Kenai Peninsula: Shrinking glaciers a sign of warming times

Road Journals Blog—You don’t need a weatherman to know that climate change has hit southern Alaska. The glaciers tell the story.

Throughout the mountainous Kenai Peninsula, ancient rivers of ice are melting at decidedly non-glacial speeds. The edge of Exit Glacier near Seward has retreated about two miles in the last 200 years—an average of about 50 feet a year, which is pretty darn fast for something that looks so solid.


Surprise Glacier, Prince William Sound | Chris Woolston

When the Begich, Boggs Visitor’s Center in Portage Valley opened in 1986, it had a great view of the Portage Glacier. Today, the glacier is so comparatively shrunken that it is now completely out of sight.

The story is repeated throughout the Kenai. Bear Glacier, Northeastern Glacier, Tustumena Glacier—almost without exception, it hasn’t been a good era for ice.


Exit Glacier | bdearth/Flickr

I have no doubts that vanishing ice is a bad deal. I’m the type who worries about polar bears and sea levels. But I have to say, even I enjoy the sight of a calving glacier. If you’re cruising to Surprise Glacier in Prince WIlliam Sound or Aialik Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park, you have a good chance to see a few tons worth of ice hit the water, creating a shock wave you can feel in your chest.

Enjoy the sight. Who knows how many more chances you’ll have?

This blog post was first published in July 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.

Comments

When I check the Exit Glacier retreat numbers at the document that you referenced:
http://www.nps.gov/kefj/naturescience/upload/The%20Retreat%20of%20Exit%2...
it says: "During the retreat of Exit Glacier from its Little Ice Age maximum in 1815 until recent times, the glacier has left a series of more than 11 moraines and retreated more than 1.25 miles (2 km)"

but your article says "The edge of Exit Glacier near Seward has retreated about two miles in the last 200 years—an average of about 50 feet a year, which is pretty darn fast for something that looks so solid."

The NPS numbers suggest the following correction for your statement: From 1815-1999, Exit Glacier retreated 6549 feet, which divides out as 35 feet per year over 184 years.

I'm looking for verified numbers for my photo captions. Let me know if you find out more on this. Thanks.

Tom Dempsey
author of "Light Travel: Photography on the Go"
PhotoSeek.com