Disappearing frontier: Alaska’s glaciers retreating at file tempo


ANCHORAGE (Information) – Alaska will quickly shut a 12 months that’s shaping up as its hottest on file, with glaciers within the “Frontier State” melting at file or near-record ranges, pouring waters into rising international seas, scientists stated after taking fall measurements.

FILE PHOTO: The Spencer Glacier collapses, forming an enormous wave moments earlier than it crashes right into a kayaker, in Alaska, U.S., August 10, 2019, on this nonetheless picture taken from a video obtained from social media. @steeringsouth/by way of Information

Lemon Creek Glacier in Juneau, the place information return to the 1940s, had its second consecutive 12 months of file mass loss, with three meters erased from the floor, U.S. Geological Survey glaciologist Louis Sass advised Information.

Soften went all the way in which as much as the summit, stated Sass, one of many consultants who journey to benchmark glaciers to take measurements within the fall.

“That’s a extremely unhealthy signal for a glacier,” he stated, noting that high-altitude soften means there isn’t any accumulation of snow to compact into ice and assist offset lower-elevation losses.

At Wolverine Glacier on the Kenai Peninsula south of Anchorage, loss was the second highest in a file that goes again to the 1960s. Sass stated it didn’t match the file set in 2004 solely as a result of a lot of the glacier had already melted.

“The decrease half’s utterly gone now,” he stated.

Drastic melting was additionally reported at Kenai Fjords Nationwide Park, which former President Barack Obama as soon as visited to name consideration to local weather change. There, Bear Glacier, a well-liked vacationer spot, retreated by practically a kilometer in simply 11 months, in response to August measurements by the Nationwide Park Service.

“It’s nearly such as you popped it and it began to deflate,” stated Nate Lewis, a Seward-based wilderness information who takes vacationers into the brand new lake that has shaped on the foot of the shrinking glacier.

Even one of many few Alaska glaciers that had been advancing, Taku simply southeast of town of Juneau, is now dropping ice at a quick clip.

Significantly ominous is the excessive altitude at which Taku is melting, stated Mauri Pelto, who heads the North Cascades Glacier Local weather Mission. This 12 months, the summer season soften reached as excessive as 1,450 meters, 25 meters above the earlier high-altitude file set simply final 12 months, he stated.    


Now that it’s retreating, Taku is anticipated to start out disposing of massive ice chunks, rising Alaska’s already vital contribution to rising sea ranges, in response to a examine co-authored by Sass and Shad O’Neel, a glaciologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. The examine is scheduled to be offered on the annual convention of the American Geologic Union subsequent week in San Francisco.

Alaska recorded its warmest month ever in July and the development has continued.

“Alaska is on tempo to interrupt their file for warmest 12 months except December is dramatically cooler than forecasted,” Brian Brettschneider, a climatologist with the College of Alaska Fairbanks’ Worldwide Arctic Analysis Heart, stated in a Dec. 1 tweet.

Alaska’s glaciers account for a lot lower than 1 % of the world’s land ice. However their soften contributes roughly 7 % of the water that’s elevating the world’s sea ranges, in accordance a 2018 examine revealed within the journal Geophysical Analysis Letters and co-authored by O’Neel.

There are additionally native impacts. Scientists say glacial soften impacts salmon-spawning streams and harms marine fish and animal habitats. It’s creating new lakes within the voids the place ice was, and outburst floods from these lakes are taking place extra continuously, scientists say.

Modifications within the glaciers and the ecosystems they feed has been so quick that they’re exhausting to trace, stated O’ Neel at USGS, who measured the soften at Wolverine Glacier final month. “Every part’s been fairly haywire recently.”

Reporting by Yereth Rosen; modifying by Invoice Tarrant and David Gregorio