Late in the summer of 2020, a team of glacier experts, including Anders Carlson and Aaron Hartz, discovered a new glacier on South Sister in the Oregon Cascades. Finding a new glacier in Norway is no big deal, says Carlson, an Oregonian and the president of Oregon Glaciers Institute—but finding one in the Oregon Cascades is noteworthy. To Carlson, it’s a sign of how little time we spend investigating our own backyard.
In honor of this week’s Water Issue, I chatted with Carlson about the discovery.
Source Weekly: Why has this glacier never been discovered?
Anders Carlson: The last time anybody ever looked at glaciers in Oregon was in the 1950s when they were making the first topographical maps after World War II. What was done in the 1950s has not been updated. The people were not cartographers—they weren’t glacial scientists. Plus, its location makes it difficult to find. It’s on the north side so it’s always in the shade. You have to get the right aspect of your airplane flight to do that, or it will be in the shade. On top of that it’s got a lot of rock fall. Its low point is covered by a lot of debris, protecting it and insulating it too. If you don’t go in and see it in the field, you won’t see it.
SW: Now that you’ve found it, what will its name be?
AC: It takes a while to name things—at least a decade. There’s the U.S. Board of Geographic Names—you start down the long track record of naming it. The goal is to work with the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde to name it.
SW: With the current drought, finding a new glacier must be a pretty big deal for water resources, right?
AC: We found more ice in the high alpine zone that we didn’t know about. This is a new body of ice that is feeding into the McKenzie system—that means there’s more water up there than we knew about before. Glaciers store it as ice and release it a…