Modern Changes in Kennicott Glacier: Implications for Residents, Visitors, and the Other 3,120 Glaciers in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve

NPS Scientists taking depth samples of glacier
NPS Scientists taking depth samples of glacier

NPS GroPro 3D

Kennicott Glacier is one of the most visible and visited large glaciers in Alaska, largely because of its proximity to the road system and the communities of McCarthy and Kennecott. Volume loss and terminus retreat at Kennicott Glacier, which began with the end of the Little Ice Age around 1860 CE and have accelerated in recent decades, are made especially conspicuous by the well-documented history of mining and tourism-related human development in the valley. Transportation infrastructure, businesses, and even the towns themselves were built at the glacier’s edge, serving as conspicuous, and in some cases vulnerable, markers of ongoing glacier change. This shrinkage is not unique, however, and in many ways the Kennicott Glacier’s evolution is representative of changes occurring at many of the less visible glaciers in and around Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. At the time of the most recent inventory in 2014, the park’s 3,121 glaciers had lost 5% of their area over the preceding 50 years. That park-wide change converted 1,656 square kilometers of glacier cover into newly deglaciated terrain that includes, as it does in the microcosm of the Kennicott Valley, proglacial lakes, freshly exposed bedrock and glacial till, changing river channels, unstable slopes susceptible to landsliding, habitat for colonization by successional vegetation, and new migration corridors for animals and humans alike. This research will document those changes at Kennicott Glacier and consider the broader implications for the rest of the park and community.

Michael Loso, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve,
Chris Larsen, University of Alaska Fairbanks

Part of a series of articles titled Copper River Basin Symposium - Wrangell-St Elias National Park and Preserve.

Wrangell - St Elias National Park & Preserve

Last updated: August 18, 2020