The annual balance has been measured for ten North Cascade glaciers in 1983–84, 1984–85, 1985–86, and 1986–87 (1984, 1985, 1986, and 1987). Based on these data, an annual balance prediction method was designed and tested. Comparison of measured versus predicted annual balances indicates an accuracy of ±0.22–0.30 m. The method is based on annual measurement of the accumulation area ratio (AAR), and determination of the perennially constant activity index and area-altitude distribution on each glacier. The accumulation area ratio is determined from aerial and ground photographs at the end of the ablation season. The activity index is identified from observation of the rise of the snow line with time, compared to measured snow depths above the snow line. The AAR-activity index method was used to calculate the annual balance of 47 North Cascade glaciers in 1984, 1985, 1986, and 1987. The mean balance during the 4 year period was —0.33 m.
From the mass-balance records, it is apparent that North Cascade glaciers can be divided into six climatic sensitivity groups. Each glacier type responds differently to specific climatic conditions. The mass-balance variation for glaciers of the same type is small.
Since 1977, warmer, drier climatic conditions have prevailed in the North Cascades, resulting in the retreat of 42 of the 47 glaciers examined.