Saturday, July 24, 2010

Glacier Park's future uncertain

Nicholas K. Geranios in Age has not been kind to Glacier National Park. The gorgeous million-acre park in northwestern Montana celebrates its 100th birthday this year. But many of its glaciers have melted, and scientists predict the rest may not last even another decade.

The forests are drier and disease-ridden, leading to bigger wildfires. Climate change is forcing animals that feed off plants to adapt. Many experts consider Glacier Park a harbinger of Earth's future, a laboratory where changes in the environment will likely show up first.

"What national parks all give us is, in effect, a controlled landscape where we can see the natural and climatic processes at work," said Steve Running, a University of Montana professor and co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in 2007 for his work on climate change.

Average temperatures have risen in the park 1.8 times faster than the global average, said Dan Fagre, a U.S. Geological Survey scientist. The change is visible to the naked eye, with vast moraines left behind as the giant glaciers melt away. Climate change is blamed for the increasing size and frequency of wildfires and for lower stream flows as summer progresses.

…"Glacier connects us to the very core of our nature," park superintendent Chas Cartwright said. Glacier remains perhaps the only place in the Lower 48 where all the big wild animals that Lewis and Clark saw in 1804 can still be seen, Running said. "Our landscapes are still wild and pristine and clean," he said. "When you start looking globally at how many clean, wild landscapes are still around, Glacier is doing pretty well."…

Garden Wall in Glacier National Park

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