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Wallowa Snowfields and Glaciers

HI OGI members, we have a colleague Ethan Shaw in NE Oregon who sent in an update on his work documenting the permanence of snowfields in the Wallowa Mountains - more is coming and will not only confirm how many glaciers existed in the Wallowas before their full disappearance in the last few decades and what snowfields can be considered permanent versus ephemeral:

I’ve started a project surveying and monitoring the seasonal and permanent/perennial snowfields and snow-patches of Northeast Oregon’s Wallowa Mountains. This effort, which really started taking shape last year, overlaps a fair amount with the focus of the Oregon Glaciers Institute, which has demonstrated (via its recent Oregon Glacier Census) that the Wallowas, while no longer supporting active glaciers, likely did to one degree or another pretty deep into the 20th century. Furthermore, persistent snowfields, though often overlooked, serve their own important role on the landscape, not least with regard to its hydrological cycle and its microclimate ecologies.

As in the Cascades, an exceptionally dry and hot spring and early summer in 2021 out here in the Blue Mountain Province resulted in a majorly lean year for warm-season snow in the high Wallowas. All things considered, that’s bad on most levels, but—silver lining—it allowed for a better sense of where the most persistent snowfields lie in the range—and an opportunity to check on some of the OGI-identified (relatively) recently glaciated sites in the Wallowas with minimal overlying snow cover.

I’m currently working up an initial report on all of this as we speak, in which I’ll share some of the observations from this year’s fieldwork (and some insights from past seasons as well). This will be an ongoing project—one I plan to expand, snowfields-wise, into the high ranges of the nearby Blue Mountains—and one with plenty of opportunity for citizen-science contributions, so stay tuned. And continue supporting the worthy research OGI is carrying out among the Beaver State’s (diminished) ice- and snowscapes!

-Ethan Shaw

Cove, Ore.

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