Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Melting Ice Cave of Mendenhall Glacier

After hearing recent news that the entrance to the popular Mendenhall Glacier ice cave had collapsed, Cleo Lagunas and myself decided to go check it out in person.  The remnants of the collapse were scattered at the entrance, though obviously smaller in size due to a weeks worth of melting.  Even more interesting though was a noticeable thinning of the ice cave roof.  We walked to the end of the cave were a moulin was located, which was also the location of significant sub-glacial melt water flowing from some distant source through an exit in the cave.  The diameter of this feature had expanded significantly since I had last visited the cave over the winter...no big surprise.  But the entrance of the cave is also shrinking...the end result being a reduction in the length of the cave.  This, combined with the thinning roof adds up to an ice cave that doesn't have long to live.  I'm estimating it will be gone within a few more years.  After exploring the ice cave, we hiked up along side the glacier on a lateral moraine until we encountered a tower of glacial ice slowly flowing downhill from the upper glacier.  We looked back from where we came from and viewed a vast area of thinning glacier that is apparently not being replenished by new ice.  Sadly this part of the glacier will likely melt away during the years to come.

Recently collapsed entrance to the Mendenhall Glacier ice cave.
Sub-glacial melt water finding an exit through the ice cave.
Beneath the cascade of ice exiting the upper glacier.
View of the thinning glacier.  This area doesn't appear to be replenished by new glacial ice, and thus will likely melt away during the near future.

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