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Glacier Bay National Park. Two and a half centuries ago, the entire area was covered by thick sheets of ice.
High snowfall and cold weather to blame.

A bitterly cold Alaskan summer has had surprising results. For the first time in the area's recorded history, area glaciers have begun to expand, rather than shrink. Summer temperatures, which were some 3 degrees below average, allowed record levels of winter snow to remain much longer, leading to the increase in glacial mass.

"In mid-June, I was surprised to see snow still at sea level in Prince William Sound", said glaciologist Bruce Molnia. "In general, the weather this summer was the worst I have seen in at least 20 years".

"On the Juneau Icefield, there was still 20 feet of new snow on the surface [in] late July. At Bering Glacier, a landslide I am studying [did] not become snow free until early August."

Molnia, who works for the US Geological Survey, said it's been a "long time" since area glaciers have seen a positive mass balance -- an increase in the total amount of ice they contain.

Since 1946, the USGS has maintained a research project measuring the state of Alaskan glaciers. This year saw records broken for most snow buildup. It was also the first time since any records began being that the glaciers did not shrink during the summer months.

Those records date from the mid 1700s, when the region was first visited by Russian explorers.  Molnia estimates that Alaskan glaciers have lost about 15% of their total area since that time -- an area the size of Connecticut.

One of the largest areas of shrinkage has been at the national park of Glacier Bay. When Alexei Ilich Chirikof first arrived in 1741, the bay didn't exist at all -- only a solid wall of ice. From that time until the early 1900s, the ice retreated some 50 miles, to form the bay and surrounding area.

Accordingly to Molnia, a difference of just 3 or 4 degrees is enough to shift the mass balance of glaciers from rapid shrinkage to rapid growth. From the 1600s to the 1900s, that’s just the amount of warming that was seen, as the planet exited the Little Ice Age.

Molnia says one cold summer doesn't mean the start of a new climatic trend. At least years like this, however, might mark the beginning of another Little Ice Age.

As DailyTech reported earlier, Arctic sea ice this year has also increased substantially from its low in 2007.

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RE: In other news...Death of an Alaskan village
By masher2 on 10/16/2008 11:53:48 AM , Rating: 2
I don't see the connection you're making. Climate change means change after all, and it's important to plan for that change. Furthermore, while the net effects of warming will be good for Alaska, there are undoubtably some negatives -- a tiny Inuit village on the edge of an ice floe, for instance, is going to have to adapt to change.

If you look at Alaska's Climate Change policy, you'll see they wisely focus on preplanning, adaption, and mitigation, rather than rashly attempting to stop the gears of nature:

RE: In other news...Death of an Alaskan village
By manoj252 on 10/16/2008 1:15:10 PM , Rating: 2
What do you think of the claims that melting the permafrost will release more methane (trapped in the ice right now) which will trigger higher temperatures and set off a vicious cycle?

By masher2 on 10/16/2008 1:50:24 PM , Rating: 2
The clathrate gun hypothesis? It's prima facie plausible, though little real evidence exists to either support or deny it.

Regardless, since a great deal of current research suggests that climate sensitivity to CO2 is extremely low, then if the methane "gun" exists, it's going to fire from natural causes rather than anthropogenic...and we better prepare for mitigation and adaption, rather than wasting resources in a futile King-Canute style attempt to halt it.

RE: In other news...Death of an Alaskan village
By nah on 10/16/2008 1:22:16 PM , Rating: 2
rather than rashly attempting to stop the gears of nature:

I'm curious--what do you mean by this ?

By mdogs444 on 10/16/2008 1:31:48 PM , Rating: 2
He means they are drawing up plans on how to cope and adapt with climate change, rather than trying to come up with nonsensical ways to stop natural climate change.

"Let's face it, we're not changing the world. We're building a product that helps people buy more crap - and watch porn." -- Seagate CEO Bill Watkins
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