Image: Columbia Glacier

May 11, 2018, European Space Agency
Credit: contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2017), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

The Copernicus Sentinel-2B satellite takes us over Alaska's Columbia Glacier, one of the most rapidly changing glaciers in the world.

The glacier, which can be seen just below the middle of the image, flows down the snow-covered slopes of the Chugach Mountains into the Prince William Sound in southeast Alaska.

Over the last three decades, this has retreated more than 20 km and lost about half of its total thickness and volume. The changing climate is thought to have nudged it into retreat in the 1980s, resulting in its end – or terminus – breaking off.

The terminus had previously been supported by a moraine, which is an accumulation of sediment and rock that served as an underwater barrier, helping to keep the glacier stable and insulate it from seawater. With this barrier gone, glacial dynamics took over and it began to flow to the ocean faster, calving large icebergs into the Sound. As this satellite image shows, many icebergs can be seen in the Sound.

This one glacier accounts for nearly half of the ice loss in the Chugach Mountains. However, researchers believe that the Columbia Glacier will stabilise again – probably in a few years – once its terminus retreats into shallower water and it regains traction, which should slow the rate of calving.

Explore further: Image: Sentinel-2A captures Upsala Glacier

Related Stories

The advance of Hubbard Glacier

May 21, 2015

Since measurements began in 1895, Alaska's Hubbard Glacier has been thickening and steadily advancing into Disenchantment Bay. The advance runs counter to so many thinning and retreating glaciers nearby in Alaska and around ...

Recommended for you

Sound waves reveal diamond cache deep in Earth's interior

July 16, 2018

There may be more than a quadrillion tons of diamond hidden in the Earth's interior, according to a new study from MIT and other universities. But the new results are unlikely to set off a diamond rush. The scientists estimate ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.