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NORTHERN PACIFIC AND ARCTIC
Glacier Bay

 
 

On Alaska’s southeastern panhandle, glacier movements over thousands of years have sculpted a nature’s labyrinth with narrow fjords, winding rivers and countless islets. Glacier Bay is one such an example of convoluted waterways tucked away from the open sea. The narrow bay is 60 miles long and just 10 miles wide. Two centuries ago, there was no way to sail into the present day Glacier Bay because it was completely filled by a gigantic glacier that extended for more than 100 miles from the inland mountains. Since then, the glacier has retreated and turned into smaller, shorter branches that now end deep inside Glacier Bay. Saltwater from the Pacific and freshwater from surrounding rivers and melting glaciers gradually filled the bay, and made it navigable for humans and marine species. Now the bay teems with life, and is home to sea otters, humpback whales, and countless other marine species.

When the glaciers occupied the bay, they carried with them rocks and boulders frozen into the glacier when they were over land. As the glaciers melted and moved seaward, these boulders dropped onto the seafloor and became sills, which, like speed bumps, affect the waterflow, causing intense mixing, upwelling and rip tides. In the narrow arms of the bay, where the glaciers end, enormous blocks of ice the size of houses break off from sheer ice cliffs and crash into the water. This process is called calving. These chunks of glacier become icebergs and are used by seals as haul-outs. Glaciers play a major role in shaping the coastal geography and ecology. However, global warming causes dramatic climate changes and throws into uncertainty the future of the glaciers in Glacier Bay and how the landscape and seascape of Glacier Bay (and for that matter, the entire world) may change over the next few decades.

 

EXPLORE BY THEME

Climate Change
Oceanographic and Bathymetric Features

LEARN MORE

Glacier Bay National Park
Glacier Bay- Alaska’s Wild Coast - PBS
A Mulitmedia History of Glacier Bay
Nature: Humpback Whales - PBS

 

VIDEO

Glacier Bay Videos - Google Video

 

 

 

Glacier Bay Tourism Video


Aerial view of Glacier Bay. Photo: NPS


Sea otters. Photo: NOAA


Muir Glacier. Photo: NASA