 1990 has been 60,000 square meters. The lateral retreat and terminus retreat since 1990 are both in the 125-150 meter range depending on location.
We spent a week observing ablation and resulting glacier runoff on Sholes Glacier. With Oliver Grah and Jezra Beaulieu who work for the water resources section of the Nooksack Indian Tribe we emplaced a stream gage right below Sholes Glacier and one on Bagley Creek which is snowmelt dominated. With the water level gages in we all began work on a rating curve for the Sholes Glacier site directly measuring discharge on 14 occasions, kayak socks helped reduce the impact of cold water. Average ablation during the week was 8.25 cm/day of snowpack or 5 cm of water, discharge measurements identified a mean of 5.2 cm/day of from the glacier during this period. The agreement between ablation and discharge was a nice result. Discharge became notably more turbid after 1 pm, peaking in turbidity around 5 pm. Of equal interest was the change in snowcovered area. On July 19th a Landsat image indicated 100% snowcover for Sholes Glacier. On Aug. 4th our surface measurements indicates a blue ice area of 12,500 square meters, which is also evident in a Landsat image from that day. By Aug. 20th a satellite image indicates that the blue ice area had expanded to an area of square meters. This coincided with the area where snowdepth was observed to be less than 1.2 m on Aug.4. This represents a volume loss of 592,000 cubic meters of water in 16 days.
We measured the mass balance on Rainbow and Sholes Glacier during this period. The snowpack was poor on both, especially above 1900 meters on Rainbow Glacier. Typical depths are over 5-6 m, this year 3.75-4.5 m. The poor snow depths were also noted on the Easton Glacier above 2000 m in crevasse stratigraphy measurements. Each crevasse is approached probing to ensure it is safe and then assessed to make sure the crevasse is vertically walled, this enables a safe but also accurate measure. In some cases layers from mulitple years can be assessed. IN the Lynch Glacier crevasse the 2013 layer will be lost to melt before end of the summer. Easton Glacier had a terminus that was fully exposed by the start of August. The terminus slope has thinned markedly in the last three years as retreat has continued. The retreat of Easton Glacier has averaged 10 m/year from 2009-2013. This year the retreat will exceed that with two months of exposure. The Deming Glacier retreat has been exceptional over the last 12 months with at least 30 m of retreat. The snowline on Easton Glacier was at 1850 m on Aug. 10th. By the end of August the snowline had risen to 1980 m, where snow depths had been 1.5 m three weeks previous. The mass balance of Sholes, Rainbow and Easton Glacier will all be close to – 1 meters water equivalent, that is losing a slice of glacier 1.1-1.2 m thick. Mount Daniels had the best snowpack of any location in the North Cascades. On the small and dying Ice Worm Glacier ablation and runoff were assessed simultaneously. The expansion of the area where 2013 has all melted expanded rapidly from 8/13 to 8/21. The glaciers lower section had is often avalanche buried, this year the snowpack was gone on much of the lower section. However, snowpack averaged 1.7 m across the entire glacier on August 14th. With daily ablation of 7-8 cm/day this will be gone by early September. This will lead to a substantial negative mass balance this year. Lynch and Daniels Glacier both had limited exposed blue ice and firn, and snowpack values that were slightly above average. Both glaciers will have small negative mass balances this year. On Lynch Glacier a large crevasse at exposed the retained snowpack of the last three years, from 2010-2012 5 m of firn remains. ice worm 2013

ice worm 821upelto team
Ben in his 9th year, Jill her 5th year and Mauri 30th year of glacier work in the North Cascades

Mittivakkat, Greenland and Lemon Creek Glacier, Alaska transient snowline paper

Mernild et al (2013) is a new paper that has authors from several countries that I am co-author on with Knudsen, Malmros in Denmark, Hanna from UK, Yde currently in Norway and Mernild in Chile. The key items here are using the snow line observed on any particular melt season day (transient snowline=TSL) as input for mass balance assessment. This paper examines how similar the migration of the TSL is from year to year, and how ablation rate can be determined using it, when field data can be used for validation. The first two images are figures from the paper of Lemon Creek Glacier and Mittivakkat Glacier illustrating the TSL at various dates. A second key is that if the progression is relatively repeatable towards the end of the melt season, than the equilibrium line altitude (ELA) can be determined, snowline at the end of the melt season, which is a key mass balance variable. Clouds often obscure the ELA from satellite image assessment, and this allows appropriate extrapolation. The figure below needs more data to determine the consistency and nature of the TSL variation at the end of the melt season, the ELA is the top of the parabola. lemon creek base map4
Base map of Lemon Creek Glacier in 2003 with colored lines indicating various dates of the TSL.

fig 3 aw
Base map of Miitivakkat Glacier in 2012 with colored lines indicating various dates of the TSL.

Progression of the TSL approximated with a second order Polynomial, to help derive the ELA.

A good example of the utility is an examination of the Landsat 8 imagery from this summer. Alaska had a warm and relatively clear weather period that provided a rare chance to examine the TSL in three consecutive satellite passes on June 14, June 21 and June 30. This period began with the glacier almost completely snow covered, red dots indicate TSL, red arrow indicates the 6/30 TSL. On June 14 the TSL was at 775 m within a couple of hundred meters of the terminus. By 6/21 the TSl had moved up the northwest side of the glacier 1.5 km to an altitude of 900m. On June 30th the TSL was at 975m two kilometers from the terminus. This progression up the northwest side of the glacier is typical. At the start of July the glacier is still 90% snowcovered. The Juneau Icefield Research Program is on this glacier in early July and field work will be critical to identifying snow depths above the TSL, that the TSL will transect later in the summer identifying ablation. The yellow arrow indicates the formation of Lake Linda, a meltwater lake that forms on the glacier, the expansion from June 14 to June 30 is evident. Pictures of the lake from JIRP during self arrest practice are gorgeous. More detailed examination of the longer term change of Lemon Creek Glacier and Mittivakkat Glacier has been completed.lemon creek 165-2013
June 14 2013 Landsat image

lemon creek 172-2013
June 21 2013 Landsat image

lemon creek 181-2013
June 30 2013 Landsat image

Mass balance 2011 North Cascades, Washington and Juneau Icefield, Alaska

In the summer of 2011, the North Cascade Glacier Climate Project completed 430 measurements of snowpack on 10 glaciers using probing and crevasse stratigraphy. This is much less than our normal number because of the exceptionally deep snowpack. The probe we use was 5 meters long, beyond that only crevasses could be used. The mass balance was quite positive for the first time since 2002. The combination of a La Nina and a negative PDO almost always deliver a mass balance in the North Cascades, 9 of 11 times (Pelto, 2008). The March-May period was the coldest and wettest spring ever in the North Cascade region. Summer was also cool in the region. This led to positive balances ranging from +1.2 to +2.2 m, the first year with significant mass balance since 1999. The first image below is the preliminary mass balance map for the Lynch Glacier in 2011, indicating the measurement points, black dots, and the blue contour line is the snowline. The cumulative mass loss since 1984 is still 12 meters, or 20-30% of the total volume of these glaciers, second image below. . Below is the field season captured in images.

Fourteen hundred kilometers north the Juneau Icefield glaciers did not fare as well. As part of the Juneau Icefield Research Program mass balance measurements are made every summer on the Taku and Lemon Creek glaciers. This summer the program was headed by Jay Fleisher, the mass balance portion was spearheaded by Chris McNeil and Toby Dittrich, Portland Community College. Satellite imagery from Sept. 11, 2011 indicates the snowline at the end of the melt season was just over 1000 meters on Taku Glacier and nearly 1100 meters on Lemon Creek Glaciers. This is higher than average and indicates negative mass balances for both glaciers. Snowpit and probing measurements at 40 locations, will yield a more specific mass balance, than provided by the snowline. The snowline is quite similar to 2009 and 2010 with snowpack depths generally a bit lower, 2009 and 2010 were also negative mass balance years. The snowpits are typically 2-4 meters deep and quite an effort to dig, the image below is from Cathy Connor at University of Alaska Southeast. The cumulative mass balance loss since 1953 on Lemon Creek Glacier is 25 meters, 15 meters since 1984.

28th Field Season of the North Cascade Glacier Climate Project 8-1 to 8-20

During the interval of 8-1 to 8-20 there will be no blog updates, we will be in the field for the entire period. This is the 28th consecutive year we will monitoring the terminus behavior and mass balance of these glaciers identifying how they respond to climate change. In these 28 years all the glaciers have retreated significantly they have lost 20% of their volume and two of the glaciers we monitored every year have disappeared.
If you are in need of glacier observations, please take a look back at the index of 100+ posts to date
Or look at the video footage below from the 2010 field season and the 2009 field season

North Cascades Glacier Documentary Promo 2010 from Cory Kelley on Vimeo.

2009 field season video

We begin the field season on Columbia Glacier near Monte Cristo, WA.
We will then head north to the Lower Curtis Glacier on Mount Shuksan. A traverse west will takes us to Sholes and Rainbow Glacier on the ne side of Mount Baker.

We will then drive around Mount Baker and examine the Easton, Deming, Squak, Talum and Boulder Glaciers on the south and east side of Mount Baker.

We then head to Cache Col Glacier near Cascade Pass and finally south to Mount Daniels for Ice Worm, Daniels and Lynch Glacierto finish the field season. It was a historically cool and wet spring and the glaciers still have a thick blanket of snowcover. How thick is what we will be measuring one glacier at a time.