The changing face of Mt. Adams
MT. ADAMS GLACIERS: Why are glaciers on Mt. Adams changing at a rate different from other mountains in the Cascades?
There is a mystery about the glaciers on Mt. Adams. In the period from 1904 to 2006, Mt. Adams glaciers have shrunk in size by about 50 percent while the nearby glaciers on Mt. Hood, Mt. Rainier, and Mt. Baker have declined at a slower rate.
That was one of the revelations presented at the first annual “Mount Adams in a Warming Climate” conference held in Trout Lake last Friday. The reason for the more rapid melt down of the Mt. Adams glaciers isn’t well understood, but then again, Mt. Adams, it was revealed, has not had the level of study that its neighboring peaks have had over the years due to its relative inaccessibility.
The status of research on Mt. Adams glaciers was presented by Dr. Andrew Fountain, a geologist at Portland State University. Fountain pointed out that the recession of glaciers in the Cascade Mountains is part of a world-wide phenomenon as the earth warms. The long-term effects, predicts Fountain, are that by 2050 there could be more drought-like conditions on the mountains and reduced water for agriculture that is tied to glacial ice melt. The other potential effect from receding glaciers is more landslides and washouts, such as the one on Mt. Hood in 2006, as steep moraines are exposed when the glaciers retreat. Fountain painted a picture of a gradual change with less snow pack and more rain in the high mountains instead of snow, and less water in streams during the normally low flow months of August and September.
Fountain explained the difficulty in measuring glaciers. There are 11 named glaciers on Mt. Adams covering approximately nine square miles. Rocks cover potions of many glaciers, making it difficult to determine where the edge exists. That rock cover can also affect the rate of melt of a glacier, increasing the rate if the layer is thin and decreasing the rate of melt if the layer is thick. By comparison, Mt. Rainier glaciers have receded about 24 percent from 1904 to 2006, Mt. Baker about 40 percent, Olympic Mountain glaciers about 31 percent and Mt. Hood glaciers about 24 percent.
The conference was hosted by the Friends of Mount Adams in partnership with the Yakama Nation, US Forest Service, Gifford Pinchot Task Force and Friends of the White Salmon River. Following a spiritual invocation by Gerald Lewis of the Yakama Nation, Darryl Lloyd provided a pictorial overview of Mt. Adams and its geology. Forest Service employees Rick McClure and Cheryl Mack spoke on the human culture attached to the mountain and the exploration. Mack noted that the mountain, named Pahto (Snow peak) by native people, was given the name Mt. Adams by accident in 1843 when a cartographer accidentally put the name on the area occupied by Pahto, intending to place the name on Mt. Hood.
Dr. Jeremy Littell, with the University of Washington Climate Impacts Group discussed the current and expected future effects of warming on alpine and subalpine Ecology and specific plants and animals. Dr. Robert Scheller, of Portland State University wrapped up the session with a discussion on long-term impacts of fire management, climate change and forest management on overall carbon balance and carbon sequestration potential of high elevation forests.
More than 180 people attended the conference, which was held at the Trout Lake School.