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News Release

U.S. Department of the Interior
U.S. Geological Survey

Release: September 22, 2000
Robert M. Krimmel
253-428-3600, ext. 2647

Glacier study in Washington shows effects of climate change

Measurements of South Cascade Glacier in north-central Washington State reveal that the glacier's flowing mass of ice shrinks as it responds to changes in the climate, according to a data report published today by the Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey.

Located in the North Cascades Range, South Cascade Glacier has been studied by USGS scientists since 1957. Since then, the glacier has retreated about 2,000 feet, or about one-fifth its length, losing about one-third of its volume in the process.

"The change in this glacier is clearly part of global change," said Robert Krimmel, USGS hydrologist and author of the report, "but it is less clear whether this change is driven by increasing temperature, decreasing precipitation, or a combination of those or other factors."

"The interaction of climate and glacier change is very complex, but the long record from this glacier gives more real material for modellers to work with," Krimmel said.

Although a single glacier like South Cascades Glacier is very small from a global standpoint, the excess meltwater from tens of thousands of such small glaciers adds up to about one-half of the 4-inch rise in sea level over the last century. Locally, small glaciers in Washington State provide excess meltwater in late summer. As these small glaciers shrink, late summer runoff will decline, when the water is most needed for residential uses.

The report, "Water, ice, and meteorological measurements at South Cascade Glacier, Washington, 1986-91 balance years," by Robert M. Krimmel, is published as USGS Water-Resources Investigations Report 00-4006. It is available for reading at the U.S. Geological Survey office at 1201 Pacific Avenue, Suite 600, Tacoma, Washington 98402. It can be purchased from the U.S. Geological Survey, Information Services, Box 25286, Federal Center, Denver, CO 80225-0286, telephone (303) 202-4200.

As the Nation's largest water, earth and biological science, and civilian mapping agency, the USGS works in cooperation with more than 2,000 organizations across the country to provide reliable, impartial scientific information to resource managers, planners, and other customers. This information is gathered in every state by USGS scientists to minimize the loss of life and property from natural disasters, contribute to the sound conservation and the economic and physical development of the nation's natural resources, and enhance the quality of life by monitoring water, biological, energy, and mineral resources.

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