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Grinnell Glacier pond

Grinnell Glacier Pond is seen in Glacier National Park.

It was towards the end of summer this past year when I visited Glacier National Park for the first time. Here, I experienced one of the most impactful moments of my life. I was part of a climate change studies class with the University of Montana, and spent a weekend studying the impacts of climate change in sestern Montana.

Part of our trip was hiking to Grinnell Glacier and seeing how glaciers have shaped the landscape and were melting due to climate change. After an incredible hike through the alpine environment surrounded by craggy peaks, we arrived at the glacier. Grinnell Glacier sat below the Garden Wall on a ridgeline and was feeding into a lagoon scattered with icebergs. We sat along the lagoon, ate some lunch and ogled at our surroundings.

After sitting for about 30 minutes, watching the icebergs float slowly in the turquoise water, we heard a low rumble. It echoed throughout the valley and broke the conversation of our class. Soon after, the water in the lagoon started to rise. We all retreated quickly from the shoreline, wondering what just happened. Then all was silent.

What we experienced was a calving event. An experience like this, I thought, happened on a longer time scale, but in just the 30 minutes we were sitting there, we saw the direct effects of climate change.

The glaciers in Glacier National Park are retreating at an extensive rate due to overall temperature rises. The most recent Montana Climate Assessment mentioned, “when geologists first surveyed Glacier National Park in the 1850s, approximately 150 glaciers existed, at present, only 25 of the glaciers and ice fields remain” (Chaney 2016). Grinnell Glacier being one of the 25 remaining.

Few experiences in my life, I could say, were as powerful as what I experienced in Glacier National Park. The experience made me realize that the earth is not just a complex mechanism, it is alive. It is not just made of matter, it is made with energy. From animals to glaciers, they carry energy and are alive and interacting with each other and the landscape. Seeing that we are killing the earth through our actions was incredibly impactful. Climate change is not only affecting people in the Arctic or on coastlines, it is affecting us here, right under the Big Sky.

Climate change programs need to be fully funded in Montana to preserve its natural beauty for generations to come. Writing letters to our state senators showing your support for climate programs can make a significant impact within our state. Fully funding climate programs could mean the difference between glaciers or no glaciers in Glacier National Park. Because without glaciers, what would we call it?

Brett Kaplan is a climate policy intern with Environment Montana, and writes from Missoula.  

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