Matanuska Glacier6 December, 2016
AT THIS NATURAL BOUNDARY, CHUNKS OF TRANSLUCENT CYAN ICE BATHE IN CHILLED WATERS. ICICLES PIERCE DOWNWARDS LIKE SHAFTS OF LIGHT, TETHERED TO THE ROOFS OF COLD BLUE CAVERNS.
Alaska – a landscape defined by its wide open spaces, rugged mountains and dense forests. 100 miles north east of Anchorage, lies Matanuska, a valley glacier, the largest accessible by car in the United States. This solid body of ice and snow flows like a river under its own weight, carving a path into the surrounding lands.
Here, the climate is subarctic, with long cold winters and short cool summers setting the seasonal tempo. A palette of pale azures and powder blues colour the scene.
Towards the terminus of the glacier, where the ice meets land, it is possible to witness the subtle strength and shifts in nature. At this natural boundary, chunks of translucent cyan ice bathe in chilled waters. Icicles pierce downwards like shafts of light, tethered to the roofs of cold blue caverns. In the distance, mountain peaks rise and fall like layers of frosting, laid upon the cold cake of hardened earth beneath.
Over time, as the earth’s surface warms, the ice gradually transitions from solid to liquid. Alaska has been warming more quickly than other states, and from a recent calculation, Alaska is losing ice at the rate of 50 billion tons a year. Matanuska Glacier has lost over 80 million tons in the last decade alone.
From the glacier, meltwater flows down within the valley to the Matanuska River and eventually, out into the oceans. The glaciers in Alaska form part of a network that only hold 1 percent of the Earth’s glacial ice volume, yet their melting accounts for almost a third in the rise in sea levels.
However, these shifts are not obvious to a visitor here. Where powerful ice fields span outwards like sheets of frosted glass, simultaneously fragile and strong. Where snow forms intricate patterns and infinite layers, where light reflects off sculpted structures formed of clear frozen waters. It is to the occasional observer, a winter marvel.