The Juneau Icefield Research Program (JIRP) calculates that thinning of Alaska’s Taku Glacier has increased from an average rate of a half meter to two meters per year over the past two decades.
Annual mapping by JIRP reveals the glacier’s thickness has increased and decreased from one year to the next, likely due to snow accumulation variability, but the overall current trend shows an annual net loss of ice.
“Taku is losing enough meltwater every day to fill an NFL stadium,” said Seth Campbell, JIRP Director of Academics & Research.
JIRP monitors the complex kinematics and mass balance of the Juneau Icefield – that is, they study annual changes to ice velocity, snow accumulation, and surface melting – to estimate if the glacier is advancing or retreating over time. One way they accomplish this task is by mapping yearly GPS field points in the Grapher and Surfer modeling packages from Golden Software, a developer of affordable 2D and 3D scientific software based in Golden, Colo.
“JIRP’s study of the many processes impacting the Juneau Icefield demonstrates the value of applying advanced visualization to gain insights from complex data sets,” said Golden Software CEO Blakelee Mills.
Accurate assessment of the Taku melt rate is vital to the study of climate change because, at more than 800 square kilometers, the glacier is the largest in the massive Juneau Icefield. Straddling the Alaska-Canada border, the receding icefield plays multiple important roles in local ecosystems. For the residents of British Columbia, it is a reliable supply of freshwater, but for the Gulf of Alaska, increasing glacier meltwater can have potentially negative impacts the marine ecosystem and valuable fisheries.
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