This August I visited Glacier National Park in Montana. The experience was life changing. I am still stunned to have learned the following fact: by 2020, no glaciers will exist in Glacier National Park.
Glacier National Park sits on the "crown of the continent." The park is bordered to the North by Alberta and British Columbia and to the East by the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. Glacier is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Snowcapped peaks, icebergs, lakes, grizzly bear and gray wolf all call Glacier home.
Iceberg Lake - Photo Credit: W. Pharr
During my stay, I talked with Park Ranger Jim Muhlhausen about why the glaciers are disappearing. The reason is climate change. Jim talked about what he sees on a daily basis. "Its disturbing. You can directly see the effects. The change in vegetation, the reduction in habitat, and the melting of the glaciers."
The evidence that the glaciers are melting speaks for itself. When the park was founded in 1910, there were 150 glaciers. Today, 25 exist. By 2020, none will exist.
Jim stated that we all have "to go the extra mile" if we are going to slow down the rate of climate change. This includes "recycling, refusing to use bottled water, bringing a bag to the grocery store, and using flourescent lightbulbs." In the aggregate, these seemingly little choices can make a difference.
Grinnell Glacier - Photo Credit: W. Pharr
Jim acknowledges that various warming and cooling trends have occurred over the history of our planet's existence. For the past 15,000 years, temperatures have gone up and down. But the alarming magnitude of the change we are witnessing today has not occurred since human civilization began. The consequences are unknown. Wildlife and plant life must be able to adapt. Some will and some will not.
Another major issue is water. Those living on the west of the continental divide use 80% of their water from mountain sources. The glaciers act like a water tower -- storing water for future use. Jim stated, that "the West may soon become a desert." As the climate warms and glaciers melt, the downstream communities are losing a source of fresh water.
The number of visitors to Glacier National Park rose by 20% between 2000 and 2007. People must want to see the glaciers before they disappear. Next year brings the 100th birthday celebration of the park -- a perfect time to visit!