Gannett Peak – July 8, 2020
It’s Science Wednesday! We’ve been busy the last few days on this end, getting packed and prepared to attempt a new peak for the Summits, Songs and Science project. Over the next week, we’ll be in the Wind River Range, climbing Gannett Peak, Wyoming’s highest at 13,804 feet/4207 meters. What’s unique about this peak is that it has glaciers flowing down its slopes. In fact, Gannett Glacier, which flows down the north and east slopes, is the largest glacier in the Rocky Mountains within the United States!
In order for glaciers to exist, they need to be in regions of high snowfall in the winter and cool temperatures in the summer, so that more snow accumulates on the glacier in the winter than will melt from it in the summer. This is why you find most glaciers in the high latitudes (polar regions), as well as in mountainous (high elevation) areas. The “snowline” occurs at different altitudes though. Near the equator, in Africa on Kilimanjaro for example, it is over 5100 meters (16,732 ft.). In Washington State, it is at 1600 meters (5500 feet) and in Antarctica, at sea level. Height and latitude matter. While Gannett Peak is not as high as the Colorado 14ers (peaks above 14,000 feet/4268 meters), which do not have glaciers, it has the advantage of being at a higher latitude.
Like other places around the world, Gannett’s glaciers are melting due to rises in temperature and a reduction in precipitation. The glaciers are not only shrinking in area, but thinning as well. Less and less meltwater is reaching the Dinwoody Creek, which feeds the Wind River. This, in turn, impacts the amount of water available for the local ecosystem and downstream agricultural and ranching interests.