This week, journey to Denali in Alaska, the glacier-covered peak that is the highest mountain in North America. Matt Nolan created a new high-resolution map using the software Fodar.
“This story has roots that go back nearly a decade. I’ve never had any desire to climb Denali, but I imagine my desire to map it is similar to what those climbers feel— it’s just there, daring me to test my skills against its challenges. While I’ve been an earth scientist for 25 years, my real passion has been engineering and using contraptions to allow me to make earth science measurements that no one else has made,” Nolan accounted in a blog post on the rationale for this project.
The project was made possible by Fairbanks Fodar, a service that makes maps anywhere in the world, particularly as they relate to assisting underfunded scientists and land managers on issues related to climate change or developmental pressures.
Hands-on experience visiting glaciers is crucial for students pursuing a career in glaciology. The Juneau Icefield Research Program is one of the longest-running glacier research programs with a 70-year history of bringing young people to the glaciers of Alaska and British Columbia. In 1948, Maynard Miller, one of the climbers on America’s first Mt. Everest expedition in 1963, led a group of explorers on a first expedition to Juneau Icefield, which includes some 50 outlet glaciers. Ever since, the program has been leading young students from high school to the graduate level to Juneau Icefield, offering opportunities to conduct field research with faculty and explore various glacial landforms and features.
Students begin their traverse from Juneau, Alaska, making their way up the Coast Mountains of Alaska and British Columbia, Canada. During their expedition, students interact with the other members of the research group and faculty advisers to collect field data and analyze the data in camp sites, where various tools are provided to assist the analysis. They finish their expedition in the small town of Atlin, Canada, where they give presentations about their group research conducted on the icefield.
Below are some pictures taken by students, staff, and faculty during their time on the Juneau Icefield.
This week’s Photo Friday features a special treasure: the historic pictures of Alaska glaciers. The images were selected from the special collection of Alaskan glacier surveys led by William O. Field during International Geophysical Year (IGY), 1957-1958.
These photos include Alaska glaciers like Columbia Glacier, Worthington Glacier, Grand Pacific Glacier, Northland Glacier, Lawrence Glacier, Ripon Glacier, and Yale Glacier, which are only a small part of the enormous collection. These photos represent an attempt to systematically study glacier change in Alaska. The photos can be accessed via National Snow and Ice Data Center.
Alaska’s impact on global sea level rise is becoming more pronounced. Its melting glaciers, particularly the minority mountain glaciers, will be a major driver of sea level change in the coming decades, according to a new study conducted by Chris Larsen, research associate professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and his colleagues.
With over 100,000 glaciers, Alaska is home to half of the world’s glaciers. Every seven years, glacier loss from Alaska contributes a 1-foot thick layer of water covering the state of Alaska. Though mountain glaciers hold less than 1% of the total glacier volume on the Earth, the recession of mountain glaciers contribute to nearly 1/3 of current sea level rise.
Larsen and his team examined 116 glaciers across Alaska to estimate ice loss from melting and iceberg calving between 1994 to 2013. Iceberg calving, the unique process of ice chunks breaking off at the edge of a glacier, is underlined in the study because few existing observations or models value the impact of iceberg calving under climate change.
“We’ve long wondered what the contribution of iceberg calving could be across the entire state,” O’Neel, one of the researches, told the American Geophysical Union. The Columbia Glacier in Prince William Sound has retreated more than 12 miles mostly due to iceberg calving since 1980.
The University of Alaska Fairbanks collected airborne lidar altimetry data, highly specialized research aircrafts, as part of NASA’s Operation IceBridge mission since 2009. The mission aims to picture the Earth’s polar ice in unprecedented detail with innovative science instruments to better connect the polar regions with the global climate system.
The team also integrated the new data with information from the 1990s collected by the University scientists and Keith Echelmeyer, a pilot, mountaineer and pioneer glaciologist. They developed a more detailed characterization of the size and shape of every glacier in Alaska, in addition to the glaciers of southwest Yukon Territory and coastal northern British Columbia.
With the new data inventory, the research team has made some significant discoveries. Across the years from 1994 to 2013, Alaska’s tidewater glaciers contributed to only 6% of Alaska’s mass loss. Glaciers that end in the ocean, called tidewater glaciers, make minimal contribution to sea level rise, while glaciers ending on land are primary contributors to mountain glacier mass loss driven by climate change.
“This work has important implications for global sea level projections. With improved understanding of the processes responsible for Alaska glacier changes, models of the future response of these glaciers to climate can be improved,” Larsen told the American Geophysical Union. Despite the fact that the impact of the large-scale tidewater glacier losses in Alaska is negligible, Alaska will remain a major contributor to global sea level rise through its mountain glaciers.