Gulkana glacier in Alaska. Photo: Patrick J. Endres / Getty Images

By Margaret Kriz Hobson
30 September 2016

(ClimateWire) – In 1966, a team of U.S. Geological Survey scientists journeyed to two small glaciers in Alaska to dig snow pits needed for measuring snow depth and density at the remote mountainous locations.

Those early findings, repeated twice a year for the last 50 years, became the baseline for the government’s Benchmark Glacier program, the longest continuous glacier research in North America. The program provides data on glacier health in a warming climate.

The USGS research has focused on two glaciers that represent two very different Alaska climates — the Gulkana Glacier in the eastern Alaska Range south of Fairbanks and the Wolverine Glacier in the Kenai Mountains on the southern coast of Alaska.

At both locations, the long-term records show that summer warming has resulted in sustained mass loss, noted Shad O’Neel, head of the glacier research program at the USGS Alaska Science Center.

“How the climate has been changing over the past few decades of anthropogenic influence really has manifest itself quite well” in these studies, O’Neel said. “It provides tangible evidence for how climate change is affecting the landscapes.”

Since the 1990s, the retreat of glaciers in Alaska has made a disproportionally large contribution to global sea-level rise. The USGS reports that the state’s glaciers are losing 75 billion tons of ice annually, equal to the amount of water needed to fill Yankee Stadium 150,000 times each year. [more]

Alaska’s Glaciers Are Retreating

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