Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Elusive Rogue Glacier Threatens Northwest

"It just vanished!"

By Barry Dinkhorn, Port Angeles, WA, for Borderline Security News

Olympic National Park's GICE (Glacial Ice Containment Enforcement) Office announced today that there may be a rogue glacier loose somewhere in the Park.

Although there is little chance of an encounter between those enjoying backcountry recreation and the missing Ferry Glacier, visitors are urged to use extreme caution. No one should approach, attempt to feed, or worst of all, tease any frozen feature they find, especially if it is extremely large and moving toward them, no matter how slowly.

Glaciers are generally regarded as sluggish and may seem docile, even dim-witted, but they have enough strength to reshape entire landscapes, tearing at mountains, rerouting rivers, even creating whole new valleys where none existed before, so they are nothing to fool with.

Ferry Glacier was one of the largest glaciers in the entire Park but for some unknown reason has abandoned its rocky lair in the Bailey Range.

This may sound surprising but glaciers, while kept under close surveillance, measured, and mapped regularly, have normally been visited only infrequently since they are both solitary and highly territorial.

Up to now at least, all have remained solidly anchored well within narrowly circumscribed areas. Most have in fact, over the last few decades, been retreating to the highest reaches of their home ranges and avoiding almost all contact with humans.

And underfunding, with resultant staff shortages the last few years, has reduced the frequency of glacial observation team visits even more.

Bert Gleason, Chief of GICE for the last 17 years, said of Ferry, "The first time I passed it, I didn't know it was even supposed to be a glacier. It was raining heavily, and I couldn't see exactly where I was. That was my first ever experience with a glacier, and now somehow it's gone," he said.

Several years after that first meeting, while on a routine check-up trip around the Park, Gleason saw the glacier again, but it seemed to be much smaller than it appeared on maps. "That should have been our wake-up call," he said. "The last time I got out there, just last week, there was nothing more than a lake and a bit of snow," he said. "We have no idea where the glacier might be by now, although it probably hasn't gotten far," he continued.

"We're warning everyone to be on the lookout just in case," he said. "This is something the size and mass of 20 trillion ice cubes, so it can't stay out of sight forever. Right now were focusing mainly on roads traversing the Park and on nearby highways. If you're a trucker or motorist passing through, we urge you not to pick up hitchhikers, especially if they are bright white, shedding tons of boulders and gravel everywhere, and cover several square miles. That could be trouble. And that goes double for night-time travel," he noted.

Even as rangers and GICE SWAT teams scour the Park for clues to the whereabouts of Ferry Glacier, there have been numerous reports in the last few hours of massive snowstorms covering the entire region. This has some wondering if Ferry Glacier hasn't already made it past Park boundaries and perhaps has decided to split up and try as many escape routes as possible.

There's even been a report in the last few minutes of a truck rollover on I-90 which has blocked the highway and left it covered in frozen tomato paste.

Area residents are urged to stay home and venture forth only cautiously until this situation has been resolved.


Cliff Mass weather blog: Wednesday Snow Storm

News: Olympic National Park glaciers continue to shrink, most recent study finds

ONP: Glaciers and Climate Change

Photos: Glaciers Of Olympic National Park