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Change in glacial extent at Mount Rainier National Park from 1896-2015

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Author(s): Scott R. Beason

Document Type: Natural Resource Report NPS/MORA/NRR-2017/1472
Publisher: National Park Service
Published Year: 2017
Pages: 98
DOI Identifier:
ISBN Identifier:

Surface area extents of glacial ice and perennial snow within Mount Rainier National Park were delineated based on 2015 aerial and satellite imagery to study glacier changes. These extents were compared with previously completed databases from 1896, 1913, 1971, 1994, and 2009. Mapped extents include areas of debris-covered stagnant ice present in the terminal regions of many glaciers at Mount Rainier. Additionally, any snow patches noted in satellite-acquired aerial images as of September 30, 2015 were considered to be perennial snow.

In 2015, Mount Rainier National Park contained a total of 29 named glaciers which covered a total of 78.76 ± 1.11 km2 (30.41 ± 0.43 mi2). Perennial snowfields added another 2.06 ± 0.12 km2 (0.80 ± 0.05 mi2), bringing the total perennial snow and glacier cover within the park as of 2015 to 80.82 ± 1.11 km2 (31.21 ± 0.43 mi2). The total area of debris cover on glaciers at Mount Rainier is 20.01 ± 0.42 km2 (7.73 ± 0.16 mi2), or approximately 25.4% of mapped glaciers. The largest glacier at Mount Rainier was the Emmons Glacier, which encompasses 11.03 ± 0.58 km2 (4.26 ± 0.22 mi2). The Carbon Glacier, the third largest glacier in the park at 7.26 ± 0.39 km2 (2.80 ± 0.15 mi2), had the largest area of debris cover at 4.84 ± 0.27 km2 (1.87 ± 0.11 mi2), covering 66.7% of its area.

The change in glacial and perennial ice surface area from 1896 to 2015 was -52.08 km2 (-20.11 mi2), a total reduction of 39.1%. This corresponds to an average rate of -0.44 km2 per year (-0.17 mi2 * yr-1) during the 119 year period. Recent changes (between the 6-year period of 2009 to 2015) showed a reduction of -1.46 km2 (-0.56 mi2) of glacial surface area, or a 1.8% reduction in glacial area and a rate that corresponded to -0.24 km2 per year (-0.09 mi2 * yr-1).

Overall, this data shows a gradual loss of ice extent at Mount Rainier. A gradual loss of ice is significant because a loss of ice area can represent a major glacial volume change. Changes in glacial volume were not calculated in this study but that rate can be extrapolated based on work by other authors. If the regional climate continues to change in ways that shrinks glacial extent, further loss in surface area park-wide is anticipated, as well as the complete loss of lower-elevation small glaciers with surface areas less than 0.2 km2 (0.08 mi2) in the next few decades.

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Suggested Citations:
In Text Citation:
Beason (2017) or (Beason, 2017)

References Citation:
Beason, S.R., 2017, Change in glacial extent at Mount Rainier National Park from 1896-2015: Natural Resource Report NPS/MORA/NRR-2017/1472, National Park Service, 98 p..