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News Release

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

Release: September 5, 2002
Edward Josberger
253-428-3600, ext. 2643

William R. Bidlake
253-428-3600, ext. 2641

'Benchmark glacier' shows signs of retreat

[Note: The report can be viewed on the Web at]

South Cascade Glacier in northwestern Washington continues its retreat, despite gains in snow in recent years, according to a report issued today by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

The USGS measures snow accumulation, meltwater, ice displacement, temperature, and other variables to determine whether South Cascade Glacier is advancing or retreating. Snow accumulation during the winter of 1999-2000 was the ninth highest since records began in 1959. But in balance year 2001, the time between minimum glacier mass in 2000 and in 2001, South Cascade Glacier lost nearly all the snow it had gained since 1998. The terminus of the glacier was bare of snow early in the summer of 2001, so glacier retreat was much greater than in 2000.

"The glacier requires many years of positive balance before ice at the terminus becomes active enough to advance," said USGS research hydrologist Robert M. Krimmel, author of the report. "South Cascade Glacier is larger than the current climate will allow, suggesting that today's climate is less 'glacier friendly' than in the past century or more."

The mass balance program at South Cascade Glacier is part of the USGS monitoring of glacier mass balances throughout the Western States. South Cascade Glacier in Washington and Gulkana and Wolverine Glaciers in Alaska are considered "benchmark glaciers." Records for these glaciers form the basis for examining connections between glaciers and climate.

The report, "Water, Ice, and Meteorological Measurements at South Cascade Glacier, Washington, 2000-01 Balance Years," by Robert M. Krimmel, is published as U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 02-4165. Copies of the report are available for reading at the U.S. Geological Survey, 1201 Pacific Avenue, Suite 600, Tacoma, WA 98402. Copies can be purchased from the U.S. Geological Survey, Information Services, Box 25286, Federal Center, Denver, CO 80225-0286, telephone 303-202-4200. It can also be viewed on the Web at

The USGS, a bureau within the Department of the Interior, serves the nation by providing reliable scientific information to describe and understand the Earth; minimize loss of life and property from natural disasters; manage water, biological, energy, and mineral resources; and enhance and protect our quality of life.

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