Mt. Rainier Has Lost Enough Snow to Bury Rhode Island 8 Inches Deep

Posted By: The Ski Channel on June 14, 2011 1:00 pm

By: Catherine Wang

Washington’s Mount Rainier has lost a seventh, or 14 percent, of its ice in the past four decades, a new study suggests.

Researchers arrived at that figure by comparing the estimated thicknesses and extents of ice seen in a 1970 aerial survey with those measured by an airborne laser altimeter in 2007 and 2008. All but two of the 28 glaciers and snowfields have thinned and shortened at their lower edges, and the exceptions likely thickened only because large amounts of rock fell upon the ice in recent years and insulated it from warming temperatures. Overall, the volcanic peak has lost enough to cover the entire state of Rhode Island to a depth of eight inches.

Prior to the ongoing meltback, Mount Rainier’s ice and snow coverage expanded from the late 1950s to around 1980 during a wetter-than-normal phase of a multi-decadal climate cycle called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. These recent trends indicate that Mount Rainier’s glaciers are very sensitive to warming and could grow again with modest changes in temperature or precipitation, scientists say.

Mount Rainier is a massive stratovolcano located 54 miles southeast of Seattle. It is the most prominent mountain in the contiguous United States and the Cascade Volcanic Arc, with a summit elevation of 14,411 feet. Mt. Rainier is considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world, and it is on the Decade Volcano list.

(Photo courtesy of