Small Colorado glacier could melt in 20 years

Posted at 6:50 AM, Jan 13, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-13 11:25:03-05

Researchers say a small glacier in the mountains west of Boulder could disappear in about 20 years because of regional climate warming and drought, and similar effects could be underway elsewhere in Colorado's high country.

University of Colorado Professor Mark Williams said a severe drought and high temperatures in the early 2000s caused a rapid loss of ice from Arikaree Glacier and from permafrost under the alpine tundra nearby.

Arikaree Glacier -- the only glacier on Niwot Ridge -- has been thinning by about 1 meter per year for the last 15 years.

He says a long-term warming trend in the Western United States has prolonged the melt-off.

Williams says the regional warming could be related to global climate change but that's not certain.

The university has been collecting data in the area around the glacier since the 1940s. Williams says few other areas of Colorado have such a long history of study.

Niwot Ridge has been designated a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Biosphere Reserve. The Green Lakes Valley is part of the City of Boulder Watershed and CU-Boulder’s MRS is devoted to the advancement of mountain ecosystems, providing research and educational opportunities for scientists, students and the general public.