IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (AP) — Officials are studying the glaciers in Grand Teton National Park in northwestern Wyoming to see how climate change is affecting their movement and melting.
Scientists are using GPS readings from the surface of the glaciers, time-lapse photos and stakes to examine some of the park’s 11 glaciers.
They are trying to see whether the glaciers are still moving slowly or have stopped completely.
Much of the area’s ecology depends on the normal ebb and flow of glaciers and permanent ice patches that provide late-season water for fish and wildlife. Park glaciologist Reba McCracken said that if the glaciers disappear, the area will change dramatically.
Simeon Caskey, another park glaciologist, said it will take about a decade to gather enough information to see how the glaciers fit in with climate change models.
Experts say the park’s glaciers formed during the Little Ice Age from about 600 to 150 years ago and that the Grand Tetons were mostly shaped during the Ice Age 10,000 years ago.
To determine how a glacier is progressing, officials measure it in the spring after most of the major snowfall is over and again near the end of the summer.
Caskey, McCracken and others hiked up the Middle Teton Glacier on Thursday to check a stake to see how far the surface of the glacier had dropped since June 1.
“It’s 7.4 meters (24 feet) of snow melted. That’s pretty crazy,” McCracken said.
But because it was the first time Middle Teton Glacier has been studied, it was unclear if that level of melting was unusual or not.
“We’ve got a lot to learn,” McCracken said. “The dynamics of this glacier are hard to know.”
Joey Nadeau, a geographic information system specialist who was part of the group, said people are generally appreciative of the work being done to better understand the glaciers.
“People thank us or want to know how it’s going,” Nadeau said. “It’s cool to see people wanting to know what’s going on in their parks.”