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PICTURE AT THE TOP OF THE PAGE: In many of my pictures, you can see a strip of bare coastline, or at
least some bare spots along the coast. That raises the question of whether the glaciers that flow down to
the coast have been retreating in recent years. That has been true of most Alaska glaciers as well as
glaciers in other parts of the world. In this case, there are so many miles of Antarctic coastline to study,
that I am not sure if anyone has surveyed it all. Some of it, however, has been studied, as detailed below.
By the way, notice the two whales, one blowing, in the foreground of the above picture, which is from the
SOME LINKS: HERE are my other glacier pictures, with many retreating ones, most from Alaska, one from Colorado.
HERE is a slideshow from my global warming pages about glaciers in general -- and a PDF version.
HERE is a slideshow from my global warming pages about the retreat of glaciers -- and a PDF version.
On January 16, 2009, we paused off the Palmer Station, an
Antarctic research station maintained by the USA. In the
top picture, there it is, very small, set against a huge
glacier that is crawling down the hill behind it. Palmer is
just to the left of center on the coast. Several people from
the station came on board to talk about their work, and in
the water approximately in front of the station you can see
two zodiac boats returning them to the station.
The personnel from Palmer also discussed effects of
changing climate in the region. Some of them wrote a paper
on the same subject in the American Scientist Magazine,
July-Aug, 2008. It is available on the internet at this link.
One point that they made in both places was that they have
documented a retreat of this glacier, which is called the
Marr Glacier. In 1963, about the time the station was
established, it was about 100 meters (328 ft) behind the
station. But as of 2007, it has retreated to a point around
500 meters (1640 ft) away.
In these pictures, the distance back to the ice may not look
like 1600 ft, but they are strong zooms from a ship stopped
well offshore. Such zooms tend to make distances look
compressed. The top picture gives an idea how far offshore
the ship was, and the other two are successively stronger
zooms on the station.
In the middle picture, there is an inlet just to the right of
the station, which gives the picture some depth. Click on
the picture for a larger version, and you can get an idea of
how far the inlet goes back toward the glacier.The ground is
not level, and there are some hills going back to the end of
I don't know if anyone has made a survey of all the
bare spots along the coast to check whether they are
expanding in general. Of course I can't give an answer
to that with just one quick visit to the region. We did,
however see a lot of bare spots along the coast, many
of which have been taken over by penguins. Here (both
pictures to the right) is one such spot in the Gerlache
Many species of penguin can be found on bare rocks
along a coast. However the American Scientist
Magazine paper mentioned above tells us that some
types of penguin have been moving into the region that
seem more dependent on the bare ground. More on
penguins in another gallery (to be added soon), but
there is a suggestion in this that the bare ground may
be increasing in extent.
Those bare spot above seems to be surrounded by some pretty thin snow, but such spots also occur in front
of some tall glacier fronts such as in the pictures below. I don't have any before-and-after pictures of
these, and I don't know if anyone has. So there is no way to tell if these are really retreating glaciers.
But they are interesting pictures anyway. (See farther below for a study of many retreating Antarctic
area in the
glacier front to
layers in the
snow that the
glacier ice was
The brownish colored
areas in the cliff to
the left are lichens
in the rock. The
valley to the right of
that wall might have
been full of glacier
ice sometime in the
Of course much of the coast looks like this: continuous glacier
front extending all the way into the water often with (as in
this case) an iceberg floating off shore. This picture is from
Andvord Bay, an inlet off of the Gerlache Strait. There are
in fact many retreating glaciers in this region among those
with fronts that are still off shore. There are also a couple
of advancing ones.
The way I know this is from a 2005 study of Antarctic
glaciers published in Science Magazine. It can be found here:
A. J. Cook, A. J. Fox, D. G. Vaughan, J. G. Ferrigno ,
Science, April 22, 2005, pp. 541-544 with an abstract
available on the internet at THIS LINK. If you are a
member of the American Assn for the Advancement of Science
(AAAS), you can also get to the full text from there.
In that study, they used many satellite and aerial photos to study 244 glaciers on the Antarctic peninsula
and nearby islands, and they found 212 of them to have retreated in approximately the last 60 years.
They only included glaciers that terminated in the water. So the Marr Glacier (near Palmer Station -
above) was not included. Neither were other patches of bare ground.
Of the glaciers they looked at, 8 terminated in Andvord Bay, and 6 of those had been retreating. The
above picture (with the iceberg) is close to one of the retreating ones, but I can't be sure that my picture
was in exactly the same spot. In fact, it probably wasn't.
I wasn't aware of that study before my trip, but afterwards
I went through my pictures, comparing the time stamps on
each picture with various benchmarks that I made during the
trip, to see if I got any of their glaciers. I am reasonably
certain that I got two of them.
The two pictures to the right show one of them on Elephant
Island. The pictures are sort of foggy because I did, in
fact, take them through fog. However, I processed them a
bit to de-fog them as well as I could. This glacier,
according to the study, has retreated around 500 feet. The
top picture is a close-up. In the bottom picture, from a
different angle, it is the one on the extreme right, seen with
a strong zoom from about 10 miles away.
It is interesting in the bottom picture that several glaciers
seem to flow from an ice field in the mountains, some of
which look like they have retreated up a mountain. The
others were not part of the study, but it did include one
more on Elephant Island. That one is out of sight to the left
in this picture, but it had advanced around 275 feet during
the time studied.
Here is the other glacier that I photographed
that I am pretty sure was part of the study.
It is one of two studied that terminate in the
Lemaire Channel. Both of those were advancing
glaciers, and this one is the southernmost of the
two. It had advanced around 400 feet.
How could a few glaciers (32 out of 244 in the
study) be advancing when most are retreating?
The behavior of a glacier depends on the air
temperature, naturally, but also on several other
factors including snowfall up the mountains where
new glacier ice is being formed. The advance or
retreat is also governed by conditions in the
water under the glacier, for those that
terminate in the water. I have more on this in
my page on Alaska's Hubbard Glacier, also an
advancing one among many that are retreating.