A view from the North – Alaska’s melting glaciers

August 25, 2008

exitsign1.jpg Welcome to the front lines of global warming in the United States – the Harding Ice Field in Alaska, the biggest icefield in the United States.
   At the Exit Glacier north of Seward – the only glacier in the Kenai Fjords National Park reachable by foot – the giant cerulean blue ice sheet gives every sign of staying put.
   But one only has to glance at the many signs along the roadway and footpath to the glacier’s edge to mark its retreat  – it hit its peak size in 1815 and has been receding ever since. Signs along a footpath leading to the base of the glacier show just how far it has retreated.
   The glacier lost about 10 feet from its front face over the summer of 2008.
   Since the 1980s, land-based glaciers and ice caps like this one in Alaska have contributed the most to sea level rise than any other source within their category, which includes other land-based glaciers like Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro and the Chacaltaya Glacier near La Paz, Bolivia, said Brenda Ekwurzel, a climate expert with the Union of Concerned Scientists.ailikcrash11.jpg
   Unlike the ice cover around the North Pole or giant floating ice sheets, land-based ice contributes directly to sea-level rises.
   According to a 2007 report by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, glaciers and ice caps have the potential to raise global sea levels by between .15 meters and .37 meters.
   That pales in comparison to the giant ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, which could raise sea levels by 63.9 meters if they fully melted.
   At the Aialik Glacier in the Harding Icefield – reachable by boat or plane, the living nature of the ice was more evident.
   On a visit to the glacier via tourboat on Aug. 15 on a trip hosted by the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism, several chunks of ice broke apart and crashed into Aialik Bay.
   glacier7.jpgThroughout the visit, the ice cracked andgroaned, with a sound like thunder claps that punctuated the still air.


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It would be amazing to have before and after pics of glaciers and their changes through time. We do have some now, and for the most part they demonstrate the receeding nature of glaciers in the 20th and 21st centuries. I was able to pull them into a google map format for easy viewing:http://environmentaldefenseblogs .org/climateatlas/2008/06/24/glacier-bef ore-and-after-picshot-or-not/

Posted by Peter Black | Report as abusive

As mentioned above, if the glacier is melting since 1815, doens’t it hint towards false mongering by IPCC?

Posted by Natureguy | Report as abusive

Of course the living world around us is and always has been changing – who has ever denied this ? – its the rate and scale of change caused by human actvity that’s the problem . The planet has never had to absorb the level of destructive activity we’re responsible for from any other form of life dependant on it before so the past offers no great reassurances of how the planet will respond to the changes we are inflicting on it .Conditions favourable to human life on earth can change and recede too.

Posted by desik | Report as abusive

As a scientist, I am intrigued by locations like Greenland. It was a location for thriving communities, until a middle ages ice age made it uninhabitable. Glaciers receded prior to the industrial revolution, although at a slower rate. We can’t assume why, we must prove why.My desire for lower carbon emissions and alternative fuel sources can never taint my objective and nonselective use of the available data. Study of the global temperature cycles has been hijacked. Nonrelativistic scientist must take it back.We must look at ALL global cooling and warming data objectively or we are guilty of practicing the “RELIGION” of Scientific Naturalism and not true Scientific Naturalism.

Posted by Questionall | Report as abusive

I would disagree with desik. If you look at the amount of volcanic activity and other carbon releasing natural phenomena. Humans have produced a fraction of the total amount that has been released thru the centuries. We can’t either discard the effects of humans, which is very significant, or elevate the effects of humans as the “root of all evil” in the search for truth about global warming. I am not convinced in the least that the global initiatives that are being proposed will make a difference. Although tainted science, it has at least made individuals aware of the problem of using fossil fuels.

Posted by QUESTIONall | Report as abusive

Is the melting glaciers of alaska a sign of things to come? I’m 17 and it’s sad when you think about what they used to be. I want to be a wildlife veterinarian and travel to Alaska. It sucks because my generation is far too late.

Posted by Victoria | Report as abusive