Researcher in kayak, USGS PhotoGrinnell Glacier 2009, John Scurlock photoGrinnell Glacier, NPS photo, Danny On

The glacial landscape of the Crown of the Continent ecosystem in the mid-1800s would have looked vastly different from today. During this era, an estimated 150 glaciers within Glacier National Park reached their furthest extent since the Pinedale glacial event nearly 10,000 years ago. The glaciers were already retreating when Glacier National Park was created in 1910 and the continued retreat is of concern to resource managers within the park and climate researchers worldwide.

Glaciers are bodies of snow and ice that move. They are formed when snow and ice accumulation exceed summer melting. Glaciers retreat when melting outpaces accumulation of new snow and ice. Besides providing an aesthetic landscape feature, glaciers also act as water reservoirs that provide water to ecosystems in the drier summer months. The loss of cold glacial runoff could also affect downstream water temperatures, which could result in a loss of aquatic species adapted to cold mountain environments. In Glacier National Park, scientists are using various monitoring methods such as area measurements of glaciers, repeat photography, and remote sensing to study the impacts that continued glacial recession may have on the park ecosystem.