Glaciers and Climate Project

Black Rapids Glacier, Alaska

Black Rapids Glacier on September 9, 1937, shortly after its surge in the winter of 1936-37. Photo courtesy of Fred Howard Moffit
Black Rapids Glacier on September 9, 1937, shortly after its surge in the winter of 1936-37. Photo courtesy of Fred Howard Moffit
Black Rapids Glacier in September 1986. Looped medial moraines are a common feature of surge-type glaciers. Photo courtesy of Rod March
Black Rapids Glacier in September 1986. Looped medial moraines are a common feature of surge-type glaciers. Photo courtesy of Rod March

Black Rapids Glacier is a surge-type glacier which most recently surged in 1936-37 and is currently in its quiescent phase. While many glaciers in Alaska exhibit reoccurring surge behavior, this glacier is of special interest because it is a potential hazard to the trans-Alaska oil pipeline.

USGS studied Black Rapids Glacier, Alaska from 1970 to 1992 with observations of mass balance, ice velocity, glacier surface altitude, and ice thickness. Ten sites on the glacier were monitored from 1972 to 1987, and three sites were monitored from 1988 to 1992.

More recently, study of Black Rapids Glacier has been continued by the University of Alaska (see Martin Truffer under links below).

On November 3, 2002, the M7.9 Denali Fault Earthquake caused several massive avalanches onto Black Rapids Glacier. Three rock falls from the south wall of the Black Rapids Glacier covered about 13 km of the ablation area or about 5% of the total glacier area.

Related Publications

Molnia, B.F., 2008, Glaciers of North America -- Glaciers of Alaska, in Williams, R.S., Jr., and Ferrigno, J.G., eds., Satellite image atlas of glaciers of the world: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1386-K, 525 p.

Truffer, M., Craw, P., Trabant, D., March, R., 2002, Effects of the M7.9 Denali Fault Earthquake on glaciers in the Alaska Range, Eos Trans. AGU, 83(47), Fall Meet. Suppl., Abstract S72F-1334 Poster

Heinrichs, Thomas A., Mayo, L. R., Echelmeyer, K.E., and Harrison, W.D., 1996, Quiescent-phase evolution of a surge-type glacier: Black Rapids Glacier, Alaska, U.S.A., J. of Glaciology, V. 42, No. 140, p.110-122

Heinrichs, Thomas A., Mayo, L. R., Trabant, D. C., and March, R. S., 1995, Observations of the surge-type Black Rapids Glacier, Alaska, during a quiescent period, 1970-92, USGS Open-File Report 94-512, 98 p.

Heinrichs, Thomas A., 1992, Black Rapids Glacier, Alaska: Potential hazard to the Trans-Alaska pipeline and the uncertain buildup to the next surge, in Proceedings Alaska Water Issues, American Water Resources Association, Alaska Section, WRC #114, p. 85

Péwé, T.L., and Reger, R.D., 1983, Delta River area, Alaska Range, in Péwé, T.L., and Reger, R.D., eds., Guidebook to permafrost and Quaternary geology along the Richardson and Glenn Highways between Fairbanks and Anchorage, Alaska-Guidebook 1, Fourth International Conference on Permafrost: Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys, p. 47-135.

Harrison, W.D., Mayo, L.R., and Trabant, D.C., 1975, Temperature measurements on Black Rapids Glacier, Alaska, in Weller, Gunter, and Bowling, S.A., eds., Climate of the Arctic-Twenty-Fourth Alaska Science Conference, August 15-17, 1973: Fairbanks, University of Alaska, Geophysical Institute, p. 350-352.

Black Rapids Glacier in August 1994. 'Bath tub ring' effect of receding glacier is clearly evident  of surge-type glaciers. Photo courtesy of Rod March
Black Rapids Glacier in August 1994. "Bath tub ring" effect of receding glacier is clearly evident of surge-type glaciers. Photo courtesy of Rod March

Related Links

Black Rapids Glacier Monitoring, Powerpoint presentation

NSIDC Photo Collection Search (lots of old photos from 1899 to 1969) (search by name "Black Rapids")

Martin Truffer, Geophysical Institute - Glaciology, truffer@gi.alaska.edu

Tom Heinrichs, Geographic Information Network of Alaska (GINA), tah@gi.alaska.edu

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