Secretary of the Interior Tours Mount Rainier National Park, Talks Climate Change

Feb 4, 2014

The Secretary of the Interior visited Mt. Rainier National Park on Monday on the heels of President Obama’s latest State of the Union Address. In it, the President acknowledged that climate change is a fact.

Secretary Sally Jewell was back in her home state to learn about how climate change is affecting Mount Rainier National Park and others. She came home to Washington to meet with scientists from the US Geological Survey and the National Park Service.

But this wasn’t your usual boardroom power point session.

The group snowshoed out to a snowy overlook to check out the Nisqually Glacier. That’s the source of the Nisqually River, which drains from the slopes of Mount Rainier out into Puget Sound. It’s a drinking water supply to several communities along the way, and it’s receded by almost half a mile.

Sally Jewell stands next to Paul Kennard, a scientist, as he points to the vast empty valley where the Nisqually glacier used to be.

“And in 1840 the ice was at the top of that which is really hard to believe and what happens is when the ice goes it’s mechanically buttressing this slope so when it leaves it’s much more prone to failure,” said Kennard.

You might think of glaciers as icy corsets, locking in mountain mud. When the ice melts away, the mud is free to slide off the slopes and down into nearby rivers, like the Nisqually.

Scientists believe the flooding and mudslides that hit that river in 2006, causing millions of dollars worth of damage, may have been exacerbated by the warming climate, changing precipitation patterns and receding glaciers.

Secretary Jewell says the President is committed to tackling climate change.

"He’s been very consistent in helping his cabinet understand that this is one of his top priorities to address while we’re here because it’s what the next generation expects of us and we’re in a position to do something about it," said Jewell.

The glaciers of Mount Rainier have decreased in area by almost 20% in the past 100 years or so. Glaciers in Olympic National Park and the North Cascades are down more than 50% over a similar period of time.

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