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Oregon's Mile Of Glacier Caves: A Hidden, And Disappearing, World

In the past two years, explorers Eddy Cartaya and Brent McGregor have used ropes, ice screws, wet suits and flashlights to map out more than a mile of passages underneath a glacier on Oregon's Mount Hood, in what are thought to be America's largest known glacier caves outside Alaska.

The caves are in the Sandy Glacier, which clings to Mount Hood's western slope, thousands of feet above the ground.

Some of the shafts are tight; others balloon out into spaces measuring 80 feet wide. In the caves, they sometimes scale waterfalls that were frozen in place. And along the way, they measure how the caves are changing.

Cartaya and McGregor took Oregon Public Broadcasting's Amelia Templeton and others into the caves at the end of this past summer, showing off astounding caves that look like sets from a sci-fi movie.

The striking scenes inspired Templeton and her OPB colleagues to create Thin Ice, a stand-alone presentation about the caves. OPB is also devoting an upcoming episode of its Oregon Field Guide to the find.

In addition to yielding jaw-dropping images of a world hidden from plain view, exploring the caves could also bring valuable information to scientists who study glaciers and climate change.

"Most glacier caves are seasonal. They form during the melting season. And disappear in the winter, crushed underneath the weight of the ice," Templeton reports. "But the caves in the Sandy Glacier appear to be growing larger every year. And as they grow, the glacier shrinks."

In the past 100 years, Sandy Glacier has shrunk by about 50 percent, she says.

As glaciologist Andrew Fountain of Portland State University tells Templeton, "This could be an important insight into how these glaciers are decaying,"

Cartaya and McGregor say that their awareness that the caves and the glacier will all disappear someday is part of what drives them to keep exploring and documenting.

"These are short-lived treasures, and once they're gone they're gone forever; they'll never be back," Cartaya tells Templeton.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

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The sixth season of HBO's Game of Thrones showed a real evolution in the way the show portrays women and in the season finale, several female characters ascended to power. NPR's Kelly McEvers talks to Glen Weldon from NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour and Greta Johnsen, host of the Nerdette podcast, about the show.
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In Quest For Happier Chickens, Perdue Shifts How Birds Live And Die

Perdue Farms, one of the largest poultry companies in the country, says it will change its slaughter methods and also some of its poultry houses. Animal welfare groups are cheering.
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Episode 5: Why 1986 Still Matters

In 1986, a federal official issued a warning: If Metro continued to expand rapidly, the system faced a future of stark choices over maintaining existing infrastructure. Metro chose expansion. We talk to a historian about that decision. We also hear from a former Metro general manager about the following years, and from an Arlington planner about measuring how riders are responding to SafeTrack.

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