One of the snowiest places on Earth is losing its glaciers

The result could be massive flooding during extreme weather.

This story appears in the May 2019 issue of National Geographic magazine.

Washington’s Mount Rainier boasts the largest collection of glaciers on a single peak in the contiguous United States. But those glaciers have lost approximately 18 percent of their volume since 1970. The most substantial thinning is occurring on south-facing glaciers and at elevations below 6,562 feet (2,000 meters). During extreme weather this could set the stage for massive floods and debris flows in the park and surrounding areas.

Thinning Ice

By examining changes in elevation over time, scientists can determine ice loss or gains. Heavy snowfall on Rainier continues to feed the glaciers, but across the mountain, glaciers are declining.

Glacier surface elevation

change, 1970–2016

-351 feet

+277 feet

Glacier extent

1924

1970

2 mi

N

N

2 km

Climate Change

Sensitive to temperature and precipitation,

mountain glaciers conspicuously reflect the effects of climate change. Their retreat

is a sign that the Earth’s climate is warming.

Shrinking Cascades

Glaciers across the Cascade Range are retreating rapidly. One of the snowiest places on Earth, Rainier has lost less ice

than other mountains because of its

high elevation.

SOURCES: David Shean, University of Washington; Scott Beason, Paul Kennard, and Jon Riedel, National Park Service; USGS

Thinning Ice

By examining changes in elevation over time, scientists can determine ice loss or gains. Heavy snowfall

on Rainier continues to feed the

glaciers, but across the mountain, glaciers are declining.

Climate Change

Shrinking Cascades

Sensitive to temperature and precipitation, mountain glaciers conspicuously reflect the effects of climate change. Their retreat is a sign that the Earth’s climate is warming.

Glaciers across the Cascade Range are retreating rapidly. One of the snowiest places on Earth, Rainier has lost less ice than other mountains because of its high elevation.

1 mi

N

1 km

SOURCES: David Shean, University of Washington; Scott Beason, Paul Kennard, and Jon Riedel, National Park Service; USGS