High snowfall and cold weather to blame.
By Michael Asher
A bitterly cold Alaskan summer has had surprising results. For the first time in the area’s recorded history, area glaciers haveÂ begun to expand, rather than shrink. Summer temperatures, which were some 3 degreesÂ below average, allowed record levels of winter snow to remain much longer, leading to the increase in glacial mass.“In mid-June, I was surprised to see snow still at sea level in Prince William Sound”, said glaciologist Bruce Molnia. “In general, the weather this summer was the worst I have seen in at least 20 years”.
“On the Juneau Icefield, there was still 20 feet of new snow on the surface [in] late July. At Bering Glacier, a landslide I am studying [did] not become snow free until early August.”
Molnia, who works for the US Geological Survey, said it’s been a “long time” since area glaciers have seen a positive mass balance — an increase in the total amount of ice they contain.
Since 1946, the USGS has maintained a research project measuring the state of Alaskan glaciers. This year sawÂ records broken for most snow buildup. It was also the first time since any records began being that the glaciers did not shrink during the summer months.
Those records date from the mid 1700s, when the region was first visited by Russian explorers.Â Molnia estimates that Alaskan glaciers have lost about 15% of their total area since that time — an area the size of Connecticut.
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