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Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Good winter for growing glaciers

Koniag Glacier from Koniag Peak looking toward Mount Glotof

As I discussed in the last blog post below the last three winters in Alaska have been abnormally warm. And yet each has been different in terms of moisture and extreme events etc due to the moving position of the warm 'blob' of water in the North Pacific - the cause of the warm winters.  Two winters ago the weather was warm, wet and extreme; last winter was warm and dry; and this winter is warm, wet but stable.  What's interesting is that each of these winters has had a different effect on Kodiak's glaciers.

In general Kodiak's glaciers have been rapidly shrinking over the last 50 years or so.  In the above photo from 2004 the darker colored granite is where rock has been exposed above snow every summer and lichen has had a chance to grow.  The light colored rock represents rock that has never been exposed in the summer - the rock had been covered by a glacier.  As you can see there is a lot of light colored rock with no lichen growing on it.  That's because with 'global warming' the glacier is disappearing at a rapid rate.

However, I think this year the glacier will gain 'snow'.  Let me explain why.

Last year when it was warm and dry Kodiak's glaciers did not add a lot of snow.  And the winter before when it was warm, wet and extreme it often rained to the very tops of the mountains, and again the glaciers probably did not add mass.  But this year with the stable warm weather the snowline is sharp and all the extra moisture above about 2000 feet has mostly fallen as snow.  I gather in town we have had the third wettest winter on record.  So for alpine, interior Kodiak that translates to a top 3 snowiest winter.  We are getting a LOT of snow in Kodiak's alpine.

Now whether or not the glaciers grow because of the extra snow depends on how hot and rainy it gets next summer.  If the summer weather does not melt all the new snow the glaciers will grow - at least for one year.

It's ironic that a warmer climate does not necessarily mean retreating glaciers.  This winter despite super warm temperatures and practically no snow at sea level the snow pack is still super deep up high. So maybe if the weather stays warm, wet and stable there is still hope for Kodiak's glaciers.


The South Bowl of Pyramid Mountain this afternoon

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