Tag Archives: glacier

How much has the Grand Plateau Glacier Changed?


NASA’s earth observatory post Grand Plateau Glacier provides a pair of aerial images of the glacier, copied here, from 1984 and 2019, both from Sept of the given year.

In the images, a moraine near the coastline acts like a dam, trapping meltwater and forming a proglacial lake. Also note the end moraine visible poking above the surface of the lake in the 2019 image. This mound was left behind by a lobe of the glacier front that appears in the 1984 image.

Over the past 35 years, the entire flow of the glacier system changed. In the 1984 image, many of the glacier’s branches flow toward the lake to the southwest; by 2019, retreat caused some branches to change course and flow toward the northwest. Notice the change in direction of the thin brown lines tracing the flow of the glacier’s branches. These are medial moraines: rocky debris from the sides of glaciers (lateral moraines) that have merged, causing the debris to be carried down the center of the combined glacier.

Retreat is not the only change; Grand Plateau is also visibly narrowing and thinning.

Larger images are available covering more area on the page. There is also an option to view the images together with a slider going over the image to change the year and, of course, more information about the changes in the glacier.

There is a link to other glacial image pairs on the Misc Materials page.

Glacier Pairs

NASA’s Global Ice Viewer for Glaciers provides stunning pairs of images of glaciers taken many years apart at the same location. The viewer starts with a map of the world with links for seven locations. Each link brings you to glacier pair images from that location with information about the images. For example, here is a pair of images from Bear Glacier in the Alaskan Range. The top image was taken on July 20, 1909 and the second on Aug 5, 2005. Here is what the site says about glaciers:

Glaciers are sentinels of climate change. Ice that took centuries to develop can vanish in just a few years. A glacier doesn’t melt slowly and steadily like an ice cube on a table. Once glacial ice begins to break down, the interaction of meltwater with the glacier’s structure can cause increasingly fast melting and retreat.

Widespread loss of glaciers would likely alter climate patterns in complex ways. Glaciers have white surfaces that reflect the sun’s rays.  This helps keep our current climate mild. When glaciers melt, darker surfaces are exposed, which absorb heat.  This raises temperatures even more.