Colorado’s vanishing glaciers

Arikaree Glacier can be seen in the folds of the Indian Peaks, a portion of the Front Range of Colorado between Granby and Boulder. Photo/University of Colorado

Arikaree Glacier can be seen in the folds of the Indian Peaks, a portion of the Front Range of Colorado between Granby and Boulder. Photo/University of Colorado

Colorado’s glaciers likely to vanish

by Allen Best

WARD, Colo. – Colorado has few glaciers, and they’re small. Soon, they will likely vanish, report researchers after observing the decline of ice in Arikaree Glacier.

The glacier covers 22 acres and is located in a cirque along the Continental Divide between Boulder and Granby. Most of Colorado’s glaciers are located in the same area in and near Rocky Mountain National Park.

“Things don’t look good up there,” says Mark Williams, an ecologist with the University of Colorado Boulder Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research. “While there was no significant change in the volume of the Arikaree Glacier from 1955 to 2000, severe drought in Colorado beginning in 2000 caused it to thin considerably. Even after heavy snows in 2011 and again in 2015, we believe the glacier is on course to disappear in about 20 years.”

Warming temperatures have been melting glaciers and ice in rock glaciers, augmenting flows of creeks and rivers on a temporary basis. says the University of Colorado's Mark Williams. Photo/Stephen Schmidt.

Warming temperatures have been melting glaciers and ice in rock glaciers, augmenting flows of creeks and rivers on a temporary basis. says the University of Colorado’s Mark Williams. Photo/Stephen Schmidt.

Nearby Arapahoe Glacier, four to five times larger, will also likely disappear about the same time, he said.

In addition to the changes occurring on Arikaree Glacier, scientists have seen decreases in ice in three rock glaciers (large mounds of ice, dirt and rock) as well as in subsurface areas of permafrost, frozen soil containing ice crystals.

Williams and other researchers also discovered increases in discharges of water from the valley below the glacier in late summer and fall. The increases appear to be due to higher summer temperatures melting “fossil” ice present for centuries or millennia in glaciers, rock glaciers, permafrost, and subsurface ice.

“We are taking the capital out of our hydrological bank account and melting that stored ice,” Williams said. “While some may think that the late summer water discharge is the new normal, it is really a limited resource that will eventually disappear.”

Scientists have been gathering information at Niwot Ridge, near where the Arikaree Glacier, is located, since the 1940s.

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About Allen Best

Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist. He publishes a subscription-based e-zine called Mountain Town News, portions of which are published on the website of the same name, and also writes for a variety of newspapers and magazines.
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One Response to Colorado’s vanishing glaciers

  1. Cathy Casper says:

    Some fine reading here. There is the discomfort of uneasiness in these truths and the pleasure of knowing that more of us know what is going on and may become inspired.

    Thanks,

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