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Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research

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Glaciers -- Inventories -- West (U.S.), Glaciers -- West (U.S.) -- Measurement, Glaciers -- Climatic factors


A comprehensive mid-20th century inventory of glaciers and perennial snowfields (G&PS) was compiled for the American West, west of the 100° meridian. The inventory was derived from U.S. Geological Survey 1:24,000 topographic maps based on aerial photographs acquired during 35 years, 1955–1990, of which the first 20 years or more was a cool period with little glacier change. The mapped features were filtered for those greater than 0.01 km2. Results show that 5036 G&PS (672 km2, 14 km3) populate eight states, of which about 1276 (554 km2, 12 km3) are glaciers. Uncertainty is estimated at ±9% for area and ±20% for volume. Two populations of G&PS were identified based on air temperature and precipitation. The larger is found in a maritime climate of the Pacific Northwest, characterized by warm winter air temperatures and high winter precipitation (~2100 mm). The other population is continental in climate, characterized by cold winter air temperatures, relatively low winter precipitation (~880 mm), and located at higher elevations elsewhere. The G&PS in the Pacific Northwest, especially in the Olympic Mountains, are particularly vulnerable to warming winter air temperatures that will change the phase of winter precipitation from snow to rain, further accelerating glacier shrinkage in the future. Comparison with a recent inventory suggests that the total G&PS area in the American West may have decreased by as much as 39% since the mid-20th century.


Open Access – This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 (CC BY 4.0) International license.


Originally appeared in Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research, published by the Regents of the University of Colorado ©2017 and can be found online at:

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