Dying Glaciers

August 16, 2015

Most of the glaciers around the world are in retreat, I see the evidence of this all the time when I go into the mountains, in the Alps, Tien Shan, Himalayas, Andes and Baffin Island. Recent photos of Iconic snow capped mountains like Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya show that they have almost lost their glacial cap. The Greenland Ice cap is shrinking at an alarming rate, speeding up the rise in sea levels, changing weather patterns and life for people around the world.

Here in Prince William Sound all the glaciers are in retreat, some have disappeared completely in the last few years, some like the giant Columbia glacier have retreated so fast that the ice that pours into the sound each year has become a serious hazard and was instrumental in the Exxon Valdez disaster that spilled oil into the pristine waters of the sound and from which some of the local wildlife is still trying to recover.

I was fortunate to meet Bruce a glaciologist who had studied the Columbia retreat since the 1980's and had worked with James Balog on his “Chasing Ice” project, a time lapse study of glaciers around the world. (If you have not seen any of his images then check out Chasing Ice on Youtube or his www.Ted.com lecture)

 So armed with a little inside information we waited for a good day to make the long journey up to the calving face of Columbia. We motored over its 1988 terminal moraine that is now 10 miles from the glacier, past the narrow pass between two giant rock walls that marked its 2008 terminal face and on another 2 miles to what is now the huge calving face. Our 2012 charts had us over 1 mile inside the glacier, such is its rapid rate of retreat. To give you an idea of how much ice has been released since 2008, the basin that has been created since then is over 5 miles wide, 2 miles to the face and has a depth to the bottom of the fiord of over 1200 feet. I will leave it to mathematicians to work out the volume and tonnage of ice that has been lost to sea level rise but we can assume that it is LOTS!

 This is even more alarming when we compare the relatively tiny Columbia Glacier with the Greenland and Antarctic giants. Balog's recent filming in Greenland of the largest calving event ever witnessed showed the break up of the same size as Columbia's but in a matter of a few hours.

 

It does not matter if you believe mankind has contributed to Climate Change, what matters for the sake of our children and grandchildren is what we do about it.....and with that I will put away my soapbox.

 

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