NPS Is Studying The Glaciers Of The Wrangell Mountains

We've Got It All Pool on Root Glacier. (Photo, NPS site)  Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, which lies in the eastern half of the Copper...

We've Got It All

Pool on Root Glacier. (Photo, NPS site) 

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, which lies in the eastern half of the Copper River Valley, is full of vast fields of impenetrable glaciers. 

The park – our park – gives us a hint of what much of the northern hemisphere was like 20,000 years ago when it was covered with miles-thick ice sheets. The Ice Age lingers on in the Copper Valley. 

We who have homes in the Copper Valley, on our sandy soil below the mountain ranges around us, are actually living at the bottom of what once a large Ice Age lake. If the lake waters were still here (and hadn't rushed out of all the mountain passes when the earth warmed and the ice melted thousands of years ago) our homes, communities and villages would all be literally underwater. 

A lot of the ice in the mountains is still with us. There are glaciers, snow and ice patches everywhere (even in the summer) in our unusual part of the world
. We're not California, or Texas, or Missouri. "Cold" is something that we know in a way no other state does. 

All of us can see glaciers and ice every single day, summer or winter. The glaciers are high above us, on the horizon, any time we look toward the mountains. We can see glaciers when we drive to Valdez, or Anchorage, or north past the Alaska Range. Or even when we just walk out of the door of our homes and cabins and glance at the Wrangell mountain that's closest to our house: Mt. Sanford, Drum, Wrangell or Blackburn. 

Or, when we drive back up to the Hub after shopping at the Glennallen IGA. The glaciers are dead ahead in the distance,  looming up behind the Ahtna building. 

Deep within Wrangell-St. Elias Park itself, out of our view, the number of glaciers is stunning. There are many wild and woolly glaciers – back behind our four Wrangell Mountains – that are visible only from the air. About a third of the park's surface, or 5,000 square miles, is covered in thick glacial ice. 

Viewing glaciers by plane is a growing tourist activity. And, in places where you can more easily access glaciers, such as Kennicott and the Matanuska Valley, glacial hikes are also popular.

The National Park Service, unsurprisingly, is studying its glaciers. This year, they're looking at Turner Glacier to try to understand a phenomenon known as "surges." There's also a UAF study going on at the lower end of the Kennicott Glacier with the park service. They also are studying the Kuskulana Glacier. 

The park's bragging rights, when it comes to glaciers, are hard to beat. The Bagley Icefield is 127 miles long, 6 miles wide and up to 3,000 feet thick. The Nabesna Glacier is 53 miles long and the world's longest "interior valley" glacier. Malaspina Glacier is North America's largest piedmont glacier, and is bigger than Rhode Island... 

Kennicott Glacier (NPS, Neal Herbert) 


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