Science debunks Glacier Park warming alarm

Published December 1, 2001

Another frenzy of global warming alarmism occurred in early September, when NBC reported America was about to lose one of its most famous national parks.

According to the report, glaciers are undergoing an unprecedented melting at Glacier National Park, and human-induced global warming is to blame. Reported NBC’s Jim Avila, “the temperature’s gone up an average of 31/2 degrees in the park during the past 110 years.”

But are human beings really causing Glacier National Park’s famous alpine glaciers to melt? While the sensationalists say “yes,” the science says “no.”

Melting is nothing new

Patrick Michaels, professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia and Cato Institute senior fellow, observes that climate data for the State of Montana and Glacier National Park go back to 1895. This is the starting point of the data cited by NBC. However, “inspection of the entire summer history yields no statistically significant warming whatsoever in Montana. Ditto for the annual record.

“In other words,” Michaels continues, “Glacier’s glaciers are being melted by temperatures that show no summer warming distinguishable from natural year-to-year variability over the past 107 years.”

How can this be? How can the glaciers be melting if the temperature is no different today than it was 110 years ago? Science has the answer.

In 1895, according to Michaels, the glaciers “were melting then, too. . . . They started to melt as the region emerged from what is sometimes called the ‘Little Ice Age,’ a cold period that ended in the middle of the 19th century.”

In making its sensationalist claims, NBC worked from the erroneous assumption that temperatures, and thus the glaciers themselves, must have been stable at the time we first began recording temperatures in the region. However, before anyone began keeping temperature records, and before humans allegedly began influencing atmospheric temperatures, global and regional temperatures had naturally warmed in the wake of the Little Ice Age.

Of course, the glaciers would not melt suddenly and all at once, but rather gradually over an extended period of time. The glaciers are receding from where they were 110 years ago not because of any current and human-induced global warming, but rather because temperatures remain stable at their post-Little Ice Age 1895 readings.

“The incident recalls similarly breathless and shoddy reporting two years ago about the melting of the hemisphere’s largest ice complex, the Greenland ice cap, and its outflow glaciers,” notes Michaels.

“There hasn’t been any warming for a long time. Every graduate student who has ever passed a comprehensive exam in climatology knows that temperatures have been going down in this region for about 70 years. Like Glacier National Park, southern Greenland also warmed in the 19th century with the climb-out from the Little Ice Age.

“Instead of recycling an old story,” says Michaels, “they could have produced a much better one–real news–by showing that Glacier’s glaciers have been melting like this for well over a century and are doing so without any net regional summer warming in the last 100 years.”