“The idea that Tahoe glacier might make a comeback should not surprise Californians. Indeed, they should expect it.” – Robert Felix
Tahoe Glacier Making a Comeback?
By Robert Felix
This is not as far-fetched as you may think. In fact, if history is any guide it is inevitable. Not only inevitable, the process may have already begun.
California’s Squaw Valley ski resort, just west of Lake Tahoe, has been buried beneath more than 58 feet of snowfall this season. That’s enough snow to completely cover a five-story building.
With such copious amounts of snow, Squaw Valley CEO Andy Wirth announced last week that some ski trails may stay open all summer and into next season.
In other words, the snow may not entirely melt this summer.
I don’t know if Mr. Wirth fully understood the import of his words, but readers of this website ( iceagenow.info ) certainly do.
“Isn’t this how glaciers are formed?” asked one reader. “Snow in one year still existing the following year?”
“Golly! Wouldn’t that start a glacier?” asked another.
“Ski all Summer thru Fall? That’s called a glacier,” exclaimed yet another reader. “Glaciation of the Sierras.”
Those readers are correct. That is indeed how glaciers form.
That is also how ice ages begin – not because some huge ice sheet starts grinding southward (or northward if coming from the bottom of the globe), but because the more the snow accumulates, the less chance it has to melt.
And even though it may take years to create a full-fledged glacier, when the previous season’s snowfall doesn’t entirely melt away, the glaciation process has begun.
Once the snow reaches about 100 feet (30 meters) deep, the bottom layers begin compressing into ice. If the snow keeps piling on, year after year after year, well, you get the picture.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that temperatures plummet, mind you, just that more and more precipitation falls in the winter as snow.
The idea that Tahoe glacier might make a comeback should not surprise Californians. Indeed, they should expect it.
During the Quaternary Period (the last 2.6 million years) the Sierra Nevada mountains experienced more than 60 – You read that right, more than 60! – periods of glacial expansion interrupted by briefer periods of warmth. We are enjoying such a period of warmth right now.
From Yosemite Park north, these glacial episodes were typified by large, thick, upland ice fields. The ice fields completely covered the mountains except for a few nunataks; jagged peaks poking up through the ice like lonely glacial islands.
From Sequoia Park south, the glacial episodes were typified by smaller glaciers mostly contained within their cirques and canyons.
A cirque (French, from the Latin word circus) is an amphitheater-like valley gouged out by a glacier. Dana Glacier on the eastern border of Yosemite National Park is located in such a cirque.
Evidence of Sierra glaciation abounds throughout the Tahoe region. Fallen Leaf Lake and Cascade Lakes were formed when piles of rock and debris (terminal moraines) piled up in front of a glacier and were bulldozed forward, thereby building the dam that created the lakes.
Many examples of glacially-formed lakes and cirques can be found in Desolation Wilderness in the Lake Tahoe Basin. These include, Half Moon, Ralston, and Eagle Lakes. Lake Tahoe, on the other hand, was created by the rise and fall of the landscape due to faulting.
There were many glaciers in the Sierra including Tahoe glacier, South Fork trunk glacier, Big Creek glacier, Kaiser Creek glacier, Tenaya glacier and Tioga glacier, to name just a few.
Say goodbye to so-called “global warming.” If the huge amounts of snowfall that buried the Sierra this past winter continue, we will soon witness the comeback of Tahoe glacier.