Ice Retreating from Mt. Mabel
Tonight Mount Mabel is hidden in the clouds just outside our window. She has seen the glacier retreat again and again but this time the retreat has been fast.
The morning started with a conversation with a graduate school friend writing a book entitled "If The Glaciers Disappear" The name the publishers would like is "When the Glaciers Disappear." The back and forth over the title of Suzanne's book reflects so much of what we have seen today.
After the interview we hopped in our fossil fuel powered car to drive to Aokari, the highest mountain in New Zealand, also called Mt. Cook. New Zealand is rich in renewable energy. Our hotel last night was perched on a hill overlooking a huge reservoir feeding a power plant just behind our beds. The hydro infrastructure was impossible to miss. A huge canal is perched atop an artificial hill connecting the big reservoirs and power plants.
The mountains we reached today, Aokari, Seeyle, Mabel and all the adjacent peaks have witnessed recent rapid climate change. The hotel we are staying at reopened the year Karl and I were born. In May 1958, the picture from the construction company shows odd rounded cars in the parking lot parked in front of glaciers tumbling down into the valley. We cannot see these glaciers on the slopes facing our hotel room. We walk a hour and a half to see the front of the Hooper Glacier. While the glacier used to extend much closer to the hotel now a lake fills the valley floor. Mt Mabel no longer wears lacy glaciers on her flanks. The edges of the valley and the sides of Mt Mabel are marked by a stark horizontal line. Above the line the hillside is green with shrubby vegetation. Below the line the grey pile of confused rocks is the moraine left by the Hooker Glacier as it retreated up the valley. These stark bathtub rings scar the mountains who have witnessed rapidly all around the globe. When Senator John McCain saw the bare rock scars in Greenland he recognized human induced climate as a global crisis.
Karl is surprised how dark the debris covered the glacier. The pristine white ice is further up the valley where we can opt see it. Gravel and dirt are falling off the valley walls hiding the white glacier ice. The terrain is familiar in an odd sense. The steep climbs up the moraine fronts remind us of the moraines in the Adirondacks. The string of house sized boulders abandoned by the glacier as it retreated look like the giant boulders along the ski trails around our little cabin. But in the Adirondacks the change did occurred 16,000 years ago. Here the change has been dramatic since we were born. The air is chilly making it difficult to comprehend that warming is making the ice disappear.
We still have not seen the mountain tops. Understanding the entire system is difficult whether you are a tourist or a scientist but the evidence of chance is obvious. The view has changed. The hikers are hungry after their 3 hours to see a fragment of a retreating glacier. Stopping the retreat of the glaciers will require human action.