Columbia Glacier, Alaska
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.
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