Llewellyn Glacier, British Columbia Repeat Photograph: 1909 – 2007

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By Matt Beedle

In 2007 Jens Petersen and Brent Campbell enjoyed a canoe trip on Atlin Lake, a journey that included some exploration of the Llewellyn Glacier terminus and surroundings.  “I’m absolutely fascinated with Llewellyn Glacier and the entire Atlin area now,” writes Jens.  He submitted his 2007 photo along with the ca. 1909 photo, which illustrates about 100 years of change of the Llewellyn terminus.

The 2007 photo is used here with the permission of Jens Petersen.  The ca. 1909 image is credited to C. R. Bourne and is held by Library and Archives Canada.

This perspective looks almost directly south from a low ridge at the southern end of Llewellyn Inlet of Atlin Lake.  A trail leads from the campsite on Llewellyn Inlet over this ridge to the glacier forefield and on to the terminal lake and glacier terminus.  Learn more about the area via the Atlin Provincial Park website.

In 1909 the surface of Llewellyn Glacier was well up the bedrock ridge/mountain on the left in the image above.  The elevation of this surface position – marked clearly by the current trimline – is approximately 900 m, while the present day lake surface is at an elevation of a bit below 700 m.  This thinning of some 200 m over the past century is dramatic, but not uncommon for the terminus of a large glacier in the Coast Mountains of British Columbia and Alaska.  This thinning, and ultimate recession away from this bedrock ridge was the trigger of a “disappearance of a glacial river” in 2011.

Thank you for submitting your photography to GlacierChange.org, Jens!


More on Llewellyn Glacier at GlacierChange.org

“Disappearance of a Glacial River” at GlacierChange.org

Atlin Provincial Park

Discover Atlin, British Columbia

Mendenhall Glacier, AK Continues to Retreat: Photos and Satellite Imagery


By  Matt Beedle

For the past three years my dad, Jack Beedle, has made an annual journey to a spot on Thunder Mountain to photograph Mendenhall Glacier.  It’s a good 2-hour climb up to this location; a significant effort for one shot (Thanks, Dad!).  We first visited this location – overlooking the Mendenhall Valley of Juneau, Alaska – in 1993 when I was in high school.  The first repeat photograph my dad took yielded this photo pair, which I find quite stunning, especially in that the perspective provides a unique view of volume change in addition to area/length change:

Mendenhall Glacier as seen from Thunder Mountain.  That’s me in the 1993 image.  For a bit of a sense of scale:  the distance from Nugget Falls (waterfall at lower right)  to the terminus in the 2010 image is slightly more than 1 kilometer (0.62 miles).

Mendenhall Glacier has continued to retreat since 2010, but as the time between images is is only a few years as opposed to the better part of two decades, the results are not nearly as striking.  This is how the change of Mendenhall Glacier appears from this vantage point since 2010:

Mendenhall Glacier photographed from Thunder Mountain in September of 2010, 2011, and 2012. Photos by Jack Beedle.

The retreat from 2010 to 2011 is apparent, but it’s difficult to make out much change in the past year from this distance.  Within the next decade it’s likely that Mendenhall Glacier will retreat to a point where it is no longer in contact with Mendenhall Lake.  When this happens the calving process – by which glaciers can lose large amounts of mass – will end, and the retreat of Mendenhall Glacier should slow.  Are we nearing that point?  Did retreat of Mendenhall Glacier slow this past year?  To try to answer these questions I did a quick investigation with satellite imagery from 1993, 2010, 2011, and 2012.

These two images are from Landsat satellite imagery. I used what are called false-color composites that show vegetation as red, and make the glacier ice a bit easier to see. The unfortunate black striping in the 2012 image is from a failure of what’s called the Scan Line Corrector on the Landsat 7 satellite.  The outlines for Mendenhall glacier in 1993, 2010, 2011, and 2012 are shown in progressively lighter shades of blue.

In 1993 Mendenhall Glacier extended to Nugget Falls, where a popular trail ends today, and many people play in the sand where the ice stood not too long ago.  Since then it has retreated dramatically, especially where in contact with the lake where calving results in the loss of a great deal of mass.  Note that the retreat along the bedrock peninsula that juts out into the lake, where the glacier is grounded and there is no calving, is much less.  To measure the rate of retreat since 1993 I took the average across the entire terminus, including the portion that calves into Mendenhall Lake and the portion that is grounded on the bedrock peninsula.

Before I tell you the numbers I need to post a little disclaimer.  Landsat satellite imagery, with a resolution of 30 meters (the width of each pixel represents 30 meters on the ground), is far from ideal to determine annual glacier length change.  My intent here is to get a rough estimate of change to lend some context to the repeat photography.

With that said, here’s (roughly) how fast Mendenhall Glacier has been receding since 1993 when my dad and I first hiked Thunder Mountain:

  • 1993 – 2010:  Total retreat of 538 meters (m), or 32 m per year
  • 2010 – 2011:  56 m
  • 2011 – 2012:  40 m
  • 1993 – 2012:  Total retreat of 660 meters (m), or 35 m per year

[NOTE:  Values reported here are rounded to the nearest meter and thus total retreat does not jive with the annual rates.]

From these measurements it appears that recent retreat of Mendenhall Glacier (2010 – 2012) has been greater than the average rates since 1993.  Although it’s not readily apparent from the repeat photographs, the retreat of Mendenhall Glacier has continued in 2012, and at what appears to be a rate that is a bit faster than the average since 1993.

I too visited this site on Thunder Mountain this past summer with the intent of getting a shot of me standing in the same place as in 1993.  Unfortunately I didn’t have the right lens in my camera kit that day to get the same perspective that was captured in 1993.  I hope to return to Thunder Mountain with my dad in the summer of 2013 to capture the ’20th anniversary’ shot of our initial journey to this spot.

Me with cousins Jana and Shannon at the Thunder Mountain repeat-photograph site. August 2012.

Standing on Thunder Mountain, 1993 image in hand, enjoying the stunning view of Mendenhall Glacier, I was struck by the incredible magnitude of change.  Not really saddened, but more in awe of the incredible dynamism of the natural world around us.  I’m captivated by these rapidly changing, intensely beautiful masses of ice and snow, and hope that I can bring a bit of this experience to you through images and a bit of analysis.


More on Mendenhall Glacier at GlacierChange.org

Facts and figures on Mendenhall Glacier change from University of Alaska Southeast

Elleanor Boyce’s Masters Thesis on the retreat of Mendenhall Glacier

Stunning time lapse of Mendenhall Glacier retreat by James Balog’s Extreme Ice Survey

Peer-reviewed literature:

Motyka et al.  2003.  Twentieth Century thinning of Mendenhall Glacier, Alaska, and its relationship to climate, lake calving, and glacier run-off, Global and Planetary Change, 35, 93-112.


Our Days in Atlin, BC (Blogging From the Field #53)

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Post and photos by Kristin Timm

[This post is part of a series of real-time communication from participants in the 2012 Juneau Icefield Research Program.  The program begins June 23rd and concludes August 18th.]

Atlin, British Columbia is a small Canadian community of about 300 people. It is located in Northern BC, but you actually cannot get to it from anyplace else in BC. You get to the town by driving south from the Yukon Territory (or by hiking over the Juneau Icefield :) ). The town has a really rich and interesting history, and at one time this area had about 10,000 people. In the late 1800’s it was the site of a gold rush, and people continue to mine placer gold here today. Placer is the small pieces of gold that are essentially “sorted” out from layers of old river sediments. The placer deposits can be as small as mere specks or nuggets of several ounces, or about the size of an acorn. A local miner showed us his operation, and he actually uses plastic outdoor carpeting to “catch” the smallest flecks of gold.

Old buildings from the past century are all over the area.

Old buildings meet the eclectic and artistic side of the community to make Atlin a very unique and beautiful community.

JIRP actually owns one of these interesting old buildings. We stay at and base our operations out of the old Atlin hospital (yes, it is a kind of creepy building) while we are in town. According to a historical society plaque, the hospital closed in the 50’s because there were not enough patients. It now has a lecture room, library/office, storage, and bedrooms for the JIRP faculty and staff. The Atlin boat harbor is out in front, and we spent several clear evenings sleeping on the dock under the stars.

The old Atlin hospital is now the base of operations for JIRP, while in Atlin.

Our time in Atlin was really quite relaxing. In between laundry, showers, and naps in the grass, we worked on our talks for our big community presentation. Traditionally, JIRP students have presented their research projects to the Atlin community each year after getting off the icefield, and this year was no different. A few of us also spent most of the day baking about 200 cookies for the event. The event was advertised locally with a sign and posters, and an interview with our director, Jeff was aired that morning on CBC radio.

A local sign advertises for our evening program.

It was a really lovely evening with cookies, coffee, an overview of JIRP and the status of the icefield by our director Jeff, five minute presentations by each of the 14 JIRP students, and a closing historical perspective from Toby. I was really impressed that out of about 300 residents, about 60 people showed up for the presentations, and it was an enthusiastic audience that had great questions and stuck around afterword to meet some of the students.

Annika Ord presents about her biological research in Paradise Valley, a valley just off the icefield that is believed to have been a refuge for biological diversity during the last glacial maxiumum.

Matt Osman provides an introduction to the process of isotope fractionation during his presentation.

Zeke Brechtel came to JIRP with a set of instruments used to measure windflow over the Taku Glacier, and will later model his results.

Atlin, also known as Camp-30, was a great place to spend a few days and acclimatize to being back in “civilization” before moving on to the big city of Juneau. The people of the small town were friendly and kind, and displayed a unique enthusiasm for seeing the “glacier kids” in town again, as they do each summer. Thank you Atlin for continuing to support the Juneau Icefield Research Program, and thank you for your hospitality. Thank you also to both stores and Jenz Place for helping us overcome our post-icefield ice cream cravings!


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Surveying Work is Done (Blogging From the Field #52)

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Post and photos by Christian Hein and Tobias Küchenmeister (Beuth-Hochschule für Technik Berlin)

[This post is part of a series of real-time communication from participants in the 2012 Juneau Icefield Research Program.  The program begins June 23rd and concludes August 18th.]

Die Arbeit ist geschafft! 207 km Längs- und 140 km Querprofile mit insgesamt 1271 Punkten liegen hinter uns. Das heißt in den kommenden Tagen können wir uns entspannt zurücklehnen.

The work is done! 207 km of longitudinal and 140 km of transversal profiles with all together 1271 points were measured on the Icefield. So we can kick back for the next few days.

Tobi napping on the snowmobile

Rückblickend betrachtet kann man sagen, dass die Vermessungsarbeiten dieses Jahr sehr erfolgreich waren. In keinem Jahr zuvor wurden so viele Profile gemessen.

In retrospect this year’s surveying field season could be described as very successful. So many profiles have never been measured before.

Christian in the mirror of the snowmobile

Den Blick auf Atlin gerichtet, wird mir bewusst, dass der Sommer in Alaska sich langsam dem Ende nähert. Einerseits freue ich mich auf die Vorzüge der Zivilisation. Doch andererseits werde ich die Zeit hier vermissen und ganz bestimmt nicht vergessen. Pilot Bread, Spam, Thor und Petunia…

Facing Atlin I realize that the summer in Alaska is getting closer to its end. On the one hand I look forward to the advantages of civilization. But on the other hand, I will miss and never forget the good time we had. Pilot Bread, Spam, Thor and Petunia…

Lunch time

Ein Gruß an die Familien, Freunde und Bekannte, den Fachbereich III der Beuth-Hochschule für Technik Berlin, besonders an Herrn Stempfhuber und Herrn Korth.

Greetings to our families, friends, and the third department of the “Beuth-Hochschule für Technik Berlin” especially to Mr. Stempfhuber und Mr. Korth.


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A Visit to Camp 10 (Blogging From the Field #51)

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Post and photos by Jamie Bradshaw

[This post is part of a series of real-time communication from participants in the 2012 Juneau Icefield Research Program.  The program begins June 23rd and concludes August 18th.]

July 20, 2012 was a rare sunny day in Juneau, I was planning on going on a hike or up a mountain to take advantage of the sunshine. Then I got a call from the satellite phone. It was Jeff, the director of Juneau Icefield Research Program (JIRP). He started out the conversation with, “Hey Jamie, it’s Jeff. We want to have a flight up to Camp 10 today.” Immediately my heart sank. Sending a flight up to the icefield meant I was going to be busy most of the day and I wouldn’t be able to soak up the rays as planned. Food and supplies were going to be needed at Camp 10 (C10) and it is my job as the JIRP 2012 Logistics Agent to make sure they get what they need. Then Jeff continued with, “And we’d like to get you up to C10 as well.” I was shocked. I let out a squeal of excitement which sounded like a garbled cry from Cher to Jeff over the sat phone.

They gave me a list of groceries, gear and equipment to be gathered for C10. I called Coastal Helicopters, the company we use to fly personnel, gear, fuel and food to the icefield to arrange a flight to C10. I had 2 hours to buy the requested items from three different stores, pick up the mail and get it staged at the heliport. I eagerly gathered everything needed and got it to Coastal. After the pilots loaded the helo, they came to get me. I walked across the tarmac with the pilot, camera in hand and excitement running through me. This was going to be not only my first time going to a JIRP camp, but it was my first time seeing the icefield.

We flew up the Lemon Creek Valley, I was able to see one building at Camp 17 and got an idea of the long route JIRPers had to take to enter the icefield. When we stopped climbing the valley and got to the elevation of the icefield, the wild nunataks of the Juneau Icefield were revealed. Nunataks are the tops of mountains that are exposed because they are not covered by the icefield. Therefore, they are sharp in comparison to the mountain tops in town because they have not been eroded and smoothed by glaciers. The ragged and gnarly peaks in a blanket of snow and ice gives the icefield a magical feeling.

The approach to Camp 10 had a fantastic view of my favorite nunatak, Devil’s Paw.  At 8,584 ft (2,616 m) it is the highest peak of the Juneau Icefield.

Even the Taku Towers enjoy soaking up the sun!

After roughly 15 minutes, Camp 10 was in sight and so were the field staff. I was so excited to see them; they weren’t just going to be voices over the radio for the short time that I was at C10. Once we landed and got off the helicopter, I was greeted with huge welcoming hugs from the field staff. Then they started unloading and loading the helicopter.

JIRP staff and students unloading the helicopter.

It was at this point that I discovered how rewarding doing logistics for JIRP is. The students were so happy to get the mail delivered to them on the icefield. I have also never seen people get so excited about the arrival of Tang! Everyone was so thankful and appreciative for the work that I do at “Juneau Base” which makes life on the icefield possible. I knew that my job had a lot of responsibility attached to it, but I didn’t realize how rewarding it would be until I got to fly to C10.

By the time the helicopter was unloaded, then loaded again for the return flight to Juneau, I was able to run around camp and get a tour of all the buildings. I was very impressed with the facilities. It is truly an incredible accomplishment what Dr. Maynard Miller and many more have created on the Juneau Icefield since the 1940s. After being at C10 for about 30 minutes, it was unfortunately time to leave; but not without a group photograph!

The JIRP field staff and I at C10.  From left to right:  Dr. Jeff Kavanaugh, Chris McNeil, Coco Loehr, Jamie Bradshaw, Marco Holgado, Cameron Miller, Zach Miller, Brad Markle, Dr. Bill Isherwood, Newt Krumdieck, Dr. Alf Pinchak (front), Scott McGee, Gary Linder

My first time to the icefield was the highlight of my summer and an experience I will never forget.

[Editor’s note:  Jamie Bradshaw, as the JIRP Logistics Agent stationed in Juneau, is a huge piece of the logistics-puzzle that enables JIRP to run. Thank you, Jamie!]


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