Frozen Waters Five: Hubbard Glacier, Alaska

August, 2016

The largest tidewater glacier in North America, Hubbard Glacier is named for Gardiner Green Hubbard, a founder and first president of National Geographic. (This may be the most links I’ve ever had in one short sentence.) The 76 mile long glacier is joined by Valerie Glacier before it reaches Russell Fjord, with a width of almost six miles and a 300 foot face. It covers over 1,350 square miles of land. At this time, Russell Fjord is joined to Disenchantment Bay, although Hubbard has advanced enough in the past to block the fjord from the bay, and it is expected to do so again.

Approaching Hubbard Glacier from Disappointment Bay

Hubbard Glacier calves regularly, and while we heard it crack and split several times, we were never quick enough to witness the calving. As we approached the glacier, we saw more and more icebergs floating near our ship. There were white bergs, blue bergs, silt filled bergs, and mixes of all three types. We noticed some popping up and down in the water as they split apart.

In 1986, the glacier dammed the outlet of Russell Fjord, creating Russell Lake, where the water rose over 80 feet. A few months later, the dam gave way and more than 5 billion cubic yards of water gushed through in 24 hours, reconnecting the fjord to the ocean. There was another blockage and reopening in 2002. These glacial outbursts can cause serious damage to the landscape, homes and infrastructure in surrounding areas, not to mention the threat to human lives.

The Alaska Climate Adaptation Science Center is monitoring Russell Glacier as well as three other sites, including Mendenhall. The scientists have placed cameras and measuring equipment around these glaciers and lakes to gather data through real-time monitoring. With this information, they hope to be able to warn surrounding communities of impending danger.




Posted in Alaska, Glaciers, National Geographic, USA Travel | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Frozen Waters Four: Glacier Bay, Alaska

August, 2016

Before going to Glacier Bay, we took a train ride on the White Pass & Yukon Railway, from Skagway to the Canadian border. The route took us between mountains where we saw several glaciers.


When explored by Captain George Vancouver in 1794, Glacier Bay was filled with a single great glacier that was more than 4,000 feet thick, up to 20 miles wide, and that extended more than 100 miles. When John Muir explored eighty-five years later, the ice had retreated almost 50 miles up the bay.

Glacier Bay National Park is comprised of over 3 million acres of stunning beauty, in which glaciers play a major role. The park is part of a binational UNESCO World Heritage Site and a Biosphere Reserve. There are eleven glaciers that reach the sea in Glacier Bay. These are tidewater glaciers, defined as valley glaciers that flow far enough to reach the sea. There are only three places in the world where you can see tidewater glaciers: Alaska, Chile and Scandinavia.

Tidewater glaciers calve many small icebergs. Though not as large as Antarctica’s icebergs, they can still cause trouble. We learned from park rangers who came onboard our ship, about different types of icebergs. White bergs hold trapped air bubbles; blue bergs are very dense and hold little air (they absorb white light while reflecting blue); and greenish-black bergs have calved off from the bottom of the glacier, carrying moraine, the rocky rubble picked up along their journey to the sea.

Icebergs come in many shapes as well. There are two basic shapes: tabular and non-tabular. Tabular icebergs have steep side and a flat top, with a length that is at least five times the height (like a large sheet). Non-tabular icebergs have several different shapes: wedge (steep edge on one side and a slope on the other side), dome (rounded top), drydock (with a channel caused by erosion),  pinnacled (with one or more spires), and blocky (similar to a tabular, but the length is less than five times the height).  We didn’t see any large icebergs today.

We passed by Margerie Glacier, which is about 21 miles long, and growing at a rate of about 30 feet per year. This tidewater glacier was named for a French geologist and geographer, Emmanuel de Margerie.

Grand Pacific Glacier is a 25 mile long glacier that is located partly in British Columbia, Canada. This glacier is full of moraine and rocks from landslides that extend across almost two-thirds of the ice face. In some areas, this debris is more than 3 feet deep. The moraine helps insulate the ice, slowing the melting.


The approach to Johns Hopkins Glacier is quite dramatic. We caught glimpses of it behind a mountain before we reached the inlet where it’s located. This twelve mile long glacier is one of the few in the park that is advancing.


Posted in USA Travel, National Parks, Alaska, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Glaciers, Glacier Bay National Park, Train Travel | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Frozen Waters Three: Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau, Alaska

August, 2016


While on an Alaskan cruise, we stopped in Juneau, where we decided to take a helicopter ride to Mendenhall Glacier with  Temsco Helicopters, Inc.

This glacier has had several names over the years. The Tlingit People called it Sitangiospren (“the Glacier Behind the Town”) or Aak’wtaaksitkahan (“the Glacier Behind the Little Lake”). In 1888, John Muir named it Auke Glacier for the Tlingit Auk Kwaan. It received its current name in 1891, when it was renamed in honor of Thomas Corwin Mendenhall, physicist and geologist, who was responsible for defining the exact border between Alaska and Canada.

Mendenhall is a 13.5 mile outlet glacier of the Juneau Icefield, that terminates in Lake Mendahall. It’s located about 12 miles from Juneau. The glacier has been in retreat since the 1700’s. In 2012, an ancient forest was discovered when tree stumps and logs with roots and bark still attached emerged from under the retreating glacier. Scientists have determined that these trees are between 1,400 and 2,000 years old. Studying them can provide information on the area’s ecosystem before glaciers.

We flew over the glacier for several minutes, which allowed us to see the extent of it. From the air, it really does look like a river of ice.

We then landed on the glacier, where it was very windy. The section where we landed is about 1.5 miles across. Mendenhall is in an “unhealthy” state, meaning it’s losing ice more quickly than it’s adding it. The ice is very wet, and we had to walk carefully to avoid falling. We scooped up some water to taste it – very cold!

The glacier looked exceptionally blue on this day. Our pilot told us that the does look more blue on a cloudy day than on a sunny one, so our timing was good. Glaciers expand and contract, with crevasses opening and closing over time. Any rocks that get caught in the crevasse will be crushed to a silty granular substance. One of the shops in Juneau actually sells glacier silt soap as an exfoliant.

It’s not necessary to take a helicopter ride to view the glacier, as the United States Forest Service operates the Mendenhall Visitor Center, open year-round, with several trails that provide views of the glacier and lake.

Posted in Alaska, Glaciers, USA Travel | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Frozen Waters Two: Iceland

May, 2014

IMG_0657The 269 named glaciers in Iceland cover 11% of the land, or over 4,000 square miles. Almost every type of glacier is represented on this small island nation. All of their drinking water comes from glaciers, and it does taste quite good.

Many of Iceland’s glaciers lie atop volcanoes. When a volcano erupts here, the lava doesn’t always reach above the ice. In 2014, Popular Science Magazine interviewed Benjamin Edwards, a geologist at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, who explained that “if the lava stays contained within the ice, the biggest hazards will be local flooding. (These volcano-triggered glacial floods are called jökulhlaups.)”

Just take a drive around Iceland, and you will see several glaciers. Every glacier includes “jökull” in its name. This word comes from Old Norse, and means glacier, or a mountain covered with snow and ice.

To get up close and personal with a glacier, we hopped on a bus and headed to Jökulsárlón, a glacial lagoon that is fed by Breiðamerkurjökull, which is one of the 30 outlet glaciers of Vatnajökull, the largest glacier in Iceland.

Vatnajökull, which means “water glacier” in Icelandic, is an ice cap glacier, that is, a miniature ice sheet, covering less than 50,000 square kilometers (19,305 square miles). Vatnajökull covers 3,127 square miles, with an average thickness of 1,300 feet. It sits atop at least seven volcanoes.


Breiðamerkurjökull has been retreating since 1890. Land movements in the mid-19th century blocked the water’s passage to the sea, thus creating Jökulsárlón. It’s possible that future land movements could unblock the lake and it would be drained. As the glacier retreats, icebergs are calving and drifting through Jökulsárlón on their way to the North Atlantic Ocean. Their movement fluctuates with the tide currents and the wind. Once they are small enough, they finally make their way under the Glacial River Bridge and out to sea.

Breiðamerkurjökull calving into Jökulsárlón

Jökulsárlón has been featured in several movies, including two James Bond movies:  Die Another Day and A View to a Kill. It was also featured in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. The lagoon does not freeze because of the inflow of salt water from the North Atlantic. For the movie Die Another Day, it was allowed to freeze over by blocking the flow of of ocean water into the lake.

Jökulsárlón’s icebergs near shore and drifting out to sea

We took an amphibian boat (aka duck boat) tour with Glacier Lagoon. We were close enough to the icebergs to touch them if we wished.

These icebergs look dirty because they carry volcanic ash from recent eruptions like that of  Eyjafjallajökull in 2010.


Posted in Iceland, Volcano | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Frozen Waters One: New Zealand

February, 2014

A glacier is a slowly moving river of ice. Its own weight causes the movement. In fact, to qualify as a glacier, the ice must be thick enough to sink and move on its own weight. Glaciers form where the accumulation of snow exceeds the melt off, or ablation. Most of earth’s glaciers are found in the Arctic and Antarctic, but they are also found in mountain ranges. They are found on every continent, and on some high-latitude islands like New Zealand or Papua New Guinea. Glaciers cover about 10% of the world’s land, with over 5 million square miles of ice.

The aqua color that we often see in glacial ice is due to the fact that air bubbles are squeezed out of the ice, causing it to become denser, and making the ice appear blue. Also, like ocean water, the ice reflects colors at the blue end of the spectrum, while absorbing colors at the red end of the spectrum.


Note the blue color in the crevasses

The National Snow & Ice Data Center lists twelve types of glacier: mountain, tidewater, piedmont, hanging, cirque, ice apron, rock, ice shelf, ice field, ice cap, ice stream, and ice sheet. The glaciers on the South Island of New Zealand are categorized as mid-altitude mountain glaciers. Mountain glaciers develop in high mountainous regions, often flowing out of icefields that span several peaks or even a mountain range.

There are over 3,000 glaciers on the South Island, most of them in the Southern Alps mountain range in Fiordland National Park. New Zealand’s glaciers have been retreating since the late 1800’s, and the rate of retreat has accelerated since 1920, and several of the retreating glaciers have created glacial lakes. A few glaciers have advanced, but the loss of glacier mass far exceeds its creation. We are fortunate to have seen them when we did.

While visiting Milford Sound on the South Island of New Zealand, we had an opportunity to take a flight from Milford to Queenstown that passed over several glaciers. This was my first view of glaciers anywhere, so it was very exciting. There are several glaciers in the area, and we may have seen any of these: Rob Roy, Jura, Dart, Donne, Olivine, Mt. Tutoko, or Grant. Why wasn’t I taking notes!!

On a side note, Milford Sound is not a sound at all, but a fiord (New Zealand spelling). A sound is formed when a river valley is flooded by the sea, a fjord is formed when a glacier retreats, and sea water fills the resulting valley.


Posted in Glaciers, New Zealand Travel | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Falling Waters Twenty-Five: Wrapping Up

This is the final post in my waterfall series, that is, until I see some more. I believe there were about 70 so far.

January, 2016 – The Big Island of Hawaii

Akaka Falls State Park, located a few miles north of Hilo, is home to two waterfalls, Kahūnā and Akaka. As you walk along the path, you will be treated to some smaller waterfalls before you arrive at the main show.

Akaka Falls is a 442 foot waterfall located on the Kolekole Stream. In the Hawaiian language, Akaka means a split.

Kahūnā is slightly smaller, at 400 feet. It’s also more hidden, and thus difficult to see in its entirety. IMG_5395

On an earlier visit in February, 2011, we took a helicopter ride over Mauna Loa volcano, where we saw some more lovely falls.

August, 2017 – Winnewissa Falls, Pipestone, Minnesota

This lovely little waterfall is located in Pipestone National Monument in the southeast corner of Minnesota. Winnewissa comes from the Dakota verb “winawizi,” meaning to be jealous or envious.

The falls are situated in the pipestone quarry at the Monument. Native Americans have come here for thousands of years to quarry the Catlinite stone for ceremonial items, particularly pipes. The stone is still quarried, and you can purchase your very own pipe here at Pipestone.


Posted in Hawaii, Hawaii Travel, Minnesota, National Monument, Waterfalls | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Falling Waters Twenty Four: Multnomah Falls, Oregon

July, 2018



Some of the approaches to Multnomah Falls were closed following the wildfires of 2017.  The waterfall, itself, was evacuated for a while. There is a parking lot next to the falls that fills up early. We beat the crowds by getting there by 8:30 am. That was fortunate, because the lot was full just a few hours later. Over 2 million people visit the falls every year.

This is the tallest waterfall in the State of Oregon, with a total drop of 620 feet, It first drops 543 feet into an upper plunge pool, meanders another 8 feet, then plunges another 69 feet to the bottom. The flow is usually highest in the winter and spring. A sign at the site claims that Multnomah is the second tallest waterfall in the United States, but the evidence does not support that. Even if it isn’t the second tallest, it certainly is stunningly beautiful, and well worth a visit.

There is an observation bridge, the Benson Bridge (built in 1914, and named for the man who owned the falls at the time) that passes in front of the first drop. At this point, there is a path to the top of the falls, but that has been closed due to rock slides. Work is being done to make these paths safe again.

Upper Fall and Plunge Pool

Lower Fall and Multnomah Creek

Multnomah Falls is one of 77 waterfalls on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge. This waterfall developed about 15,000 years ago, on Multnomah Creek, which is fed by underground springs from Larch Mountain. Beneath the falls, the creek empties into Benson Lake, and eventually into the Columbia River.

According to a Wasco legend, the waterfall was formed after the daughter of a Multnomah chief sacrificed herself to the Great Spirit to save their village from a plague by jumping from the cliff. After her death, her father asked the Great Spirit to give a sign that his daughter had been welcomed into the land of the spirits. Almost at once, water began to flow over the cliff, creating the waterfall. Another Native American legend says that Multnomah Falls was created to win the heart of a young princess who wanted a hidden place to bathe. Personally, I prefer the first story.

Multnomah Falls were noted in journals by Lewis and Clark during their 1805 expedition, when they traveled through the Columbia River Gorge.

While you’re in the area, and are interested in some magnificent views of the Gorge, pay a visit to Vista House, situated on a bluff 723 feet above the Columbia River.


Posted in Oregon, Road Trip, Waterfalls | Tagged , , | Leave a comment