Most glaciers around the world are receding, and Alaska’s melt accounts for half of the global decline.
Larry Hinzman, director of the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, says the melting eventually will change the dynamics of ocean waters in the Gulf of Alaska.
When fresh and salty water mix, the salty water loses some of its density. On a grand scale involving a glacier and an ocean, the salty water’s circulation can be slowed, leading to changes in currents and possibly even the weather.
Sea levels have been rising about 0.3 inches a year on average over the last century, and melting glaciers already account for a tenth of that,according to the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, a 2004 report commissioned by governments with Arctic areas.
In Alaska, 95 percent of the glaciers in the state’s southeast leg are thinning, most at twice the rate previously estimated, according to a 2006 study. The glaciers are particularly vulnerable to melting because large areas of them are at low elevations, where temperatures are rising.
In Juneau, the state capital, the winters are 6.8 degrees warmer than they were 50 years ago. The nearby Mendenhall glacier, a big tourist attraction, receded 656 feet in 2004 and 269 feet in 2005.