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Columbia Glacier, Valdez

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#4 of 13 in Things to do in Valdez
The Columbia Glacier, a glacier in Prince William Sound on the south coast of the U.S. state of Alaska, is one of the fastest moving glaciers in the world, and has been retreating since the early 1980s. It was named after Columbia University, one of several glaciers in the area named for elite U.S. colleges by the Harriman Alaska Expedition in 1899.The Alaska Marine Highway vessel M/V Columbia is named after the Columbia Glacier.SizeThe glacier twists its way through western Alaska's Chugach Mountains. The bald streak at the bottom of the mountains, called the trimline, shows this glacier has lost 1,300ft of thickness. It has also retreated 10.5mi since that measurement was taken.RetreatThe glacier's speed of retreat at the terminus reached a maximum of nearly 30m per day in 2001, when it was discharging icebergs at approximately 7km3 per year; the glacier has subsequently slowed down, resulting in an increase in retreat rate. The terminus has retreated a total of 16km at an average rate of approximately 0.6km per year since 1982. The retreat has been accompanied by nearly 500m of thinning at the present position of the terminus. In the next few decades it is expected to retreat another 15km, to a point where the bed of the glacier rises above sea level. Columbia Glacier's retreat should be completed around 2020. Tidewater glacier advance and retreat is not directly forced by climate (adjacent tidewater glaciers may be simultaneously advancing and retreating), but rapid retreat appears to be triggered by climate-forced long-term thinning.
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TripAdvisor
  • Driving along the valley into Valdez you can’t miss seeing the edge of the glacier and the waterfalls. If you are able to take a helicopter trip over the mountains to see the glacier from above you se...  more »
  • We took a Stan Stephens Glacier Cruise to see this glacier (see separate review on Stan Stephens Glacier Cruise) and it was excellent. Although the day we went was pretty cool, very overcast with some...  more »
  • We did a day trip with san stephens cruise. Professional organization with good explanation. Whales sea otters sea lions. We saw them all. And as icing on the cake the mighty columbia glacier. One of our highlights on our drieweekstour through alaska and yukon. A must
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