Alaskan Glaciers

Chenega Glacier in AlaskaOne of Alaska’s great attractions are its glaciers. There are many of them and they draw thousands of visitors each year.

In fact, Alaska has over 100,000 glaciers. In spite of this large number, only 5% of the state’s landmass in covered in ice. Alaska has some very favorable conditions that lead to the formation and preservation of glacial ice. Yes, cold temperatures are a part of it but also needed are favorable wind currents, mountains, and the right amount of humidity. Alaska has just the right combination of these critical conditions.

Glaciers once covered a large part of the northern part of the Earth. Over thousands of years they have gradually retreated to a relatively small number and area. Glaciers are formed by an accumulation of snow that never melts. Over many years,, the snow gets deeper and finally, with the weight and pressure, it becomes a glacier.

Glaciers “flow” downhill, just like a river does. Where they reach the ocean, large chunks of ice breaks off of the bottom end of the glacier and fall into the sea. This is what is called “calving”. Sometimes these blocks of ice are the size of buildings.

The color of glacial ice varies from white to a deep blue, depending on the thickness of the ice, the density, and the composition of the ice. Generally, they appear deep blue from a distance. My first ever sighting of a glacier was from the window of my Alaska Airlines flight from Seattle to Juneau. It was an impressive sight from the air.

The Hubbard Glacier near Yakut has the largest calving face of all of the glaciers in Alaska. Its calving face is 6 miles long. It is still growing, getting larger and longer every year. The Mendenhall Glacier near Juneau can be seen from town and gets lots of visitors each year. It is part of the Juneau Icefield that is about 1500 square miles in size and feeds 38 glaciers of which the Mendenhall is one. Glacier Bay Park is a very popular attraction along the Inside Passage for the cruise ships, kayakers, and for the flightseers (people who hire a plane to fly them over the glaciers for the purpose of seeing and photographing them from the air).

Flightseeing, helicopter tours, charter boats and kayaking  and on-glacier ground tours are among the many options available to visitors who want to see the icefields and glaciers. Most of the glaciers have been made into National parks and will have their own ranger station. These ranger stations will have lots of information on the best ways to visit and experience the glaciers within their jurisdiction. Contact them for ideas and information on how to have the best time at their glacier. The Alaskan part of the National Park system can be found HERE

Glaciers are a fascinaing part of nature. They are interesting to see and to study. They have played a large role in the history of the world, being involved in the evolution of many of the species of plant and animal life that are or have been found on the Earth.  They might be worth a little of your time during your next  fishing trip to Alaska.

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