A helicopter tour over the Mendenhall Glacier in August 2010. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

A helicopter tour over the Mendenhall Glacier in August 2010. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Unseasonable warmth causes sled dog camp to close early

Limited winter snow and high melt rate renders glacier unsafe for operations

Coastal Helicopters has closed its sled dog camps on the Mendenhall Glacier early, citing poor snow conditions.

While the season for most sled dog camps is only a few more weeks, an unusually small amount of winter snow and a high rate of snowmelt on the glacier has made the surface unsafe.

“You can’t run the dogs on the ice. It’s unsafe when the crevasses open,” said Mike Wilson, general manager for Coastal Helicopters, who runs a sled dog camp.

Crevasses are vertical cracks that open in a glacier. They can be shallow or deep, but they are always paid heed to, Wilson said.

“You don’t know, so you don’t cross them,” Wilson said.

How many glaciers are there in Alaska?

This isn’t the first time weather has cut the season short, Wilson said. In 2003, low snowfall also caused a premature end to the season for Coastal Helicopters.

“There’s a much higher percentage (of snow) that is melting and that exposes the ice,” said Eran Hood, a professor of environmental science at the University of Alaska Southeast. “You can’t have dogs running on that.”

The warm summer has had as much to do with the conditions on the glacier as the lack of snowfall, Hood said. The unseasonably clear and hot weather, bemoaned by many, has hit the glacier hard too.

According to the National Weather Service, Juneau has had twice as many days above 70 degrees as usual, more than 41 days this year.

It has been a hot summer across SEAK. But just how hot has it been? Today marks day 41 of hitting the 70 degree mark in Juneau, more than doubling the average number of days we reach it. #akwx .@KTOOpubmedia .@KRBDRadio .@ravenradio .@KFSK1 .@KSTKradio .@KHNS_FM pic.twitter.com/SGi4j8T1sr

— NWS Juneau (@NWSJuneau) August 13, 2019

Hood said the data comes from the Juneau Airport, which has recorded the weather since the 1940s. The June and July temperatures have averaged roughly 5 degrees higher than usual this year.

“Because of the warm summer temps we’re seeing, it’s safe to say the amount of mass lost this year will be higher than previous years,” Hood said. Hood couldn’t say exactly how much mass the glacier would lose, save to say that it would be a very large amount.

Other companies, with camps located higher up the glacier, are still running normal seasons this year.

“We anticipate running a full season,” said Kristen Brooks, marketing director with Temsco.

Icelandic glaciologist feels a weighty responsibility

There shouldn’t be an issue for any of the sled dog camps if there’s a normal amount of snow this winter to recoat the top of the glacier, Hood said. It will also help if next summer’s temperatures are closer to the previous several years’ than this summer. However, if the trend of warmer winters and hotter summers continues, camps will have rethink their operating plan.

For now, though, Wilson is optimistic, planning on a normal operating season next year.


• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 523-2271 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.


More in News

This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, yellow, emerging from the surface of cells, blue/pink, cultured in the lab. Also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus causes COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, NIAID-RML
COVID at a Glance for Tuesday, Nov. 30

Numbers come from reports from the City and Borough of Juneau Emergency… Continue reading

This photo shows a raven in the snow. (Courtesy Photo / Kerry Howard)
On the Trails: Transition to winter — maybe

A mat of old leaves lined the roadway, each leaf fringed with crystals, making a pretty mosaic…

It's a police car until you look closely and see the details don't quite match. (Juneau Empire File / Michael Penn)
Police calls for Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021

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

Thin ice sheets form near the Mendenhall Glacier in early November. (Courtesy Photo / Kenneth Gill, gillfoto)
Wild Shots: Photos of Mother Nature in Alaska

Reader-submitted photos of Southeast Alaska.

It's a police car until you look closely and see the details don't quite match. (Juneau Empire File / Michael Penn)
Police calls for Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021

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

A cuddle-puddle of kittens nestles at Juneau Animal Rescue, which recently received a large legacy gift from a Juneau resident. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)
Juneau resident leaves one last gift for local nonprofits

The gift will help support organizations who made possible what she loved doing in life.

This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, yellow, emerging from the surface of cells, blue/pink, cultured in the lab. Also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus causes COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, NIAID-RML
COVID at a Glance for Monday, Nov. 29

Numbers come from reports from the City and Borough of Juneau Emergency… Continue reading

It's a police car until you look closely and see the details don't quite match. (Juneau Empire File / Michael Penn)
Police calls for Thursday, Nov. 25, 2021

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

Most Read