Sunday, October 2, 2011

Yakutat Glacier, the end of a project

Two weeks ago we were back on Yakutat Glacier for one last time, at least with regards to this particular NSF funded project. It is amazing how much the glacier has changed. In fact, it has become two glaciers! The eastern branch (right side of the image) is no longer connected to the western (main) branch. During this three-year research grant, the glacier has lost several square kilometers of ice that has broken up into the lake. In fact, we almost lost some GPS receivers. We had to pick up two of them on icebergs that had already calved. They survived the event and were still recording.
This picture (from R. Motyka) nicely shows why this ice field is in trouble. It was taken a week ago, and nowhere on the glacier is there any sign of snow from last year. That means that the glacier is not gaining any new ice in most years, even at its highest elevations. It has to melt away. And things are only getting worse: As it's getting thinner, it finds itself at progressively lower (and warmer) elevations.
I'm curious how it will look in 20 years.