Columbia Glacier, Alaska

Columbia Glacier, Photo courtesy of Louis Sass
Columbia Glacier, Photo courtesy of Louis Sass

Columbia Glacier is a large (1,100 square kilometers), multi-branched calving glacier in south central Alaska that flows mostly south out of the Chugach Mountains to its tidewater termination in Prince William Sound. Prior to 1980, it had a long history of stability, with a length of 66 kilometers (41 miles), and small, short-lived advances or retreats. From 1957—74, the lower ablation area maintained its altitude within a few meters, which suggests that the glacier was in climatic equilibrium for at least 2 decades. During the early part of the 1980 decade, it began a rapid retreat. By 1995, it was only about 57 kilometers long and by late 2000, about 54 kilometers long with no indication that the retreat would stop soon. Though perhaps triggered by climate fluctuations, this major glacier retreat once initiated, has progressed due to the nature of the calving glacier cycle with little concern for the climate. Ongoing research at Columbia Glacier aims to understand the dynamics of glacier calving, estimate ice thickness, and calculate mass balance of this rapidly changing glacier.

Related Publications

McNabb, R.W. , R. Hock, Shad R. O'Neel, L.A. Rasmussen, Y. Ahn, M. Braun, H. Conway, S. Herreid, I. Joughin, W.T. Pfeffer, B.E. Smith, M. Truffer, 2012, Using surface velocities to calculate ice thickness and bed topography: A case study at Columbia Glacier, Alaska, USA, Journal of Glaciology (58) 1151-1164.

Cook, S., T. Zwinger, I.C. Rutt, S. O'Neel, T. Murray, 2012, Testing the effect of water in crevasses on a physically based calving model, Annals of Glaciology (53) 90-96.

O'Neel, Shad, 2012, Surface Mass Balance of the Columbia Glacier, Alaska, 1978 and 2010 Balance Years, Data Series 676.

Post, A., O'Neel, S., Motyka, R., and Streveler, G, 2011, A complex relationship between calving glaciers and climate, EOS Transactions, American Geophysical Union, V. 92, No. 37, p. 305-6.

Walter, Fabian, Shad O'Neel, Daniel McNamara, W.T. Pfeffer, Jeremy N. Bassis, Helen Amanda Fricker, 2010, Iceberg calving during transition from grounded to floating ice: Columbia Glacier, Alaska, Geophysical Research Letters (37) no.15.

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.

O'Neel S. and W. T. Pfeffer, 2007, Source mechanics for monochromatic icequakes produced during iceberg calving at Columbia Glacier, Alaska, Geophysical Research Letters, Vol. 34, no. 22, 5 p. doi: 10.1029/2007GL031370.

O'Neel S., H. P. Marshall, D. E. McNamara and W. T. Pfeffer, 2007, Seismic detection and analysis of icequakes at Columbia Glacier, Alaska, Journal of Geophysical Research, Vol. 112, no. F03S23. doi: 10.1029/2006JF000595.

O'Neel S.,, W.T. Pfeffer, R. Krimmel, M. Meier, 2005, Evolving force balance at Columbia Glacier, Alaska, during its rapid retreat, Journal of Geophysical Research F: Earth Surface (110).

Krimmel, R.M., 2001, Photogrammetric Data Set, 1957-2000 and Bathymetric Measurements for Columbia Glacier, Alaska: U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 01-4089, 46 p.

Trabant, D.C. and Krimmel, R.M., 1997, Measurement of snow accumulation since August 1992 on Columbia Glacier, Alaska, in Arctic Science and Resource Management: Exploring the Issues, Arctic Division Science Conference, Programs and Abstracts, AAAS Arctic Division.

Krimmel, R.M., 1996, Columbia Glacier, Alaska Research on Tidewater Glaciers: U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 091-96, 4 p.

Krimmel, Robert M. 1992, Photogrammetric determination of surface altitude, velocity, and calving rate of Columbia Glacier, Alaska, 1983-91, Open-File Report 92-104.

Rasmussen, L. A., 1989, Surface velocity variations of the lower part of Columbia Glacier, Alaska, 1977-1981, Professional Paper 1258-H.

Tarr, R.S. and Martin, L., 1914, Alaskan Glacier Studies of the National Geographic Society in the Yakutat Bay, Prince William Sound and Lower Copper River Regions, The National Geographic Society, 498 p.

Columbia Glacier, Photo courtesy of Louis Sass
Columbia Glacier, Photo courtesy of Louis Sass

Related Links

NASA Earth Observatory - Columbia Glacier, AK

INSTAAR Glaciology Group

NSIDC Photo Collection Search (Photos from 1899 to 1969, search by name "Columbia")