Monday, August 18, 2008

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Mendenhall Glacier

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Mendenhall Glacier flows 22 kilometers from an elevation of nearly 1,600 meters in the Coast Mountain Range, to just above sea level at its terminus roughly 5 kilometers northeast of Juneau, Alaska. It has been receding since the 1700s when the “Little Ice Age” ended, retreating approximately 3 kilometers in the past century. Most of this retreat occurred in the mid-1940s and the late 1990s.

The majority of the global community now accepts fluctuations in glaciers, particularly changes in their volume, to be reliable indications of a global trend of warmer air temperatures. While the retreating tongues of glaciers are less directly linked to climate change than overall volume, they are much more readily observed and allow the study of glaciers which would otherwise be out of the reach of most research projects. It is believed that the current climate conditions will not be reflected in most glacier tongues for years and will eventually amount to a kilometer or more of additional retreat. If climate conditions continue to follow current trends many glaciers will disappear completely.

The satellite images from 1986 and 2007 show the continuing retreat of Mendenhall Glacier. Similar changes are taking place in many of the glaciers in southeastern Alaska. A 2002 study estimated the contribution of melting Alaska glaciers to sea level rise between the 1950s and 1990s to be twice that of the melting of Greenland’s ice sheet during the same time period.
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