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

FILE - Tara Sweeney, a Republican seeking the sole U.S. House seat in Alaska, speaks during a forum for candidates, May 12, 2022, in Anchorage, Alaska. Sweeney's campaign manager said, Wednesday, June 22, 2022, that the campaign did not plan to sue over a finding released by Alaska elections officials stating that she cannot advance to the special election for U.S. House following the withdrawal of another candidate. (AP Photo / Mark Thiessen, File)
Alaska Supreme Court ruling keeps Sweeney off House ballot

In a brief written order, the high court said it affirmed the decision of a Superior Court judge.

President Joe Biden signs into law S. 2938, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act gun safety bill, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Saturday, June 25, 2022. First lady Jill Biden looks on at right. (AP Photo / Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President signs landmark gun measure, says ‘lives will be saved’

The House gave final approval Friday, following Senate passage Thursday.

Three people were arrested over several days in a series of events stemming from a June 16 shoplifting incident, with a significant amount of methamphetamine seized. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire)
Shoplifting investigation leads to arrests on drug charges

Significant amounts of drugs and loose cash, as well as stolen goods, were found.

Ben Gaglioti, an ecologist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, stands next to a mountain hemlock tree damaged in winter on the outer coast of Glacier Bay National Park in Southeast Alaska. (Courtesy Photos / Ned Rozell)
Alaska Science Forum: Bonsai trees tell of winters long past

By Ned Rozell A GREEN PLATEAU NORTH OF LITUYA BAY — “These… Continue reading

This photo shows a return envelope from the recent special primary election for Alaska's lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. On Friday, a judge sided with the state elections office on a decision to omit fifth-place finisher Tara Sweeney from ballots in the special general election. Al Gross, who finished third in the special primary, dropped out of the race, creating confusing circumstances ahead of Alaska's first ranked choice vote. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)
Judge rules Sweeney wont advance to special election

Decision has Sweeney off the ballot for special election.

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 Saturday, June 25, 2022

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

A Princess Cruise Line ship is docked in Juneau on Aug. 25, 2021. (Michael Lockett / Juneau Empire File)
Ships in Port for the week of June 19

Here’s what to expect this week.

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire 
Peter Froehlich, a retired Juneau district judge who is now a volunteer tour guide, explains the history of the history of the Kimball Theatre Pipe Organ in the State Office Building to a group of visitors Thursday. The organ has been idle since 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and now needs repairs before regular Friday lunchtime concerts and other performances on the 94-year-old instrument can resume.
Historic organ is in need of tuneup

How much it will cost and who will do it remain up in the air.

Candidate for Alaska’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives Tara Sweeney, a Republican, was in Juneau on Monday, May 16, 2022, and sat down with the Empire for an interview. A lawsuit filed Thursday challenges a decision to omit Sweeney from ballots in the upcoming Aug. 16 special election. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)
Lawsuit says Sweeney should advance in House race

The lawsuit says the Division of Elections misinterpreted state law.

Most Read