Grinnell and Sperry Glaciers, Glacier National Park, Montana: A record of vanishing ice

Professional Paper 1180



Grinnell and Sperry Glaciers, in Glacier National Park, Mont., have both shrunk considerably since their discovery in 1887 and 1895, respectively. This shrinkage, a reflection of climatic conditions, is evident when photographs taken at the time of discovery are compared with later photographs. Annual precipitation and terminus-recession measurements, together with detailed systematic topographic mapping since 1900, clearly record the changes in the character and size of these glaciers.

Grinnell Glacier decreased in area from 530 acres in 1900 to 315 acres in 1960 and to 298 acres in 1966. Between 1937 and 1969 the terminus receded nearly 1,200 feet. Periodic profile measurements indicate that in 1969 the surface over the main part of the glacier was 25-30 feet lower than in 1950. Observations from 1947 to 1969 indicate annual northeastward movement ranging from 32 to 52 feet and generally averaging 35-45 feet. The annual runoff at the glacier is estimated to be 150 inches, of which approximately 6 inches represents reduction in glacier volume. The average annual runoff at a gaging station on Grinnell Creek 1.5 miles downvalley from the glacier for the 20-year period, 1949-69, was 100 inches. The average annual precipitation over the glacier was probably 120-150 inches.

Sperry Glacier occupied 800 acres in 1901; by 1960 it covered only 287 acres, much of its upper part having disappeared from the enclosing cirque. From 1938 to 1969 certain segments of the terminus receded more than 1,000 feet. Profile measurements dating from 1949 indicate a lowering of the glacier surface below an altitude of 7,500 feet, but a fairly constant or slightly increased elevation of the surface above an altitude of 7,500 feet. Along one segment of the 1969 terminus the ice had been more than 100 feet thick in 1950. According to observations during 1949-69, average annual downslope movement was less than 15 feet per year in the central part of the glacier and slightly more rapid toward the edges and at higher parts on the glacier.

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Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Grinnell and Sperry Glaciers, Glacier National Park, Montana: A record of vanishing ice
Series title Professional Paper
Series number 1180
DOI 10.3133/pp1180
Year Published 1980
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Description Report: vi, 29 p.; 2 Plates: 18.76 x 35.16 inches and 15.01 x 32.46 inches
Country United States
State Montana
Other Geospatial Glacier National Park
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