Botanical Evidence of the Modern History of Nisqually Glacier, Washington

Professional Paper 387-A




A knowledge of the areas once occupied by mountain glaciers reveals at least part of the past behavior of these glaciers. From this behavior, inferences of past climate can be drawn. The maximum advance of Nisqually Glacier in the last thousand years was located, and retreat from this point is believed to have started about 1840. The maximum downvalley position of the glacier is marked by either a prominent moraine or by a line of difference between stands of trees of strikingly different size and significantly different age. The thousand-year age of the forest beyond the moraine or line between abutting stands represents the minimum time since the surface was glaciated. This age is based on the age of the oldest trees, plus an estimated interval required for the formation of humus, plus evidence of an ancient fire, plus an interval of deposition of pyroclastics. The estimate of the date when Nisqually Glacier began to retreat from its maximum advance is based upon the ages of the oldest trees plus an interval of 5 years estimated as the time required for the establishment of trees on stable moraines. This interval was derived from a study of the ages of trees growing at locations of known past positions of the glacier. Reconnaissance studies were made on moraines formed by Emmons and Tahoma Glaciers. Preliminary analyses of these data suggest that Emmons Glacier started to recede from its maximum advance in about 1745. Two other upvalley moraines mark positions from which recession started about 1849 and 1896. Ages of trees near Tahoma Glacier indicate that it started to recede from its position of maximum advance in about 1635. About 1835 Tahoma Glacier started to recede again from another moraine formed by a readvance that ter minated near the 1635 position.

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USGS Numbered Series
Botanical Evidence of the Modern History of Nisqually Glacier, Washington
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Professional Paper
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U.S. Geological Survey
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U.S. Geological Survey
p. A1-A20