Glaciers and Climate Project

Regional Effects

Field scientists skiing down the South Cascade Glacier
Field scientists skiing down the South Cascade Glacier

Glaciers are physically and biologically connected to the landscapes which they inhabit. From changes in local water chemistry and temperature to their influence on global sea level rise, glaciers affect the lives of people and organisms far beyond their icy margins. The complex web of glacier interactions is an increasingly important area of study as glaciers decline in size and number. In some glacierized regions, agriculture and tourism are affected by hydrologic changes, while elsewhere, native trout species are threatened as a result of warming stream temperatures as glacier-fed streams dry up. Some of the research associated with glacier impacts in the USGS Benchmark Glacier regions is compiled below. While not exhaustive, these examples give some perspective to the importance of glaciers and glacier-related research as glaciers respond to changes in climate.

Benchmark Glaciers

Map showing the location of the South Cascade Glacier

Sperry Glacier is one of the twenty five remaining glaciers in Glacier National Park (GNP), Montana, USA. At the end of the Little Ice Age (circa 1850) there were approximately 150 small glaciers in this region, but climate trends have taken their toll on one of the prized landscape features of this park. Inextricably linked to climate change, the retreat of these glaciers is the most obvious indication of climate change in this region. Despite their small size, the glaciers have complex roles in the hydrology, ecology, and economy of the region. Publications listed below represent some of the research relating to the loss of glaciers and to the broader impacts of climate change in this region of northwest Montana.

Sperry Glacier extent in 1913
Sperry Glacier extent in 1913
Sperry Glacier extent in 2008
Sperry Glacier extent in 2008


Clark, Adam M., Joel T. Harper, and Daniel B. Fagre. 2015. Glacier-Derived August Runoff in Northwest Montana. Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research 47(1):1-16.

Hall, M. P. and D. B. Fagre. 2003. Modeled climate-induced glacier change in Glacier National Park, 1850-2100. Bioscience 53(2):131-140.

Key, C. H., D. B. Fagre, and R. K. Menicke. 2002. Glacier retreat in Glacier National Park, Montana. Pages J365-J381 In R. S. Jr. Williams and J. G. Ferrigno, (eds.) Satellite Image Atlas of Glaciers of the World, Glaciers of North America - Glaciers of the Western United States. U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1386-J. United States Government Printing Office, Washington D. C., USA.

Pederson, G. T., D. B. Fagre, S. T. Gray, and L. J. Graumlich. 2004. Decadal-scale climate drivers for glacial dynamics in Glacier National Park, Montana, USA. Geophysical Research Letters. 31:L12203, doi:10.1029/2004GL0197770.

Fisheries and Aquatic Species:

New York Times, April 16, 2015, Plight of Imperiled Montana Insect Draws Lawsuit

NBC News, April 16,2015. Climate Change's Effects on Glacier Stoneflies Spur Lawsuit

Kovach, R. P., Muhlfeld, C. C., Wade, A. A., Hand, B. K., Whited, D. C., DeHaan, P. W., Al-Chokhachy, R. and Luikart, G. (2015), Genetic diversity is related to climatic variation and vulnerability in threatened bull trout. Global Change Biology. doi: 10.1111/gcb.12850

Giersch, J. Joseph, Steve Jordan, Gordon Luikart, Leslie A. Jones, F. Richard Hauer and Clint C. Muhlfeld. 2014. Climate-induced range contraction of a rare alpine aquatic invertebrate. Freshwater Science.

Jones, Leslie A., Clint C. Muhlfeld, Lucy A. Marshall, Brian L. McGlynn, and Jeffrey L. Kershner. 2014. Estimating thermal regimes of bull trout and assessing the potential impacts of climate warming on critical habitats. River Research and Applications 30:204-216.

Muhlfeld, Clint C., Ryan P. Kovach, Leslie A. Jones, Robert Al-Chokhachy, Matthew C. Boyer, Robb F. Leary, Winsor H. Lowe, Gordon Luikart, and Fred W. Allendorf. 2014. Invasive hybridization in a threatened species is accelerated by climate change. Nature Climate Change. 4:620-624. doi:10.1038/nclimate2252.

Treanor, Hilary B, J. Joseph Giersch, Kevin M. Kappenman, Clint C. Muhlfeld, and Molly A. H. Webb. 2013. Thermal tolerance of meltwater stonefly Lednia tumana nymphs from an alpine stream in Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, Montana, USA. Freshwater Science, 2013, 32(2):597-605.

Muhlfeld, Clint C., B. Marotz, and J. Joseph Giersch. 2012. Seasonal movements of introduced lake trout within a connected lake and river system. Fisheries Management and Ecology. (19)224-232. DOI: 10.1111/j1365-2400-2011-00821

Muhlfeld, Clint C, J. Joseph Giersch, F. Richard Hauer, Gregory T. Pederson, Gordon Luikart, Douglas P. Peterson, Christopher C. Downs, and Daniel B. Fagre. 2011. Climate change links fate of glaciers and an endemic alpine invertebrate. Climatic Change Letters. DOI 10.1007/s10584-011-0057-1


Apple, M. 2012. Measuring Impacts to Rare Peripheral Arctic-Alpine Plants at the Edges of Permanent Snowfields/Glaciers that are Receding due to Climate Change in Glacier National Park P12AC10557, MT-02. Report, National Park Service, Rocky Mountain Cooperative Ecosystems Study Unit.

Butler, D.R., G.P. Malanson, S.J. Walsh, and D.B. Fagre (eds). 2009. The Changing Alpine Treeline of Glacier National Park, Montana, USA. Elsevier, The Netherlands. 200pp.

Alftine, K. J., G. P. Malanson, and D. B. Fagre. 2003. Feedback-driven response to multidecadal climatic variability at an alpine forest-tundra ecotone. Physical Geography 24(6): 520-535.

Klasner, F. L. and D. B. Fagre. 2002. A half century of change in alpine treeline patterns at Glacier National Park, Montana, U.S.A. Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research. 34(1):53-61.


Pederson, G.T., L.J. Graumlich, D.B. Fagre, T. Kipfer and C.C. Muhlfeld. 2009. A century of climate and ecosystem change in Western Montana: what do temperature trends portend?. Climatic Change 96: DOI 10.1007/s10584-009-9642-y, 22pp.

Pederson, GT, S.T. Gray, D.B. Fagre, and L.J. Graumlich. 2006. Long-Duration Drought Variability and Impacts on Ecosystem Services: A Case Study from Glacier National Park, Montana USA. Earth Interactions, 10(4), pg. 1-28, Article ID: 10.1175/EI153.1.

Natural Resources Defense Council, 2010, New Study: Climate Change Threatening Glacier National Park Could Harm Montana's Future Tourism and Economy


Ice patch archeology - resource brief

Ice patch Archeology and Paleoecology at Glacier National Park

Ice Patches as sources of Archeological and Paleoecological Data

Related Websites:

Glacier Data Table

Repeat Photos

Glaciers and Glacial Features

Climate Change in Glacier National Park

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Page Last Modified: Tuesday, September 26, 2017