Earth News Journal 22: Yosemite Ice Mass Melting

“Lyell Glacier is stagnant – a clear sign it’s dying,” laments Greg Stock, Yosemite National Park’s first full-time geologist, upon visiting the glacier in 2013.

Stock claims he found that Lyell Glacier had visibly shrunk since last year, continuing a trend of reduction that began more than one hundred years ago.

Since the beginning of Lyell’s decline, it has “dropped 62% of its mass and lost 120 vertical feet of ice.” Many analysts argue that the glacier has only 20 years before it disappears from Yosemite forever.

Yosemite has already lost one other glacier in the mid-1980s, Black Mountain Glacier. Noteworthy explorer John Muir discovered Black Mountain Glacier in 1871, but it didn’t last a little more than a century.

At Portland State University in Oregon, Professor of Geology and Geography Andrew Fountain is already surveying glaciers in California, Colorado, Wyoming, and other U.S locations to determine the life expectancy of such ice masses. “They’re all thinning because of warming temperatures and less precipitation,” Fountain concluded.

Additional research by NASA scientists and the U.S. Geological Survey proposes that “absorption of sunlight in snow by industrial air pollution including soot, or black carbon” is accelerating the rate of snow and ice melting.

The shrinkage of glaciers is not only happening in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, but many countries around the world are also experiencing disappearing glaciers. As for Yosemite National Park, Maclure Glacier, the second-remaining glacier in Yosemite, is also shrinking, but it “remains alive and continues to creep at a rate of about an inch a day.”

Lyell Glacier, however, has ceased in motion. “Our research indicates it stopped moving about a decade ago,” according to Stock.

Glaciers impact the region of Yosemite in multiple ways, particularly the Tuolumne Meadows located on park property. “Two years of drought” in these pristine meadows has caused “many of the streams that nourish the picturesque meadowlands” to run dry. The Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River remains intact, nonetheless, due to it being sustained by both the Lyell and Maclure glaciers.

The disappearance of glaciers eliminates the steady supply of water available in drainage; various plant and animal species are likely to be affected by the absence of glaciers in Yosemite. Overall, “the rate of glacier retreat has accelerated since 2000,” Stock said. “Eventually there’ll be nothing left.”

Reflection

Even though lumbering glacial masses may be the most exciting or intriguing elements in an ecosystem, their transportation of nutrients and water storage help supply a multitude of habitats across the countryside. Before reading this article, I didn’t know that glaciers still existed in the United States – I thought only places such as Greenland and Northern Canada were glacier breeding grounds. Now that this article has educated me about the glaciers in the western U.S., I fear the loss of such glaciers could be yet another devastating outcome to global climate change. Those who disagree with global warming are right to assume that one abnormally hot day should not signal mass chaos. But now that ocean temperatures are rising and glaciers are melting, I am definitely more concerned that global warming doesexist and that we as humans should pay more attention to the dire consequences, should the Earth continue to warm. 

Sahagun, Louis. “Yosemite’s Largest Ice Mass Is Melting Fast.” Los Angeles Times. N.p., 1 Oct. 2013. Web. 6 Oct. 2013.

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