Global warming and Glacier National Park


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One of the main activities for almost everyone visiting Glacier National Park is to drive across the park on Going-to-the-Sun Road, which crosses the mountains and probably has some of the most spectacular scenery of any road in the United States. During our visit this week we entered the park from the west side, spent several days there hiking trails, then took this road across to the east side, where we did more hiking.

The highest point on Going-to-the-Sun Road is Logan Pass. The park service has built a visitor center there, where everyone stops to do a short hike and admire the views. The trail head for the more challenging Highline Trail, which we did soon after arrival, is also here.

Outside the Logan Pass visitor center are a variety of displays. One focused on the changing environment at Glacier, and not surprisingly, it made a point of talking about the documented shrinkage of the glaciers during the past century. Below is an image of the pertinent quote from that display:

Display outside Logan Pass visiter center

When I saw this I was quite amused. The glaciers in the park are expected to be gone in only three more years, by 2020? Not a chance. I thought, they are going to have to change this sign soon. In fact, based on my experience with past failed global warming predictions, I was actually surprised they had let this display stay there this long, and hadn’t already made it vanish to be replaced with a new doomsday prediction that was far enough in the future that they could use if for awhile to generate new fear (and funding) before it too turned out to be wrong.

Anyway, in driving east and down from Logan Point, Diane and I eventually reached the east entrance to the park, where there was another visitor center. Like Logan Pass, this center also had a collection of outdoor displays, with one display once again focused on the park’s changing environment. Below is the pertinent quote from that display:

Display outside the St. Marys visitor center

Ah ha! I thought. Here we have the expected new prediction, shifting doomsday from 2020 to 2030. This will work for another decade, when they will likely have to change the prediction again when it doesn’t come true. Why they hadn’t changed the other display at Logan Pass was probably just an oversight. The global warming propagandists in the National Park Servidce had simply missed it.

We went inside. In the main exhibit area was one of those 3D maps, showing the park. It had various buttons you could press that would turn on lights highlighting specific features of the park, such as its high peaks or glaciers. And as expected, there was a display at this map talking about the shrinking glaciers. Note my photo below of the pertinent quote from that display:

Display inside the St Marys visitor center

Sloppy, sloppy, I thought. They had forgotten to update this display also, and this was far more embarrassing, as it contradicted a different display only about fifty feet away.

We then went inside the auditorium and watched the 20 minute film about the park. The film was what you would expect, lauding the park’s beauty while also making heroes of the American Indians that were here when the Europeans arrived. The film also spent some time talking about the changing environment of the park, and this time noted that by 2030 all the glaciers are predicted to be gone!

I really wish they would make up their minds.

The movie was actually not bad. It didn’t make the Indians unrealistically saintly or noble, which too many of these National Park Service films do. And in discussing the melting glaciers it completely avoided blaming humans (or anything) for the recent warming. Instead, it focused on the warming itself, and how it has changed the environment in the park, and might change it in the future, depending on what happens. In other words, it stayed focused on the park service’s real mandate, maintaining the park for the future, rather than play scientific politics and promote a single theory about the climate that remains unproven.

Still, it is sad that the park’s scientific displays were so caught up in the doomsday predictions of global warming that they failed to include all the recent data, including recent research that showed no shrinking of many park glaciers from 2010 to 2014. Providing these facts would have given visitors a more rounded and detailed understanding of the situation. More important, it would have gotten them closer to the truth, something that scientists should always strive to do.

The park’s sloppiness and political posturing here however does serve to produce one good, though certainly unintended, result. It helps to discredit the National Park Service’s global-warming activism, which hasn’t been based on good science for quite awhile. It will also help to raise the skepticism of ordinary park visitors, who will either notice the contradictions, or laugh at the absurdity of the prediction that the glaciers will vanish only three years hence.

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9 comments

  • wodun

    So the current glaciers formed after the end of the last period of glaciation. Were there glaciers there during the glaciation? If there were, I wonder how their size differed from the most recent peak in the mid 1800’s.

    It really is a great example of the natural variation of climate. Glaciers can come and go on their own without humans. They said the peak was in the mid 1800’s but there surely were ebbs and flows over 7,000 years.

    I am one who thinks you can’t stop nature from changing, regardless of what is causing change at any given time, nature will always change. And the only successful way forward is adaptation, not the magical belief that we can stop nature’s change through flagellation.

  • Commodude

    In a similar vein, I drive past and occasionally stop at a rest area on my morning commute. In the rest area is a sign and display bemoaning the loss of habitat for the American Kestrel, a small raptor.

    Why the loss of habitat?

    Woodland areas are growing back after being clear cut in previous centuries for farming.

    The environmentalists cannot seem to decide which “pristine habitat” they want to stabilize. If they’re going to be intellectually honest, they should be cheering the return of the woodlands rather than bemoaning the loss of habitat for the Kestrel, which benefited from human geo-engineering in the form of clearing land for farms, which left them with a far greater open hunting area than they would have otherwise had.

  • I made similar observations/comments when I visited Glacier in 2012. I’ve seen signs promoting the State religion at state and national parks across the country. It really is irksome when government uses what should be an enjoyabe experience to flog the Party line.

    I hope you all had better skies. When I visited haze from the wild fires.obscured the views.

  • Edward

    Robert wrote: “this was far more embarrassing, as it contradicted a different display only about fifty feet away.

    Worse than contradicting the nearby display, it either contradicts itself or blames humanity for ending the Little Ice Age (LIA). Does the National Park Service believe that the LIA ended due to natural causes or due to human causes? Without further explanation, the casual reader would conclude the latter. Very sloppy indeed.

    At least the film in the auditorium seems to accept that the end of the LIA, not humanity, is the reason for the receding glaciers.

    wodun asked: “So the current glaciers formed after the end of the last period of glaciation. Were there glaciers there during the glaciation?

    The temperature chart that Wikipedia has for Ice Age temperatures shows that at the end of the last glacial period there was a spike in temperature. I suspect that glaciers that do not survive our current temperatures likely did not survive those elevated temperatures. This would allow for new glaciers to form in the same locations, as the temperatures declined after the spike. I would also expect the glaciers to expand in size during the LIA and shrink in size as the LIA ends.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ice_Age_Temperature.png

  • Jwing

    A few years ago I was at the visitor interpretation center of Badlands National Park and had to laugh at the large wall sized mural depicting a mile-high ice sheet that once towered over the exact spot as the badlands visitors’ center during the last ice age.
    I was with my three grade school kids and surrounded by several other visitors. Questioning out loud to my kids and knowing the others could hear me, I asked sarcastically just how did those dinosaurs cause that mile-high ice glacier to melt away because Homosapiens weren’t to blame!
    I quickly received cold stares with furrowed brows and a smug shrug and exit stage left by a couple of granola-eating, fleece cap wearing eco-tourists.
    Point made!

  • Phill O

    wudun “So the current glaciers formed after the end of the last period of glaciation. Were there glaciers there during the glaciation? If there were, I wonder how their size differed from the most recent peak in the mid 1800’s.”

    Interesting that the authors noted that these glaciers were not there 7000 years ago. The is evidence showing up via C14 dating that glaciers in the area (northern US and southern Canada) were no there as early as 5000 years ago when trees grew there.

    Seems the geology texts need rewriting!!!

    We used to drop down to the park and ski the avalanche slopes (when danger was zip). Sure like cycling over the pass.

  • David

    For the period 2000 – 20015, the Sperry Glacier had a cumulative mean mass balance loss of -4.37 m w.e. (meters water equivalent) indicating the glacier was out of balance and in retreat according to a study published earlier this year and available at the Earth System Science Data (ESSD) journal website. One can review a very brief summary of the study or download the study if so desired as well as read comments about.

    The USGS website has a “Glacier and Climate Project” section for those interested. On that main page, is a tab “Benchmark Glaciers” (of which Sperry is one) where focused monitoring and study is being conducted by the USGS and others on a glacier by glacier basis. At the bottom of the Sperry page is a list of referenced items, of which the first one listed was a link to the above mentioned study at ESSD.

    The Wikipedia site has an entry for “Glacier Mass Balance.” It does an acceptable job of proving a cursory introduction to how and what mass balance measurement means, the ways measurements are obtained, etc. The page also had info on various glaciers around the world, but I did not review that info so I can not attest to its validity or how timely it currently is.

    Also, much info can be gleaned at the World Glacier Monitoring Service site for anyone interested about glaciers.

    I agree with Mr. Zimmerman’s comment about the posting of specific dates when the glaciers at that National Park are supposed to disappear. Not only does the science of climate change have a ways to go before such specific predictions can be made, the use of them by the gov’t is counter productive. Instead of signs, films, etc showing what is currently known to have happened as well as the current status of the glacier(s), and providing sources of information for visitors to look at for more education, saying a outcome will happen by 2020 then changing it to 2030 only sows confusion, doubt, and sometimes outright dismissal. This does no one any good.

  • David

    Correction: in the first sentence of my post I typed “2000 – 2015.” It should have been “2005 – 2015.” Sorry about that!

  • Robert

    I have red two books recently 1491 and 1493 by Charles C. Mann. New discoveries about America and globalization. Fantastic read. Be prepare to be reeducated about Native Indians and climate change just to mention two.

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