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Yosemite's Valleys

Glacier National Park, Montana, contained about 150 glaciers when it was established in 1910. Glaciers are incredibly huge and heavy sheets of ice. Pulled by gravity, they flow extremely slowly, carving out deep valleys between mountain ranges. But now dozens of Glacier National Park’s glaciers have simply melted away.

Recently, geologists examined aerial photographs from planes and satellites to measure how much the glaciers had changed over the past 50 years. They discovered that all of them were shrinking – many had become so small they couldn’t be called glaciers any more! Technically, a glacier has to be at least 10 hectares big (about the size of 20 football fields) – any smaller than this and it won’t be heavy enough to flow downhill. Glaciers that shrink and stop flowing are described as being stagnant. Of Glacier National Park’s original 150 full-size glaciers, the geologists discovered, just 26 remain.

The fact that its glaciers are shrinking is a problem for Glacier National Park for several reasons. Glaciers are important for many ecosystems, including those within the park. During summer, glaciers naturally melt a little on the surface, providing fresh water for animals and plants. But when glaciers melt too quickly, the flow of lots of icy cold water can lower the temperature of streams, harming wildlife living there.

So why are the glaciers in Glacier National Park vanishing now? They’re thawing out because of climate change. The world is getting warmer – mainly because of human activity, according to scientists. We burn fossil fuels for energy, which releases carbon dioxide into the air. This carbon dioxide prevents heat from escaping into space. This is known as the greenhouse effect. Like a greenhouse trapping heat inside its glass walls, heat is trapped within the Earth’s atmosphere, making the entire planet warmer.

The geologists studying Glacier National Park looked at Earth’s increasing temperatures to figure out what the future held for the glaciers in the park. They predicted that the remaining glaciers would be stagnant by 2030 and completely melted by 2080. So is there anything we can do?

To slow down climate change, governments and businesses can try to move towards using more renewable energy sources, such as wind turbines and solar panels. These take energy from sources that won’t run out (like the wind and the Sun) and produce very little pollution.

Of course, if we all reduced the amount of energy we used then we wouldn’t need to produce so much! You can reduce the amount of energy that you use by using less gas and electricity. Switch off the light when you leave a room, take shorter showers and unplug electronic items when you’re not using them. That way, if you ever take a trip to Glacier National Park, you’ll have a better chance of seeing some glaciers!

Watch Yosemite’s Valley’s to find out more about the incredible power of glaciers.