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August 20, 2008 | Glacier National Park

Flying over the arctic from Paris to Salt Lake City I was fortunate to have a window seat. The views are amazing, a first person experience of something that with Google Earth is commonplace. When viewing our planet from 38,000 feet one realizes how small it really is. As we passed over the green and well-cared isle of Ireland my eyes were drawn to the ocean. The few white caps frothed up by the wind were the only indication of activity. Eventually I looked down onto the expanse of white that is Greenland.

In climbing we have a term know as “sand bagging.” This practice entails under grading a route to what its actual difficulty might be. The first ascensionist has the privilege of determining how to set the rating, the assessment of the difficulty of the route, for subsequent climbers. A sand bagged route is one that is always much more difficult than what the rating gives it. In a similar manner, Greenland is perhaps the ultimate sand bag. Greenland is a land of glaciers and rocky fjords with long nights in the winter. What is green about this? Perhaps when it was settled by the Norse it was green. Perhaps it might be green again.

Looking at the glaciers I reflect on how our existence as humans is affecting these storehouses of frozen water. What is changing and what is the long-term prognosis?
My family and I depart Bozeman for a six-hour drive to Glacier National Park. We’ll be meeting up with David Brancaccio and the team from PBS NOW to continue working on our glacier story. We meet Dan Fagre, a geologist with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) to interview him on the effects of a warming climate and the glaciers that define Glacier National Park.

Glaciers are the most obvious manifestation of a warming climate. Unlike animals, that can fly or run from one climate zone to another, or plants that have variances in their life cycle, glaciers are an inanimate collection of ice. A three-year-old child understands how the sun melts an ice cream cone. Too warm and it turns to soup. The pleasure of an ice cream cone is lost.

In the same manner we see ice melting in all of the world’s mountain ranges. Too much warmth and they evaporate. And for Glacier National Park? Is it an ice cream cone on a hot sidewalk in August?

The updated timeline of the melting of the 25 remaining glaciers in Glacier national Park is 12 to 20 years. For a geologic feature, a force that carved these mountains, to be gone this quickly is a sobering manifestation of the change our planet is undergoing.

– Conrad


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