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Mendenhall Glacier Presentation

UAS Environmental Science faculty and students gave a presentation to a standing room only crowd at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitors Center.

Mendenhall Glacier

The January 30 event called “Mendenhall on the Move” was an update on changes in the face of the glacier and Mendenhall Lake over the decades. The group reported that the lake area has grown by 20 percent and depth has increased 300 percent since 2000 due to the receding glacier. Over the years 2000 – 2008, the glacier retreated by 2,142 feet. In the of Summer 2008, the  glacier’s southeastern terminus margin detached completely from the eastside bedrock valley walls. The presentation is part of a growing partnership between the Forest Service and UAS Environmental Science researchers. UAS undergraduates monitor the terminus with GPS devices, take measurements on the icefield and create posters that document changes in the glacier and monitor a glacier camera. “In the past it was an informal partnership, but we are working on a formal agreement,” said visitor center director Ron Marvin. The following article was published in the center’s newsletter:

How much ice did the glacier lose in 2008? It’s a common question year round. According to University of Alaska reseachers Drs. Matt Heavner, Eran Hood and Cathy Connor, the maximum loss in 2008 was 572 feet.

UAS faculty presented the latest information at the Friday, January 30 Fireside lecture.

How fast does the glacier move? The answer depends on where on the glacier the Ḁow is measured. The ice is always Ḁowing downslope. Behind the Mendenhall Towers, the movement is about 40 feet per year. Just down from the confluence of the South Branch and the North Branch — near the middle of the glacier’s 12-13 mile length — the Mendenhall speeds forward at about 400 feet per year. As it levels out near the terminus, the glacier moves about 160 feet per year. Recent years’ calving has been the result of buoyancy at the terminus. The glacier has been floating. Lake bottom studies show two channels of water flowing under the glacier and a central rocky pinnacle.

In addition to their own research, revealed with an amazing number of sunny day photos taken on the glacier, the UAS speakers presented video footage of dramatic glacier calvings in Greenland.

The Greenland calving footage is part of a two-year project conceived by photographer James Balog. In conjunction with Nikon and National Geographic, Balog’s team placed 30 time-lapse cameras around the northern polar region to record glacial movement. Cameras are in Greenland, Iceland, the Alps, U.S. Rockies, one in South America, one at Alaska’s Columbia Glacier, and three at Mendenhall Glacier.

The ice survey is now a documentary that will be aired next month.

“Extreme Ice,” Balog’s two-year project, will be presented in a two-hour television special planned for March 24 on most PBS stations on the program NOVA. AlaskaOne, the state’s public television station, will offer the program on the same date, which coincides with the 20th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

The visitor center recently received a DVD copy from the Extreme Ice Survey with time-lapse views of Mendenhall Glacier from both the east and west cameras. If you come into the visitor center and would like to view this on the large screen, please ask.

Here are two links for more information:


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