Olympic Peninsula glaciers expected to disappear in the next 50 years

Devoting your life to something that is disappearing can be tough.

Portland State University professor Andrew Fountain has been researching the dwindling glaciers of the American West since the 1980s. He said for years, he studied their retreat dispassionately — as an interesting phenomenon to try to understand. Then last year, he had an epiphany.

“It dawned on me that, ‘wait a minute, in 20 or 30 years, everything that I've studied is useless because there are no glaciers,’” Fountain said.

The Olympic Peninsula has lost 45% of its glacier coverage since 1980, according to a new study by Fountain and coauthors from Washington state and British Columbia.

The peninsula’s remaining 250 glaciers, which covered about two square miles at last estimate, should be gone in another 50 years as humanity’s pollution continues to overheat the planet, the study found.

Western Washington University glaciologist Douglas Clark, who was not involved in the new study in the Journal of Geophysical Research Earth Surface, called its findings “particularly stark.”

“That essentially all glaciers in an entire mountain range, the Olympics, will be gone by 2070 should disturb even the most ardent climate contrarian,” Clark said by email.