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Photo: Richard Martin

Is the 49th state disappearing?

As the latest victim of climate change, the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Alaska is shrinking rapidly thanks to ongoing climate alterations and a warming planet, along with additional glaciers throughout Alaska and Washington State.

“We didn’t know it’s deteriorating that fast,” tourist Wilmer Balatbat told NPR. “We believe it’s for everybody to see. For generations and generations.”

An east Greenland glacier seen from the NASA P-3 in April 2014. (Photo Credit: Jim Yungel / NASA)

An east Greenland glacier seen from the NASA P-3 in April 2014. (Photo Credit: Jim Yungel / NASA)

Ice reserves are vanishing faster than anticipated. The Tibetan Plateau has lost more than 90 percent of its glaciers, while a shrinking Antarctica is leading penguin populations into decline. Countries like Greenland are experiencing their highest temperatures on record, and ice is disappearing faster than it can be replenished.

Climate change is also causing shifts in cloud movement. Every year, spiking temperatures force clouds to migrate higher, pushing them away from poles and causing bursts in both radiation and heat. Clouds, which protect life on Earth from extreme climate, appear to be throwing in the towel.

The Director of Mendenhall’s visitor center, John Neary, explains that some tourists find the information too depressing, and any discussion of vanishing ice is a major turn-off.

“There was resistance, and I think it’s because people view it as a negative thing,” he says. “And you know, people on vacation, they don’t want to hear about negative things. They want to think about positive, really exciting – watch the whales, see the eagles, that sort of thing.”

Neary also states that a receding glacier poses threats to local wildlife. Nutrients from the glacier feed plankton, which in turn nourish whale populations. It’s all interconnected; when one dies out, the others will follow.

Mendenhall Glacier in Tongass National Forest near Juneau, Alaska. (Photo Credit: Richard Martin)

Mendenhall Glacier in Tongass National Forest near Juneau, Alaska. (Photo Credit: Richard Martin)

“You don’t need science to prove the point,” says the University of Alaska’s Matt Nolan. “This evidence is visual, and it’s real.”

But not everyone is convinced. Joe DeRosier, a traveler from Minnesota rebukes climate change, dismissing it as hype and hokum invented by desperate scientists and the media.

“I think everything is just pure speculation,” he said. “We don’t truly know. Obviously, it’s receding and it’s changing, but it’s just one of those natural cycles. Some years they recede. Some years they grow.”

Others, however, see Mendenhall as a tell-tale sign that something is wrong, and unless we fix the problem quickly, the world is in for a very painful turn.

The upper end of St. Mary Lake and Wild Goose Island. Photo taken from Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park, Montana, USA. (Photo Credit: Ken Thomas)

The upper end of St. Mary Lake and Wild Goose Island. Photo taken from Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park, Montana, USA. (Photo Credit: Ken Thomas)

“All the glaciers in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge are retreating from their most extended positions thousands of years ago,” says Nolan. “And the only scientific explanation for their retreat is a change in climate. There’s no doubt at all, and the loss of glacial volume is accelerating.”

Evidence of shrinking glacial systems can be seen from space. In viewing satellite footage, the Novatak and East Novatak in the Brabazon Range of southeastern Alaska look particularly small compared to 26 years ago. Several kilometers have ultimately melted away, and both glaciers have lost a portion of their grandeur.

“There is no doubt that most mountain glaciers are shrinking worldwide in a response to warming climate,” affirms Washington-based hydrologist Ed Josberger.

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