48 Years of Alaska Glaciers

  • Released Monday, December 9, 2019

Mark Fahnestock, a scientist with the Geological Institute of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, has assembled annual mosaics of all the glaciers in Alaska and the Yukon using Landsat images going back to 1972. Using these mosaics, Mark is able to study glacier motion and speed.

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Complete transcript available.

Watch this video on the NASA Goddard YouTube channel.

New time-lapse videos of Earth's glaciers and ice sheets as seen from space – spanning nearly 50 years – are providing scientists with new insights into how the planet's frozen regions are changing.

Using images from the Landsat mission dating back to 1972 and continuing through 2019, glaciologist Mark Fahnestock of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, has stitched together six-second time-lapses of every glacier in Alaska and the Yukon. The videos clearly illustrate what's happening to Alaska's glaciers in a warming climate. Some show surges that pause for a few years, or lakes forming where ice used to be, or even the debris from landslides making its way to the sea. Other glaciers show patterns that give scientists hints of what drives glacier changes.

Time-lapse of Alsek glacier in Alaska from 1972-2019, using Landsat imagery, showing retreat of a tidewater glacier and shifting medial moraines.

Time-lapse of Columbia glacier from 1972-2019, using Landsat imagery. The Columbia glacier was relatively stable until 1982, but has retreated rapidly since then.

Time-lapse of Klutlan glacier from 1972-2019, using Landsat imagery. The glacier is fairly stable but occasional surges flow rapidly.

Time-lapse of Grand Plateau glacier from 1972-2019, using Landsat imagery. Dark bands from landslides occasional flow along with the glacier; lighter bands are annual striations known as ogives that are similar in a sense to tree rings.

Time-lapse of Hubbard glacier from 1972-2019, using Landsat imagery. A tidewater glacier that is slowly advancing, Hubbard shows a large calving embayment forms in 2019.

Time-lapse of Walsh and Logan glacier from 1972-2019, using Landsat imagery. Both glaciers show evidence of surges with little movement elsewise.

Time-lapse of Malaspina glacier from 1972-2019, using Landsat imagery. The flow of the ice into the glacier moves from left to right, resulting in a zig-zag pattern in the dark bands in the ice.

Time-lapse of Bering glacier from 1972-2019, using Landsat imagery. The retreat of the glacier has resulted in the expansion of a lake at the terminus of the glacier.

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Please give credit for this item to:
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

Time-lapse videos courtesy of Mark Fahnestock, Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks

Release date

This page was originally published on Monday, December 9, 2019.
This page was last updated on Wednesday, May 3, 2023 at 1:45 PM EDT.


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