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Digging into Glacier Research

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Understanding Change

Scientists are using a variety of methods to record and study glaciers here at Kenai Fjords National Park. See what researchers are doing to get a deeper understanding of glacial change.

Research at Kenai Fjords National Park

Many Methods, One Message

Using a variety of methods, researchers continue to learn how glaciers are changing, but the message is clear. Many glaciers—at Kenai Fjords National Park, in Alaska, and around the earth—are shrinking due to climate change.

"Things that normally happen in geologic time are happening during the span of a human lifetime. It's like watching the Statue of Liberty melt."Daniel Fagre, PhD.
Research Ecologist, USGS

What’s Wrong with Melting Glaciers?

The glaciers at Kenai Fjords National Park create an essential part of the habitats on land and at sea. Harbor seals and Kittlitz’s murrelets are two examples of how melting glaciers affect wildlife here in the park.

Changing Glacier Effects

Harbor Seals

A wall of bluish white glacier ice abuts a body of water. The water surface is strewn with icebergs and floating ice. Several seals rest on the icebergs.

Tidewater glaciers calve into the sea and make icebergs. It’s a natural part of glacier dynamics that creates critical habitat for harbor seals.

A close-up photo of an adult seal and a pup resting on an iceberg in calm water with smaller chunks of ice floating around it.

Harbor seals give birth to their pups on these floating ice islands in early June.

A dark brown seal perches on an iceberg, lifting its head up.

Molting is an energy-intensive process. Harbor seals molt and recuperate on icebergs in August.

A dark grey seal with a speckled under belly lays on an iceberg. No other ice is in the photo.

As tidewater glaciers have receded and produced less floating ice, harbor seals have become less common here.

Three orcas crest the water surface, showing their black dorsal fin and backs. Steep mountain sides define the edges of the sea.

Harbor seals are both predators that eat lots of fish and prey for orcas. How is their decline changing this marine ecosystem? The answer is unclear.

Birds Need Glaciers, Too

A bird floating in water.

The Kittlitz’s murrelet are birds mostly found near tidewater glaciers, where they eat an abundance of small fish. As those glaciers retreat, their food supply shrinks with it. Also threatened by mercury and petroleum contamination, being preyed upon by other birds, boat traffic, and low breeding success, the number of Kittlitz’s murrelets have decreased by over 80% since 1976.

Coast-to-Coast Impacts

Climate change may be more obvious at Kenai Fjords National Park, but the effects are felt in national parks across the US. Learn more about how climate change affects other national parks and what you can do to slow climate change.