Satellites have observed one of the fastest-changing glaciers in the world withdraw into the mountains of southeastern Alaska.
Columbia Glacier descends from an ice field 10,000 feet above sea level, through the flanks of Alaska's Chugach Mountains and into a narrow inlet. Since 1980, the glacier has lost about half of its thickness and volume, while the front where the glacier's ice meets open water—called the terminus—has retreated more than 12 miles. Climate change may have helped nudge the terminus off an underwater anchor of rock and debris that stabilized the ice for many years. Once it lost that footing, the lack of friction between ice and bedrock has driven a rapid loss of ice from the glacier to Columbia Bay. A time-lapse video of false-color images captured by USGS-NASA Landsat satellites shows how the glacier and the surrounding landscape changed between 1986 and 2011. Watch ice give way to ocean and bedrock become exposed as Columbia Glacier retreats.
Please give credit for this item to: NASA Earth Observatory Floating icebergs photo courtesy of Jon Von Atta, copyright 2008 Calving front photo courtesy of U.S. Army Engineer Research & Development Center 1969 aerial photo courtesy of National Snow and Ice Data Center 2004 aerial photo courtesy of National Snow and Ice Data Center/W.T. Pfeffer 2011 glacier terminus photo courtesy of USGS/Shad O'Neel
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