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ASK ANDY | Moving at the speed of a melting glacier

Generally speaking, glaciers rank right up there with turtles, molasses and me getting around to home repairs when it comes to a blazing lack of speed. Need a metaphor for time standing still? Glacier, glacial or anything about enormous slabs of ice will usually do.r at least, that’s what I thought until I read a new report from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The study found glaciers are moving a whole lot quicker than one might have guessed. Unfortunately, their movement – or should I say melting – is in the wrong direction when it comes to the habitat of the Washington Cascades – with the glaciers shrinking at a rapid pace.

The USGS measured glaciers from 1958 to 2008, and found some ice fields in our region had shrunk by 50 percent. The suspected cause, not too surprisingly, is global warming. The twist, however, is that the 50-year glacier study indicates the pace of change is, quite literally, heating up.

Getting a handle on all this information from the USGS is tough after a year of amazing weather extremes. Our July just wrapped up with the hottest day ever recorded at SeaTac Airport, a blazing 103 degrees that topped all other scorchers going back to records from the 1890s when the official National Weather Service temperatures were taken in downtown Seattle. On the other hand, last winter we had a record-breaker on the other end of the thermometer, with most of us seeing a solid two feet of snow and the coldest December and January many of us can remember. Record heat now only months after record cold makes a handy argument for both climate change believers and skeptics alike, and confusion for anyone caught in the middle. However, isolated events don’t make for long-term trends, which is why climate scientists like nice, big sets of data – even a 50-year study only begins to touch the tip of the iceberg, forgive the pun.

Whatever the bigger climate trend, our local energy use is growing, with PSE customers this past year using record amounts of energy in both winter cold or summer heat. Our July heat wave brought a new summertime peak energy demand of 3,500 megawatts (MW) – or about 20 percent greater energy use than normal for mid-summer. That new summer energy record followed a new (and even larger) wintertime peak energy use of just over 4,900 MW in December 2008.

Rising energy use on peak days, even when offset by conservation year-round is a trend that’s clear, and a sure sign that new renewable energy sources, wider use of energy efficiency technologies and continued investment in a reliable, advanced electric and natural gas infrastructure are all smart moves. To find out what we’re doing in all three areas, visit PSE.com for the latest on new wind facilities, tips on saving energy and the work under way in your neighborhood to ensure our infrastructure is up to snuff to meet customer demand on the coldest and hottest days.

We’re doing our best to be ready for whatever climate change, rising energy use and new technologies bring our way. Of course, we’re moving at that new, speedy glacial pace, not the old, slow one.

Andy Wappler is a public relations manager at Puget Sound Energy. He blogs about energy at AskAndy.PSE.com and can be reached at AskAndy@pse.com and PSETalk on Twitter.

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