Riedel, J. L., Ryane, C., Osborn, J., Davis T., Menounos, B., Clague, J. J., Koch, J., Scott, K. M., Reasoner, M., (2006), Do Glaciers on Cascade Volcanoes Behave Differently Than Other Glaciers in the Region?, Eos Trans. AGU, 87(52), Fall Meet. Suppl., Abstract PP43A-1219

Do Glaciers on Cascade Volcanoes Behave Differently Than Other Glaciers in the Region?

It has been suggested that glaciers on two stratovolcanoes in the Cascade Range of Washington state, Mt. Baker and Glacier Peak, achieved their maximum extent of the past 10,000 years during the early Holocene. These findings differ from most evidence in western North America, which indicates that Little Ice Age moraines represent the most extensive glacier advances of the Holocene. Significant early Holocene advances are difficult to reconcile with the documented warm, dry conditions at this time in western North America. Our data indicate that glaciers on these volcanoes responded similarly to Holocene climatic events as glaciers in other areas in Washington and British Columbia. Heavy winter accumulation and favorable hypsometry have been proposed as the explanations for the unusual behavior of glaciers on volcanoes compared to similar-sized glaciers elsewhere in the Cascade Range. However, glacier mass balance on the volcanoes is controlled by not only these factors, but also by glacier geometry, snow erosion and ablation. Accumulation zones of glaciers on isolated Cascade stratovolcanoes are high, but are narrow at the top. For example, the accumulation zone of Deming Glacier on the southwest side of Mt. Baker extends above 3000 m asl, but due to its wedge shape lies largely below 2500 m asl. Furthermore, glaciers on Mt. Baker and other symmetrical volcanoes have high ablation rates because they are not shaded, and south-southwest aspects are subject to erosion of snow by prevailing southwesterly winds. Modern glacier observations in the North Cascades quantify the important influence of aspect and snow erosion on glacier mass balance. For example, average equilibrium line altitude (ELA) of Easton Glacier on the south flank of Mt. Baker is 2160 m, whereas the ELA of a north-facing cirque glacier 25km to the east is 2040m. Our research at Mt. Baker contradicts the claim of extensive early Holocene advances on the south flank of the volcano. Tephra set SC, which has been radiocarbon dated to about 8850 14C yr old, is found on ridges that were previously mapped as moraines younger than the tephra. This relation indicates that "early Holocene" ridges are more than 8850 14C yr old, with their maximum age unconstrained. Most of the radial ridges previously mapped as moraines cannot be conclusively shown to be moraines; they could be lahar levees or diamict-covered bedrock ridges, which are common on Cascade stratovolcanoes. Our data indicate that the record of middle and late Holocene glaciation on Mt. Baker is similar, if not identical, to that reported from the British Columbia Coast Mountains. Consequently, there is no reason to believe that the history of Holocene glaciation on Cascade volcanoes is radically different than elsewhere in western North America.