NASA’s Satellites Capture Shrinking Glacier in Alaska

Climate change can cause the ocean to rise through the melting of glaciers.

via. Nasa

Climate change can cause the ocean to rise through the melting of glaciers.

Climate change has changed the world, and a glacier in Alaska showed that change. For the past 47 years, satellites captured photos that show this glacier shrinking. Nobody knew until December 10, when the images were shown during the American Geophysical Union’s annual meeting. Satellites from NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey were sent out in 1972.


The Columbia Glacier is from an icefield that is 10,000 feet (3,050 meters) above sea level. The icefield was first recorded in 1794, at an impressive length of 41 miles. It is located near the slopes of the Chugach Mountains and into the southeastern part of Alaska. The glacier became part of a big research project when scientists found that large pieces of icebergs were breaking away from the glacier’s tongue, which is when a narrow piece of ice forms from the shoreline into a body of water, such as a lake or ocean. Large groups of researchers including NASA sent out the satellites to see what happened to the iceberg and how it will adapt to the difference in climate change. The results were as expected.


Every year, the glacier is diminishing due to climate change causing warm weather. In 1980, the terminus (end of the glacier) broke free from its moraine (debris from the glacier). The terminus sailed more than 20 kilometers (about 12 miles) north. It moved past Lake Terentiev and the Great Nunatak Peak and Kadin Peak. By the late 2000s, the terminus made the glacial mass unstable, and the icebergs were breaking away. According to the Washington Post, Alaska’s glaciers are losing 13 million tons of ice yearly.


Recently, in a college study, students predict that the terminus will stop retreating sometime in 2020, but estimating future sea levels is difficult to do. They can change quite rapidly within an hour. The head of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, Williams Colgan, stated that “The variable nature and speed of the life cycle among glaciers highlights difficulties in trying to accurately predict the amount of sea-level rise that will occur in the decades to come.” Once the glacier reaches back to its stable position in the water after moving, the surface will stop melting. After the journey the glacier has experienced, it will be roughly 26 miles long-meaning the glacier will lose about 15 miles of ice (about 611 million tons of ice since NASA’s satellites were sent out). If it goes off its stable point, this whole cycle can happen again.


Climate change is hurting the environment. From crops to glaciers, all of it suffers from this change. This might just be the beginning of it all. The glacier’s future is bleak. “I think the hope was that once we saw climate change happening, we could act to prevent some irreversible consequences,” Colgan said. This glacier is just the start of what is happening to the world.