Officially nicknamed “The Last Frontier,” Alaska was the last admission into the United States. It is the largest state — approximately 2.5 times the size of Texas — but most of it remains wilderness. The glacial mountain landscapes amidst panoramic views are breathtakingly amazing. But unfortunately, climate change is shaping off the untouched wilderness at an alarming pace. Temperatures are as much as 3 degrees warmer than it was a century ago. Glaciers are receding, ocean levels are rising, and its just a matter of how long will they last. Here are a few glaciers in Alaska that will soon be gone.
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#1. Spencer Glacier
Location: Whittier; Glacial type: Mountain glacier.
This glacier is located 11 kilometers (7.1 miles) moderately trafficked out and back the trails near Whittier. The trail is mainly used for hiking, but access to the glacier is by train at the Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop on the Alaska Railroad. Spencer is pretty dangerous for hikers, and isolating access points is the most significant safety concern. However, the glacier is a verge of extinction. Chunks of ice debris often melt off the glacier as hikers trek thro and fro. Tour guides constantly find places where there are less sloping moraine.
As Heather Szundy, the owner and chief financial offier (CFO) of Ascending Path Guide Service, warns:
“In this time frame we have had to abandon 3 separate glaciers, due to access melting. We are now on our 4th — the Spencer Glacier. In 2012, we lost walk-on access to Spencer on the north side,” as she recalls. “We had to shift to kayaking across a lake to access it from the south side of the glacier.”
“This current method for access is deteriorating fast,” Szundy warns. “For the last 15 years, we have occasionally used helicopters to access and provide glacier hikes and ice climbing for visitors to Alaska,” as she concludes. “But it is becoming apparent that in the future, to get onto a glacier in south-central Alaska — and worldwide — will require a helicopter.”
#2. Knik Glacier
Location: Chugach Mountains, Anchorage; Glacial type: Valley glacier.
This glacier is an ice field that stretches an average of 40 kilometers (25 miles) long and over 8 kilometers (5 miles) across. This is one of the largest, and the fastest shrinking glaciers in south-central Alaska. This glacier feeds the Knik River until it meets the Colony Glacier. But as of 2015, it used to flow into Lake George — a silt strewn pool of thawed ice — but not anymore.
As Peter Schadee, the owner of Anchorage Helicopter Tours, observes:
“In the 15 years that I have been flying in that area I’ve seen the glacier recede at least a half mile, and the thickness at the edges go from 200 feet to 75 feet. Now we see land appearing to form under the glacier. Every year you see a difference, and I would not be surprised if in 10 years, this glacier no longer calves its icebergs into the lake.”
#3. Exit Glacier
Location: Kenai Fjords National Park; Glacial type: Valley glacier.
This glacier is part of the Harding Icefield in the Kenai Mountains, and one of the Kenai Fjords National Park’s major attractions. Its the most accessible valley glacier in Alaska, but its a visible testament to glacial recession due to climate change. Hiking Exit Glacier was once the most affordable thing to do in Alaska as a tourist. Nowadays, you won’t get opportunity to hike than to think of how cheap it is.
As Robert Sheldon, the owner of a pristine lot who has been assisting climatologists, explains:
“We have quite a bit of land up there. It’s only five acres, but that’s a surprising amount of space in the middle of [a national park]. We’re segregating off some property where guests can’t go, to [permanently] house scientific equipment. We want a better perspective of what’s going on up here, decade after decade.”
#4. Matanuska Glacier
Location: Matanuska River; Glacial type: Valley glacier.
This glacier stretches 44 kilometers (27 miles) long by 6 kilometers (4 miles) wide. Its terminus feeds the Matanuska River, hence the name. The largest glacier still accessible by vehicles today. The only option available today is off the Glenn Highway, about 161 kilometers (100 miles) northeast of Anchorage. Most glaciers in Alaska today are generally smaller than alpine glaciers which hang off mountain slopes.
As Sheldon explains:
“High end tourism didn’t really exist in Alaska, but it’s rapidly becoming the only way to see glacial terrain. Most tourists sightsee by driving, which limits them to the 14 percent of state accessible by road. “The glaciers that are easily approachable by the highway system are vanishing.”
“It’s about a 70-minute drive north of Anchorage. For seeing a glacier from an on-foot perspective, that’s pretty much it in this part of Alaska,” he continues. “Things have really changed that much.”
#5. Mendenhall Glacier
Location: Coast Range, Juneau; Glacial type: Mountain glacier.
This glacier is located 22 kilometers (13.6 miles) long in Mendenhall Valley, hence the name. Its roughly 19 kilometers (12 miles) from downtown Juneau.
What’s even more?
There is Holgate Glacier, Hubbard Glacier, Aialik Glacier, Colony Glacier, Denver Glacier, and Dawes Glacier. These are all glaciers in Alaska which will very soon say ‘Bye Bye.’
Have you ever been to any glacier in Alaska before?
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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Tue, Jan 18, 2022.