Monday, May 04, 2009

Magnificent Tracy Arm

September 2008
Tracy Arm is an ice carved fjord about 45 miles south of Juneau, Alaska. The fjord ends in two beautiful glaciers, the north and south Sawyer Glaciers. Both of these glaciers are extremely active, and each is receding visibly between our visits. Huge icebergs as well as lots of bergy bits and growlers are constantly being deposited into the ocean from the glaciers as they calve ice into the sea. The bergs themselves are often deep blue with an ethereal light that seems to come from within the ice itself.

To see a calving event is a matter of patience and timing. Often huge sections of the glaciers face will break off and crash into the sea with a thunderous sound.

Possibly even more amazing, though much less cacophonous an event, is when a huge piece of ice breaks off the glaciers' face from below the sea surface where we can't see or hear it until the detached iceberg launches itself into the air from below. These bergs are called "shooters" and can also be enormous, creating large waves that threaten small boats too near the face.

For several years now I have returned each summer to witness the retreat of the two Sawyer Glaciers in Tracy Arm. This waterfall and exposed rock were covered in ice by South Sawyer Glacier only four short years ago.

Being up-close and personal in our Zodiacs really gives the sense for how small we humans really are in the geological events that surround us here in this fjord. How ironic that it is the very way we are choosing to live our lives here in the 21st century that is accelerating the climate change that is directly (and visibly) forcing the retreat of these glaciers!

A small harbor porpoise swims among the bergy bits deep in the fjord next to Sawyer Glacier, perhaps the very first animal to swim in this newly opened section of the fjord. Glaciers are in a constant state of change all over the world, and most are retreating at an alarming rate. It will be a sad day indeed if we lose them altogether here in Southeast Alaska. Better come and enjoy them while you can...

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