It is not the intention of this diary to convince anyone that human caused global warming /climate change is causing the graphic change to the Denver glacier visible in the photos below, though I am personally firmly convinced that overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrates that human caused impacts to climate systems are, at the very least least, exacerbating some of the changes that we are experiencing in many places on Earth. I do, however, find the progression demonstrated in the images dramatic and compelling, and figured some of you all may as well.
Stretching 90 miles from Juneau, Alaska north to Skagway, the Juneau Icefield is one of the world’s largest non-polar masses of snow and ice. Though seemingly remote and inhospitable, its close proximity to Alaska’s capital city draws tourists, adventurers, students, and scientists to its lush, rain-forest-rimmed perimeter and its barren interior.The area of the Icefield is approximately 1500 square miles, and 39 of the 40 glaciers are retreating. For a more global perspective of the ongoing massive loss of glacial ice, check out the film Chasing Ice. The Juneau Icefield Research Project was established in 1948, and continues to this day.
Recognizing that glaciers record hundreds, or even thousands of years of climate events, in 1948 Maynard lead a small group of explorers on a reconnaissance of the Juneau Icefield to investigate its potential for climate research and the feasibility of establishing a long-term glaciological research program. Thus began one of the longest continuous-running programs of its kind in the world. Dedicated to education and science, and now in its 7th decade, the Juneau Icefield Research Program (JIRP) continues to attract students and scientists from around the world.The founder, Maynard Miller, was ironically a Republican state legislator in Idaho. He was also my neighbor when I lived in Moscow, Idaho, and was a full-time environmental activist back in the 1990s. We butted heads on forest policy, and on an unconstitutional law Idaho passed, which is still on the books, that makes it a felony to "solicit or conspire" to commit the misdemeanor crime of inhibiting a logging operation. But I respect and admire the work he has done with the JIRP. He recently passed.
I became acquainted with the Denver glacier in 1998 while spending my second summer in Alaska and my first in Skagway. I started guiding hikes for the locally owned and operated tour company I now manage. One of the places we take people is the Denver Glacier Trail, which is in the Tongass National Forest and is not accessible by road. We access the trial via a historic railroad built during the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897-1899.
I am fortunate to be able to visit the Denver Valley regularly, but those frequent visits make the changes more subtle and hard to notice. For example, there is a spot I like and that I gauge to be near where the 1912 photo (below) was taken. In 1998 you could view a small chunk of ice crawling down the mountain from this spot. No one remembers quite when the ice disappeared from view at Nap Rock, but it did.
Follow me down the trail for the photos...
We'll start almost exactly 100 years ago in 1912.