Northwestern Glacier

In the distance, from further out in the fjord:

Northwestern Glacier is the biggie at the very end of the fjord, and I assume it did the most of all the glaciers I’ve shown to carve out Northwestern Fjord in the first place. It used to stretch out past where the photo was taken, but now it barely reaches to sea level. It also descends from the Harding Icefield, as do the other glaciers I’ve posted photos of so far. Here’s a closer view:

You can see the difference here between the glacier’s bluish tint and the pure white of the snowfields up on the peaks. After snow piles up enough to get compacted into the dense ice of a glacier, it absorbs most colors of the spectrum except blue, which gets refracted out, causing the blue appearance of the ice (but of course, if a glacier is itself covered with snow that hasn’t gotten compressed yet, then it looks white, not blue). Even a couple decades ago, this glacier was a single wall reaching down into the fjord, but as it has receded, the big granite chunk in the center has been exposed, so the ice now splits in two as it descends. Here’s a closer shot of the left half (the iceface at the bottom is perhaps 125-150 feet high):

You can see granite getting exposed at the base. In a few years, the ice may not make it to sea level at all. (But hey, if the oceans rise enough from global warming, then maybe the sea level will rise up to reach the glacier!) Here is the right flank of the glacier, where even more underlying rock is now exposed:

We were told that this glacier descends at about 2 to 10 feet per day. We saw some small pieces of it fall off, but no huge chunks. The little pieces of ice floating in the fjord all came off when these glaciers calved, but when a really dramatic calving occurs, the pieces are large enough to create waves that could capsize a boat it it’s too close. Here are some cropped pieces of the two photos immediately above, which give a better sense of the strange character of the ice:

Northwestern Glacier, Northwestern Fjord, Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska

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One response to “Northwestern Glacier

  1. Mysterious! — and good advertising about global warming.

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