Alaska Part 1

To get started with my blog, what better way to kick things off than with our trip to Alaska.  After only a few days we have seen some incredible sights.  The wildlife has been pretty spectacular, and that includes our first whale sighting (!!!) and my first glimpse of a moose (at 65 mph on the highway, but it still counts).  The main attraction of this trip, though, has been the glaciers.

Our first close up was at Aialik Glacier in the Kenai Fjords National Park.  The glacier is about a mile wide and over 20 miles long, stretching up into the Harding Ice Sheet.  For reference, the speck at the bottom right of the glacier is a 95 foot cruise boat (you’ll probably need to click on the image to enlarge in order to see the boat)!

Aialik Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park. As the nice gentleman sharing a table with us on the cruise ship remarked, "that [chills] a lot of high balls!"
Aialik Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park. As the nice gentleman sharing a table with us on the cruise ship remarked, “that [chills] a lot of high balls!”
This glacier is a tidewater glacier, which means the glacier terminates at the ocean.  These glaciers are overall relatively stable and less sensitive to climate change than others.  These glaciers are really interesting to see because they primarily lose ice mass by calving, which is the technical term for a big hunk of ice breaking off and falling into the ocean.  Hearing the ice calve sounds like thunder rolling and requires you keep a good distance from the edge.

Next up was Portage Glacier, east of Anchorage.  This is a terrestrial glacier that comes down out of the mountains but doesn’t terminate at the ocean.  This is very accessible by boat or by hiking.  This glacier has been studied by scientists for well over 100 years.

Portage Glacier, 1958 (NOAA)
View of Portage Glacier from site of current visitor center, 1958 (NOAA)

This glacier has been retreating back up into the mountains for over 100 years, leaving Portage Lake in its wake.  Even just 50 years ago the lake was little more than just a puddle.  Now the lake is 600 feet deep at the center!  Today, a photo from a similar vantage point looks like this.

View from Portage Lake, June 2014
View from Portage Lake from visitor center, June 2014

The current edge of the glacier today has receded back behind the dark mountain on the right, not even in sight from the 2014 photo of Portage Lake above.  The ice you seen in the mountains of the Portage Lake photo is actually Burns Glacier, and Portage Glacier is around behind the large mountain on the right of the photo.  An up close photo of Portage Glacier looks almost like a tidewater glacier.

Portage Glacier, June 2014
Portage Glacier, June 2014

As you can see, the glacier is right up next to the water, so some calving occurs like it does in tidewater glaciers.  The dark spot in the middle of the glacier is the shore of the lake, though, which means the glacier has almost receded out of the lake.  At the terminus the glacier is about a half mile wide and towers a couple hundred feet over the water.

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spacewx

Graduate student at the University of New Hampshire

2 thoughts on “Alaska Part 1”

  1. Bruce, my wife (Marcia) and I are good friends of your parents. Brad sent me the link to your blog and I found it very interesting! Are the northern lights very intense this time of year up there? Enjoy your travels and I’ll keep checking your blog for updates!

    Best Regards
    Reyn Christiansen

    1. Hi Reyn,
      Good question! The days in Alaska this time of year are approximately 20 hours long and it never really gets totally dark, which means that the aurora would be nearly impossible to see even if it was intense. The time of year doesn’t dictate the intensity of the aurora in absolute terms but sadly the sunlight does prevent us from seeing it in the summer.

      Thanks for reading. I plan to post more soon.

      -Bruce

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