UAS News

Evening at Egan: Widespread Changes to Alaska’s Glaciers

Juneau, Alaska
Date of Press Release: Oct. 25, 2011

Shad O’Neel, USGS Alaska Science Center, Anchorage Alaska.
Friday, October 28, 2011. 7p.m. Egan Lecture Hall.

This presentation will summarize the current knowledge of the state of glacier health in Alaska. Discussion will consider not only what is known, but knowledge gaps as well.  For example, it is well known that some glaciers are sensitive indicators of climate change.  Many terrestrial glaciers smooth the climate record, thereby revealing changes in climate through their mass balance history.  However, the process can be complicated by dynamic instabilities that present themselves as calving glaciers. The archetypical example, is Prince William Sound’s Columbia Glacier. Since the onset of rapid retreat in the early 1980s, Columbia Glacier has shed ~140 km3 directly into the Gulf of Alaska, and today’s rate of mass loss exceeds recent estimates for the entire Chugach Range (1950-1990).The large-scale relevance of mass loss from this region will be addressed in terms of socio-economic relevance – addressing the obvious and emerging issues that will or may result from glacier change.  These issues include global and regional sea level change, water resources and potential impacts on primary productivity in the Gulf of Alaska. Recent observations from advancing Hubbard Glacier, which is posed to block the entrance of Russell Fiord, will also be presented, illustrating potential implications from a glacier that is completely defying the regional trend of mass loss.

The Alaska Region (including neighboring Canada) is one of the most heavily glacierized areas of Earth excluding the polar ice sheets. Alaska’s glaciers are undergoing rapid change, and the uncertainty surrounding these changes is large. Unresolved physics and measurement challenges prevent us from understanding the magnitude, trend and nature of the change, but progress is being made on all fronts.

Shad O’Neel:  My research focuses on the importance of mountain glaciers, particularly how ice dynamics are involved with glacier mass balance. Through the spectacular process of iceberg calving, tidewater glaciers can instantly transfer large masses from terrestrial storage to the sea.  This poorly understood process plays an important role in the global sea level budget. My training at University of Alaska Fairbanks and University of Colorado Boulder, followed by a postdoctoral fellowship at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego has focused on Alaska’s glaciers, and drew me to the USGS Alaska Science Center, where I’ve worked as a research glaciologist since 2008.

Columbia Glacier has been a focal point of my work, and projects there have been highlighted in Science Magazine and other peer-review Journals. Time-lapse photography and passive seismology are essential tools that I use to provide glaciological constraints on ice dynamics and the tightly connected process of sea level rise.  Recently produced time lapse sequences and narrative compiled by Extreme Ice Survey has drawn substantial attention to Columbia, resulting in outreach media by Nova, Scientific American, 60 minutes and Discovery channel.

For complete information on the UAS Evening at Egan series including live streaming and simulcast, please see the Website at: http://www.uas.alaska.edu/eganlecture

Contacts:

Shad O'Neel

USGS Glaciologist, Alaska Science Center

907-786-7088

Eran Hood

UAS Associate Professor of Environmental Science, Department Chair

(907) 796-6244