Glaciers / Glacial Features
Glacier National Park is not named so much for its small glaciers, but for the colossal work of colossal glaciers in the past. Ten thousand years ago, the topography of Glacier looked much the same as it does today. Before that, enough ice covered the Northern Hemisphere to lower sea levels 300 feet. In places near the park, ice was a mile deep.
Meltwater, depending on its speed, sorts and rounds materials into layers of boulders, cobbles, pebbles, gravel, sand, silt or clay, in descending order of speed. This "outwash" forms below the terminal end of an alpine glacier.
J. Mohlenrich photo
In Glacier National Park, scientists are studying the dynamics of glacier recession and the impacts that losing glaciers will have on park ecosystems.
Today, the park's glacially fed streams provide a constant flow of cold water throughout the summer season, maintaining necessary water levels and regulating stream temperature for fish and other aquatic species. Plant and animal species throughout the park rely on this flow. However, under current trends of global temperature increase, glaciers here and around the world are rapidly melting. In 1850, Glacier National Park had 150 glaciers. Today, only 25 remain large enough (at least 25 acres in area) to be considered functional glaciers.
Since the last ice age ended, around 10,000 years ago, there have been many slight climate fluctuations that have been mirrored by the growth or recession of glaciers. Based on current trends, however, glacier recession models predict that by 2030, Glacier National Park will be without glaciers. Most of the park's glaciers, being of small to moderate size, will likely be gone before then, as many glaciers are retreating faster than their predicted rates.