Mt. Rainier Has Lost Enough Snow to Bury Rhode Island 8 Inches Deep


Photo credit: glennwilliamspdx via Flickr/CC BY

Mount Rainier is one of the most iconic landmarks in the Pacific Northwest. But, like many other mountains the world over, the volcanic peak is losing snow cover at an alarming rate. A new study has revealed that Rainier has lost 14% of its permanent snow cover over the last 38 years. That is, as the headline indicates, enough to cover the entire state of Rhode Island in 8 inches of ice ...The Washington Post explains:

Researchers arrived at that figure by comparing the estimated thickness and extent of ice seen in a 1970 aerial survey with those measured in 2007 and 2008. All but two of the 28 glaciers and snowfields on the mountain have thinned and shortened at their lower edges, and the exceptions probably thickened only because large amounts of rock fell upon the ice in recent years and insulated it from warming temperatures.

Overall, the volcanic peak lost enough ice to cover the entire state of Rhode Island to a depth of nearly eight inches during the 38-year interval between surveys, the researchers report online in the journal Geology. Mount Rainier's ice and snow coverage expanded from the late 1950s to around 1980 during a wetter-than-normal phase of a climate cycle called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. These recent trends indicate that Mount Rainier's glaciers are very sensitive to warming and could grow again with modest changes in temperature or precipitation, the scientists say.

Unfortunately, we have a pretty good idea where temperature trends are continuing to head -- and that doesn't bode well for the famed glacier's chances of recovering its permanent snowpack. But it is a powerful reminder that with swift and meaningful global action on emissions reductions, there's still a very good chance that we can restore many environments to relative norms ...

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