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.