USGS Benchmark Glacier Project

Science Center Objects

Scientists with the USGS Benchmark Glacier Project study the process and impacts of glacier change, including sea-level rise, water resources, environmental hazards and ecosystem links. At the core of this research are mass balance measurements at five glaciers in the United States. Since the 1960s, these glaciers have been studied using direct observations of glaciers and meteorology. The project also integrates remotely sensed data to enhance our understanding of how glaciers respond to changes in climate.

Our Research: Our group studies mass change at five glaciers (Gulkana, Lemon Creek, South Cascade, Sperry, Wolverine) in North America using field and remote sensing techniques. To do so, we measure snow accumulation and snow and ice melt at specific locations on the glaciers, then extrapolate those point observations across the entire glacier surface. We also measure air temperature and precipitation at each site to connect glacier and climate change.

Why this Research is Important: When paired with weather, streamflow and geochemical data, this research helps managers prepare for local, regional, and global impacts of glacier change. With a firm foundation of long-term records, the USGS Glaciology Project continues to broaden its value and impact by using new technologies and expertise.

Objective(s): This project aims to advance the quantitative understanding of glacier-climate interactions from local to regional scales. The current focus is on merging the long-term field records with newer, richer remote sensing data. The team is also working to ensure consistency and comparability between records as well as evaluating methodological sensitivities.

Methods: Glacier mass balance, climate, streamflow, and geochemical data are being collected from five U.S. glaciers. Additionally, remote sensing data from satellites is being used to study and monitor the changes the glaciers have undergone in the past sixty years.