Alaska's Glacier Gains

State's icefields grow for the first time in 200 years
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State's icefields grow for the first time in 200 years

If you've been paranoid about visiting Alaska before all the glaciers melt, you just got an unexpected extension: Heavy snowfall last winter and surprisingly cold temperatures all summer have helped break a glacial shrinking streak that's lasted for 200 years.

U.S. Geological Survey glaciologists observed positive gains in the thickness of the Junea Icefield for the first time since they started the project in 1946. 20 feet of new snow remains and will get absorbed into the glacier's overall mass. Statewide, other glaciers have shown similar gains in thickness, and snow lines not far above sea level didn't melt until late August.

Scientists have called this summer's weather the "worst in 20 years," and numbers show it to be the third coldest on record. But it would take ten more summers like it—a mini Ice Age—and hundreds of feet of snow to reverse Alaska's overall glacial retreat. Since Alaska's glacial peak in the 1700s, glaciologists estimate that the state has lost about 15 percent of its ice coverage—about 10,000 to 12,000 square kilometers.

On a cold summer jaunt to Alaska this year, the sun remained encased in a thick chowder of clouds the whole freaking time. We almost never saw the top of a mountain, or a glacier not blanketed in fog or heavy precipitation. Guess it was good for something, though.

—Ted Alvarez

Bad weather was good for Alaska glaciers (Anchorage Daily News)