Glaciology and Water Resources
The Wind River Range in west-central Wyoming contains the largest glacial mass in the Rocky Mountains of the United States. These glaciers are an important supplemental water resource for the surrounding region, particularly during the late summer season after most of the previous winters' snowpack has melted. Although these glaciers are important to the region as a water source for surrounding ecosystems, as well as for irrigation, fisheries, and drinking water, very little research has been conducted in the field to determine how much glacial ice exists and how much longer it will be around as a water resource supplement. This research seeks to determine 1) the remaining volume of glacier ice, 2) glacial melt rates and changes in melt rates over the last half century, and 3) water quality of the glacial melt water.
Over several past summers, Dr. VanLooy has lead small research teams to conduct this field work at Continental Glacier on the northern end of the range. Ice depths were collected using an ice penetrating radar system in August 2012 and subsequent analysis indicated that the glacier contains approximately 84 million m3 (75 million m3 water equivalent). A surface elevation map was created from GPS points collected in August 2012 and compared with a 1966 topographic map to determine the change in glacier surface elevations. Over the 46-year period the glacier has thinned by 13.8m (0.3m per year) with a spatially variable range of +0.3 to -1.0m per year. The glacier will reduce in size by half over the next 50 years and completely disappear over the next couple hundred years if conditions remain the same.