The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Tommy Wells
Seward Phoenix Log 

Study show Exit Glacier receded nearly 300 feet


Tommy Wells

The Exit Glacier retreated 262 feet during a year-long stretch from 2015-16, according to a recent study.

Countless studies have shown the climate in Alaska is slowly changing. And, even though most Seward residents might not have agreed this past winter, the state is growing warmer. One the best examples of climate change can be found in Seward's own back yard. Studies show the Exit Glacier is continuing is retreat.

A major attractions in the area, the glacier has shrunken by a great margin over the past two centuries, including at an alarming rate in 2015-16. During a span from the fall of 2015 to the fall of 2016, officials estimate the glacier receded 262 feet.

"As you know, it's getting warmer," said Kenai Fjords National Park interpretor Ann Fineman earlier this week before leading a group of hikers to the edge of the glacier during opening weekend activities at the park.

The large shrinkage total is the second recorded sharp decline in the past few years. In 2013 to 2014, the ice retreated 187 feet.

The shrinking, and thinning of the glacier, isn't something that is new, Fineman added. The Exit Glacier - which is part of the expansive Harding Ice Field - has been receding at a rate of approximately 162 feet a year since 2010.

With its retreat, Fineman said environment conditions have also helped reshape the toe of the glacier. In September of 2016, the bottom portion of the glacier had a rounded appearance. Possibly due to water, a portion of the toe was undercut, leaving the edge with a rougher appearance.

Park officials are hopeful the glacier's retreat may not be as significant - or, hopefully, non-existent, this season.

"Hopefully, not much (of a loss)," said Fineman. "It was cold here this winter and we received a lot of snow. We don't know (if there has been a loss) yet. As far as I know, a newer study hasn't been released yet."

One thing is certain, however. The Glacier remains a popular destination for visitors. The park officially opened its 2017 summer season on May 22. Since that time hundreds of people have hiked to various heights of the trail.

Tommy Wells

A marker shows how far the glacier has receded since 1998.

The Kenai Fjords National Wildlife Park Nature Center is open from 9 a.m. until 8 p.m. daily, but the trails are continuously and are free of charge. Due to recent snowfall at the high levels of the Harding Icefield, officials are advising hikers to travel no father than Marmot Meadows.

In 1968, In expedition, led by Bill Babcock, Eric Barnes, Bill Fox, Dave Johnston, Yule Kilcher and his son Otto, Dave Spencer, Helmut Tschaffert, and Vin and Grace (Jansen) Hoeman, became the first group to successfully climb ascent of Truuli Peak, a 6,612-foot mountain, en route to crossing the Harding Icefield. It took the team eight days to travel from Homer to Seward.

Fineman said park rangers lead walks to the edge of the glacier four time a day, including at 10 a.m., 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Additionally, rangers give presentations on various subjects, including bears, moose, etc, daily at 12:30 p.m. in the pavilion.


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