Alaska is Melting!

Muir Glacier 1892

Muir Glacier 2005

"A pair of northeast looking photographs, both taken from the same location on the west shoreline of Muir Inlet, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Alaska showing the changes that have occurred to Muir Glacier during the 113 years between September 2, 1892 and August 11, 2005. The 1892 photograph shows the more than 100-meter (328-feet) high, more than 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) wide tidewater terminus of the glacier with a face capped by angular séracs. Some icebergs, evidence of recent calving, can be seen floating in Muir Inlet. The mountain located right-of-center is Mount Wright. Mount Case is in the background. Note the absence of vegetation. (H. F. Reid photograph, muir1892_417, courtesy of National Snow and Ice Data Center). In the 2005 photograph, Muir Glacier is no longer visible, as it has retreated more than 50 kilometers (31 miles). During the interval between photographs, Muir Glacier ceased to have a tidewater terminus. Note the lack of floating ice and the abundant vegetation on many slopes throughout the photograph. (USGS Photograph by Bruce F. Molnia)."

Reid Glacier 1899

Reid Glacier 2003

"A pair of northwest looking photographs, both taken from the same location on the southwest side of Reid Inlet, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Alaska, showing the changes that have occurred to Reid Glacier during a period of more than a century, between June 10, 1899 and September 6, 2003. The 1899 photograph is taken towards the northwest and shows the approximately 60-meter (197-foot)-high tidewater terminus of the then retreating Reid Glacier. The glacier terminus is adjacent to the mouth of Reid Inlet. The hillside in the foreground is covered by a few centimeters (few inches) of snow. No trees are present on the hillside or on any other surface in the field of view. A few icebergs of various sizes are floating in the water in front of the glacier. A large block of grounded glacier ice is located adjacent to the snow-covered slope in the left middle-ground of the photograph. It appears to have recently separated from the body of the retreating glacier and is stranded adjacent to the shoreline of the inlet. The concentric ripples suggest that a large calving event has recently occurred at the terminus to the right of the stranded ice. (G. K. Gilbert, 258, courtesy of the USGS Photographic Library). In the 104 years between photographs, Reid Glacier has retreated about 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) and is just visible at the head of the fiord on the left side of the field of view. The hillside in the foreground is covered with dense vegetation, including both conifers and deciduous trees. Vegetation, predominantly alder, covers much of the lower slopes on the opposite side of the inlet. Nearly all of the trees are rooted in glacier till. Species present include Alnus (alder), Salix (willow), and Populus (cottonwood). The spit in the foreground is part of the recessional moraine deposited by Reid Glacier when it sat at the mouth of its fiord during the early 20th century. (USGS Photograph by Bruce F. Molnia)."

Northwestern Glacier c.1940

Northwestern Glacier 2005

"A pair of north looking photographs, both taken from the same location on the west shoreline of Harris Bay, Kenai Fjords National Park, Kenai Mountains, Alaska. The first photograph is an undated winter to early summer view, probably dating from between the mid-1920s and the 1940s. This photograph is from a postcard. The rocky shoreline in the foreground is covered by numerous pieces of brash ice, small icebergs, calved by the retreating Northwestern Glacier. When photographed, Northwestern Glacier had a sérac-capped terminus that ranged from 20-50 meter (65.6-164 feet) high. No vegetation is visible. (Undated, unnumbered postcard; unknown photographer, courtesy of Kenai Fjords National Park). The second photograph dates from August 12, 2005. In the roughly 60 - 80 years between photographs, Northwestern Glacier has retreated out of the field of view. In fact, the 2005 terminus is located more than 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) to the northwest. Ice-free Harris Bay makes up the foreground of the image. (USGS Photograph by Bruce F. Molnia)."

Yale Glacier 1937

Yale Glacier 2006

"This pair of oblique aerial photographs of Yale Glacier, Chugach Mountains, Chugach National Forest, Alaska, documents changes that occurred during the 69 years between June 1937 and July 28, 2006. Both photographs are taken towards the north and show the retreating, calving, tidewater terminus of Yale Glacier, located at the head of Yale Arm, College Fiord, Prince William Sound, Alaska. In 1937, Yale Glacier’s terminus was located at about the same position that it occupied when it was visited by the Harriman Alaska Expedition in 1899. A stream of icebergs issues from several embayments cut into the approximately 45 meter (148 feet) high face on the east side of the terminus. Several current and former tributary valley glaciers descend the east wall of the fiord. The two closest to the terminus have lost contact with Yale Glacier. Except for the moraine-covered ice on both margins of the glacier, snow still covers most of the lower reaches of the glacier. (B. Washburn, #122, courtesy of National Snow and Ice Data Center). During the intervening 69 years between photographs, Yale Glacier has retreated as much as 6 kilometers (3.7 miles), with most of the retreat occurring post-1957. The width of the tidewater part of the terminus of the glacier is much less than half of what it was in 1937. Yale Glacier has thinned substantially, in places by more than 250 meters (820 feet). All of the eastern tributaries have retreated and lost contact with Yale Glacier. An island and a large area of glacially sculpted bedrock have emerged from beneath the retreating glacier. Retreat of the land-based western portion of the terminus has kept pace with the retreat of the eastern tidewater portion of the glacier. A well-developed trimline is visible on the west side of the glacier. The 2006 photograph was made from an altitude of approximately 3,200 meters (10,500 feet), while Washburn’s, 1937 photograph was made from an altitude of more than 5,200 meters (17,050 feet). (USGS Photograph by Bruce F. Molnia)."


This gallery demonstrates the change in Alaskan glacier scale through the comparison of repeat photographic images. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, "Repeat photography is a technique in which a historical photograph and a modern photograph, both having the same field of view, are compared and contrasted to quantitatively and qualitatively determine their similarities and differences. [...] Through analysis and interpretation of these photographic pairs, information is extracted to document Alaskan landscape evolution and glacier dynamics for the last century-and-a-quarter on local and regional scales and the response of the Alaskan landscape to retreating glacier ice."

To see this research, please visit the U.S. Geological Survey website from which all images and descriptions appearing here have been derived.

To learn more about glaciers in general, check out the National Snow & Ice Data Center's website.

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