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The Columbia Glacier is not only one of the larger tidewater glaciers in Alaska, but also the fastest moving one. Since 1980, the glacier, which is nearly 3 miles wide, retreated more than 10 miles. On some parts the thickness of the glacier shrunk from 950 yards to barely 350 yards.The glacier daily deposits large amounts of glacier ice in the bay, which form a maze of giant icebergs.This glacier area is only accessible by water. During our second visit, after a severe storm, large quantities of ice had calved and drifted, which made the passage to the glacier impossible. Sailing in the bay in the foggy weather was almost a surreal experience ...
Glaciers and climate change*
Despite the large quantities of floating ice we could come fairly close to the glacier during our first trip in 2007 (above). During the second voyage in 2010 this was complete impossible.
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The fact that ice responds to climate change is very clearly here, because, up until 1980, the Columbia Glacier was fairly stable, but in subsequent years the glacier has changed dramatically, and has retreated by approximately 10 miles!This is not only because the ice melts by rising temperatures, but also because the glacial river flows faster.Scientists wonder why the ice is flowing faster. Does it also have something to do with climate change?With the rise of the temperature, meltwater creates lakes and rivers on the plains in the mountains each summer. This meltwater flows into the moulins, which are deep cracks in the ice. It is assumed that this water flows to the bottom of the glacier. Because water is heavier than ice, the melt water lifts the icecap , and "lubricates" it, so the ice cap moves faster. As a result, the glacier is now already 1,500 ft. thinner.Where the ice reaches the coast of the bay, here at the Columbia Glacier, we witness the devastating effect. The glacier daily deposits large amounts of ice into the bay which form a maze of icebergs.Now the daily amount of eroding ice chunks is 30 times more than in 1980 ...The enormous quantity of ice that calves off the Columbia Glacier is not only a result of the current global warming.According to scientists*, this process is also the result of a slow, warming trend which began some 500 years ago in the northern hemisphere. At the Muir Glacier in Glacier Bay National Park the process of withdrawal already began at the end of the 19th century.Interestingly enough, the nearby Meares Glacier continues to grow ...* Source: CU-Boulder's Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research / University of Colorado