Receding or Not?
Are the great glaciers and ice fields of the world receding or not? For many years, findings by leading glaciologists, published in scientific journals and picked up by popular media outlets, have declared that they are. And for the most part, the findings are correct.
But there are a few glaciers in the world that are advancing despite global warming. From Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina to Hubbard Glacier in Alaska, and a few others spread out around the world, growth in size is evident despite the effects climate change is having on the world. There is great hope that at least some of the large and important ice masses of our planet will be with us for some time to come.
Ice Field of Argentina
The southern end of Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina is home to 50 glaciers. The most spectacular of them is Perito Moreno Glacier, rising nearly 200 feet high in an ice field that covers 150 square miles. If these statistics are impressive, consider that Perito Moreno is still advancing.
With the huge benefit of being nourished by the Andean snowmelt, the glacier is constantly growing and spawning giant icebergs that break off and drop into Lake Argentina below. The surface of the glacier radiates white light when the sun hits it, and the submerged portion is a beautiful deep blue. Every few years, the glacier expands all the way across the lake to touch land, blocking water flow. Due to the great pressure this causes, the ice eventually breaks off in spectacular fashion, reestablishing flow once again. But overall, there is no doubt that the glacier is advancing.
Since consistent measurements of the glacier began over a century ago, the findings have suggested that Perito Moreno has and continues to maintain a constant equilibrium with nature. Despite worldwide global warming, the Patagonia region still experiences heavy snowfalls and Perito Moreno grows as much as three meters a day. The glacier also has the added benefit of being at the ideal altitude and being in the path of the perfect amount of wind and shade. Scientists warn however that there is limits to just how much Perito Moreno can keep advancing.
Alaska & Beyond
The average melting rate for the world’s mountain glaciers has doubled since 2000. While that is an astonishing statistic, climate change is not taking place with equal intensity everywhere.
Most scientists will confirm that the majority of the glaciers of Alaska are receding. But there are a few that are actually getting bigger. In recent flights over the coast of Alaska, in which glaciologists from the U.S. Geological Survey measured glaciers using advanced laser-altimetry systems, they found that the Hubbard Glacier, north of Yakutat, is one glacier that is growing. Hubbard is a tidewater glacier that is currently in the advancing phase of an advance and retreat cycle. It is dependant on the dynamics of the sea floor, among other things. There are several other glaciers in Alaska and other parts of the world that are advancing for reasons that outside the scope of the effects of global warming.
Norway’s Briksdal Glacier, a part of the Jostedal Glacier National Park, is one of the country’s top attractions. It is growing at an average rate of 7.2 inches per day. Canada’s ice covered Mt. Logan recently underwent readings and the findings suggest it has experienced a hearty growth spurt. A team of scientists has reported that the Greenland Ice Sheet is growing thicker at its interior. Other glaciers that seem to be advancing include Russia’s Maali Glacier, Switzerland’s Silvretta Glacier, Ecuador’s Antizana 15 Alpha Glacier and France’s Mt. Blanc.
Furthermore, some glaciers that were thought to be retreating at a rapid rate are lasting longer than expected.
For many years now, glaciologists conducting research on Mt. Kilimanjaro’s legendary glaciers predicted their imminent demise at the hands of global warming. While their theory on the fate of the glaciers is based on hard evidence, and there is not even a snowy chance that the mountain’s glaciers will reverse course and advance, there is some hope that they may last longer than originally predicted.
“They’ll be totally gone by 2015,” says one well-known glaciologist. “By 2020, they will have completely disappeared,” reports a major European news publication. It is pretty clear to us in 2010 that these predictions about Mt. Kilimanjaro’s glaciers are very unrealistic. Yes, if you had the fortune of seeing them up close 30 years ago and then saw them today, like Tusker Trail’s own Eddie Frank has, you would notice a drastic difference. But recently gathered evidence suggests that the retreat of Kilimanjaro’s glaciers has more to do with lower precipitation, as a result of a rise in the temperature of the Indian Ocean. This news bodes well for the immediate future of Kilimanjaro’s glaciers, since the trend for precipitation in the region seems to be at an overall high. A natural weather phenomenon that brings elevated levels of precipitation is capable of increasing the thickness of the ice.
In 2006 El Nino brought heavy snowfall to Mt. Kilimanjaro and nearly buried numerous weather stations that had been set up there. While scientists were bummed about their equipment, they say that the new icy event could not have been better for the glaciers.
Kiss One Now
It’s a pleasure and a relief to know that there are some glaciers in the world that are still growing despite global warming. But for the glaciers that are receding, even if they will last longer than previous reports have suggested, now is the time to see them.
Tusker Trail leads its year-round climbs up Mt. Kilimanjaro. On every one of Eddie Frank’s climbs, he takes the group to a remote spot in the crater at 18,700 ft. at the foot of the freestanding Furtwangler Glacier, where he tells his climbers to “kiss the glacier.” There are very few people in this “Kiss the Glacier” club, but it’s growing with every one of Eddie’s climbs. Climbing Africa’s greatest peak and experiencing the glaciers firsthand with Tusker Trail are truly unforgettable and life changing experiences.