Visitors take images of Mendenhall Glacier near Juneau in summer 2022 from inside the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center. (Courtesy Photo / Ned Rozell)

Alaska Science Forum: Alaska’s small glaciers are on the way out

Even optimistic projections show half of glaciers gone by end of century.

Glaciers worldwide are withering. Half of them will disappear by the end of this century, and much of the lost ice will vanish from mountains in Alaska, scientists say.

Authors of a recent cover story in the journal Science used high-performance computers to predict the fate of 215,547 glaciers on Earth. They excluded the great ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica.

Their conclusions: Goodbye to Bird, Crow, Daisy, Dogshead, Polychrome, Prospect, Red, Rex, Shakespeare and Spoon glaciers by the year 2100. If not earlier.

True, most of us won’t be here in 77 years either, but warmer air temperatures will probably erase those Alaska glaciers and a few dozen more — including an Anchorage water source named Eklutna Glacier — before then.

Gulkana Glacier, here seen from Summit Lake off the Richardson Highway, is shrinking back into the mountains of the Alaska Range. (Courtesy Photo / Ned Rozell)

Gulkana Glacier, here seen from Summit Lake off the Richardson Highway, is shrinking back into the mountains of the Alaska Range. (Courtesy Photo / Ned Rozell)

UAF Geophysical Institute scientists including David Rounce (now at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh) and Regine Hock are the lead authors on the study.

Using supercomputers at UAF, they forecast the future of the world’s glaciers under a few different warming scenarios, each of which humanity is currently speeding past.

“Even under the very optimistic scenario corresponding to the goal of the Paris agreement, about half of the glaciers are expected to be lost by the end of the century,” Hock said.

In their data-set, the scientists looked at glaciers all over the world, in regions they called Arctic Canada North, Central Asia, and Russian Arctic, among a dozen others. Alaska is one of the places with the most ice to lose. Alaska’s glaciers have already shrunk in elevation three feet each year during the past two decades.

Alaska glaciers are huge contributors to global ice loss because there are so many of them, and a lot of them are huge. Many Alaska glaciers are also at low elevations where gravity conveyor-belts their ice into the melting zone.

If the planet’s temperatures continue on this trajectory, favorite roadside glaciers will slip out of sight. This will likely play out in most Alaska glacier-towns, including Juneau, by the end of the century.

“Mendenhall Glacier may not disappear completely, but it will certainly retreat so much that it won´t be visible from the visitor center, even for the (most optimistic) scenario,” Hock said.

Aside from aesthetics, why does the disappearance of glacier ice matter? Hock said that all that fresh water now dumping into the Gulf of Alaska will affect ocean circulation and ecosystems.

A visitor stands on the shore of a lake near Worthington Glacier, which is accessible by the Richardson Highway not far from Valdez. (Courtesy Photo / Ned Rozell)

A visitor stands on the shore of a lake near Worthington Glacier, which is accessible by the Richardson Highway not far from Valdez. (Courtesy Photo / Ned Rozell)

Also, worldwide seas could rise half a foot from the loss of glacier ice by 2100.

Rounce compiled a list of more than 200 named Alaska glaciers that will be gone by the end of the century if the planet’s average yearly temperature rises 4 degrees C from what it was before the Industrial Revolution. That’s a lot of goodbyes.

•Since the late 1970s, the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute has provided this column free in cooperation with the UAF research community. Ned Rozell is a science writer for the Geophysical Institute.

More in News

The Aurora Borealis glows over the Mendenhall Glacier in 2014. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Aurora Forecast

Forecasts from the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute for the week of Feb. 5

Folks at the Alaska State Capitol openly admit to plenty of fish tales, but to a large degree in ways intended to benefit residents and sometimes even the fish. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
The bizarre bills other state legislatures are considering

Alaska’s Legislature isn’t mulling the headline-grabbers some statehouses have in the works.

This photo shows snow-covered hills in the Porcupine River Tundra in the Yukon Territories, Canada. In July 1997, a hunter contacted troopers in Fairbanks, Alaska, and reported finding a human skull along the Porcupine River, around 8 miles (13 kilometers) from the Canadian border. Investigators used genetic genealogy to help identify the remains as those of Gary Frank Sotherden, according to a statement Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023, from Alaska State Troopers. (AP Photo / Rick Bowmer)
Skull found in ‘97 in Interior belongs to New York man

A skull found in a remote part of Alaska’s Interior in 1997… Continue reading

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Officer William Hicks stands with JPD Chief Ed Mercer and Deputy Chief David Campbell during a swearing in ceremony for Hicks on Thursday at the JPD station in Lemon Creek. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire)
New officer joins JPD’s ranks

The Juneau Police Department welcomed a new officer to its ranks Thursday… Continue reading

These photos show Nova, a 3-year-old golden retriever, and the illegally placed body hold trap, commonly referred to as a Conibear trap, that caught her while walking near Outer Point Trail last week. (Courtesy / Jessica Davis)
Dog narrowly survives rare illegally placed trap in Juneau

State wildlife officials outlined what to do if found in similar situation

Gavel (Courtesy photo)
Public defender agency to refuse some cases, citing staffing

ANCHORAGE — A state agency that represents Alaskans who cannot afford their… Continue reading

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police: Gift card scam connected to hoax Fred Meyer threats

This article has been moved in front of the Empire’s paywall. A… Continue reading

This is a concept design drawing that was included in the request for proposal sent out by the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities seeking outside engineering and design services to determine whether it’s feasible to build a new ferry terminal facility in Juneau at Cascade Point. (Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities)
DOT takes steps toward potential Cascade Point ferry terminal facility

It would accommodate the Tazlina and or Hubbard, shorten trips to Haines and Skagway

Most Read