Winter snow accumulation and summer snow and ice ablation were measured at South Cascade Glacier, Washington, to estimate glacier mass-balance quantities for balance years 2004 and 2005. The North Cascade Range in the vicinity of South Cascade Glacier accumulated smaller than normal winter snowpacks during water years 2004 and 2005. Correspondingly, the balance years 2004 and 2005 maximum winter snow balances of South Cascade Glacier, 2.08 and 1.97 meters water equivalent, respectively, were smaller than the average of such balances since 1959. The 2004 glacier summer balance (-3.73 meters water equivalent) was the eleventh most negative during 1959 to 2005 and the 2005 glacier summer balance (-4.42 meters water equivalent) was the third most negative. The relatively small winter snow balances and unusually negative summer balances of 2004 and 2005 led to an overall loss of glacier mass. The 2004 and 2005 glacier net balances, -1.65 and -2.45 meters water equivalent, respectively, were the seventh and second most negative during 1953 to 2005. For both balance years, the accumulation area ratio was less than 0.05 and the equilibrium line altitude was higher than the glacier. The unusually negative 2004 and 2005 glacier net balances, combined with a negative balance previously reported for 2003, resulted in a cumulative 3-year net balance of -6.20 meters water equivalent. No equal or greater 3-year mass loss has occurred previously during the more than 4 decades of U.S. Geological Survey mass-balance measurements at South Cascade Glacier.
Accompanying the glacier mass losses were retreat of the terminus and reduction of total glacier area. The terminus retreated at a rate of about 17 meters per year during balance year 2004 and 15 meters per year during balance year 2005. Glacier area near the end of balance years 2004 and 2005 was 1.82 and 1.75 square kilometers, respectively.
Runoff from the basin containing the glacier and from an adjacent nonglacierized basin was gaged during all or parts of water years 2004 and 2005. Air temperature, wind speed, precipitation, and incoming solar radiation were measured at selected locations on and near the glacier.