DENVER (KDVR) — Colorado is home to more than a dozen glaciers, but that won’t be the case forever. The slow-moving layers of ice and snow have been a part of the state’s ecosystem for centuries.
But with a drier hotter climate in Colorado, these formations will eventually become a thing of the past, and there is no glacier more visible to the hike-loving Coloradoan than St. Mary’s.
“This surprises me to see just how much more it has accelerated in its retreat as more snow melts away,” Metropolitan State University professor of earth and atmospheric science Tom Bellinger said.
FOX31 reporter Vicente Arenas hiked the St. Mary’s area over the weekend and found the glacier to be withered down to the smallest size he’s seen in recent memory.
Colorado is home to 16 glaciers that mainly hang along the state’s northern mountain ranges, but Bellinger is afraid that many of them will disappear in the next two or three decades.
Bellinger said St. Mary’s glacier may be gone in 10 years if Colorado summers continue to set records.
“St. Mary’s glacier is a little different, it’s more of an ice and snow field, but it’s referred to as a glacier commonly,” Bellinger said. “It is not a moving glacier, but essentially you’re seeing a semi-permanent to permanent snowfield that’s disappearing.”
Bellinger guesses the largest glaciers in Colorado will completely disappear in about 60 years.
“These glaciers are important to the ecosystem, they’re important to agriculture, they’re important to water supplies to cities, and as they disappear, things are just probably going to get worst and change more rapidly than we expect,” Bellinger said.
Snow in general in Colorado is melting earlier and faster. Glaciers remain the last pockets of snow holdout in the state.
2020 was the hottest summer in the Denver metro, and 2021 is not far behind in that metric. With yet another water resource becoming scarcer, Bellinger said the impact will be felt not just in Colorado, but across the rocky mountain west.