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Endangered Glaciers in Alaska - And How to Prevent Glacial Melting

Updated on July 16, 2012

Alaska's Melting Glaciers - And What We Can do to Slow Glacial Melt

You've heard about the melting across glaciers in Antarctica, but for many of us in the northern hemisphere, the melting in the glaciers of Alaska hits much closer to home. The glaciers of Alaska are a major tourist destination for the state of Alaska, but sadly, they are retreating at a rapid pace because of global warming. Whether you believe global warming is a myth or reality, it's important to study and prevent these glaciers from melting forever into the sea.

Learn more about some of the most high profile glaciers in Alaska, the surrounding National Parks in Alaska, and what you can do to prevent glacial melting across the globe by your own actions right on this page.

Intro photo of Valdez Glacier, Alaska by Alaskan Dude on flickr, licensed under Creative Commons 2.0.

Why Glaciers are Melting
Why Glaciers are Melting

Why Are Glaciers Melting?

The reasons for glacial melt in Alaska

The reason that glaciers are melting in Alaska are the same that they are melting all over the world: global warming. Temperatures have increased considerably over the past hundred years and have started to melt glaciers in Antarctica, the Himalayas, The Alps, and Alaska. The slowly rising temperatures have contributed to some glaciers in Alaska being entirely melted away, as they have in Katmai National Park.

Portage Lake and Glacier
Portage Lake and Glacier

Glaciers Role in Cooling Ocean Waters

How they stabilize the ocean ecosystem

Glaciers are continually topped off with snow, which contributes to their lasting size and dominance over some landscapes in Alaska. In recent years, the rising temperatures have started to melt not only the fresh snowfall, but parts of the aged glacier along with it. As the glaciers start to melt, there are lesser total number of glaciers worldwide. What once cooled ocean waters worldwide is not cooling them quite as much, resulting in rising ocean temperatures. Rising ocean temperatures contribute to more powerful hurricane seasons, which result in more destruction and severe weather.

While other regions have more glaciers than Alaska, the state's glaciers are contributing more runoff from glacial melt than Greenland.

Glacier Bay, Alaska
Glacier Bay, Alaska

Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve

The beautiful scenery of Glacier Bay is made up of 50 terrestrial (those that do not run off into the sea) and tidwater glaciers (those that run into the sea). Glacier Bay National Park contains many glaciers, like Muir Glacier, that have significantly retreated since the end of the Little Ice Age.

While part of the melting that has occurred in Glacier Bay and elsewhere has been because of global warming, the change in climate from the end of the Little Ice Age, which ended in the late 1700's, potentially natural temperature change is also a contributing factor.

Glacier Bay National Park is heavily visited for its passages, islands, lagoons, and massive tidal glaciers that empty into the cold Pacific waters. For that reason, it is a popular cruise ship destination.

Video of Glacier Bay, Alaska

Denali (Mt. McKinley)
Denali (Mt. McKinley)

Mt. McKinley Glaciers (Denali)

Denali is home to hundreds of glaciers that cover a good portion of Denali National Park. The glaciers are retreating, for the most part, all over the park, while a few are still advancing. These glaciers are all terrestrial glaciers that are far from the ocean. The glacial melt from Denali and its surrounding glaciers provide continual freshwater for the Denali National Park wildlife. Without this source of fresh water, the area would experience a drastic change in types of wildlife that live in the park.

Have you seen Alaska's glaciers?

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Comparisons of Glaciers - Now and Then

This is how they looked before, and how they look now. This is great visual evidence that glaciers are in retreat, and have melted considerably over the last century.

Harding Icefield
Harding Icefield

Harding Icefield

The Harding Icefield is one of the most toured glaciers in the state of Alaska. It is located in Kenai Fjords National Park, which is one of just three National Parks in Alaska which are accessible by road. The massive Harding Icefield even has signs that indicate the former foot of the glacier which existed in 1926.

The Harding Icefield, along with other northern glaciers if entirely melted, would raise sea levels a fraction of a meter. This melting combined with the feared melting of the inland Antarctic ice sheets would further raise world sea levels to dangerous levels, causing massive coastal land loss across the globe.

Hubbard Glacier
Hubbard Glacier

How Can We Prevent Glaciers From Melting?

Things you can do to slow glacial melting worldwide...

While there is likely no way to altogether stop the glaciers from melting, slowing the rate of global warming could potentially slow glacial melt. Here are some ideas that help to alter the patterns of carbon emissions that contribute to global warming.

  1. Use public transportation and energy efficient vehicles. While most cars will still emit some carbon into the atmosphere, there are many alternatives which use far less energy and resources. Public transportation in most cities will save energy versus driving your own personal vehicle.
  2. Use less plastic, paper, and oil. Whenever possible, bring your own reusable bags when shoppping, opt for digital products versus paper, and opt for biodegradable over plastic. Plastics use large amounts of oil, and also emit large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere upon production. Since they don't biodegrade, plastics also take more time to dispose of.
  3. Reduce energy consumption in homes and remove support of air polluting corporations. Make your home more energy efficient by switching to CFL bulbs, sealing drafts, and reducing the use of air conditioning and heat in the home. Do not support companies which are the biggest air pollution offenders, like Bayer, ExxonMobil, and Sunoco.

Crow Peak, Alaska
Crow Peak, Alaska

Will Visiting Glaciers Impact Melting?

Controversy around visiting endangered glaciers

Any travel to Alaska or other glaciers worldwide will have a small impact on how rapidly they melt. Why? Because you'll be using resources to get to the park, exhaust will be released into the atmosphere surrounding the glaciers, and vegetation in and around these parks will be affected by man's interference.

The best course of action then if you are headed to Alaska or any glaciers is to green your travel experience by keeping it eco friendly, low impact, and traveling green. This way, you're trip will interfere minimally with the environment, and you'll still be able to see these marvelous wonders of Alaska.


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