Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
TOGIAK: Twelve of USA's Most Western Glaciers have Disappeared while others' Changes are Studied
Alaska Region, December 11, 2006
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One of Alaska's most western glaciers.
One of Alaska's most western glaciers. - Photo Credit: n/a

The Ahklun Mountains in the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge and neighboring Wood-Tikchik State Park support the only remaining glaciers in western Alaska, which until now, have been essentially unstudied.  This year, Refuge staff took the first steps to change that.  These glaciers were originally mapped by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) using photogrammetric methods based on 1973 aerial photography.  The mappers originally identified 116 individual glaciers, and until now, their status was unknown.

Glaciers respond sensitively to the climate and often provide the most striking evidence of global change.  Glaciers contract as summer temperature rises or as winter precipitation decreases, or both.  The glaciers in the Ahklun Mountains are relatively small and therefore respond with short lag time compared to larger glacier systems that characterize most of the glacial ice in Alaska.  As a contribution to the global effort to understand the ramifications of rapid climate change, Togiak Refuge entered into a partnership with the Wood-Tikchik State Park and Northern Arizona University to inventory the glaciers remaining in the Ahklun Mountains.  This inventory includes establishing a photo record of each; determining the number of glaciers that have gone extinct since the early 1970’s; and documenting future changes in a representative sample of Ahklun Mountain glaciers in both the refuge and park.

To this end, Refuge and University scientists have initiated the inventory by digitizing the USGS mapped glaciers and making aerial site visits to verify status.  Thus far, 109 glaciers have been surveyed, of which 97 were verified as active, and 12 have been determined to have disappeared.  Of those still active, many appear to be small fragments of what were once larger glaciers, suggesting a rapid decrease in glacial ice.  However, two new relatively large glaciers were discovered, as were the remains of 17 additional glaciers that were not originally mapped.  It seems likely that these "new" glaciers were missed during the original mapping project, as opposed to having developed over the past three decades.  The next step is to complete the inventory of the unsurveyed glaciers, then initiate the photomonitoring program at a subsample of representative glaciers.  Stay tuned for future updates!

Contact Info: Kristen Gilbert, 907-786-3391, Kristen_Gilbert@fws.gov
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