Saturday, October 08, 2005

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: "03:57 PM PDT on Thursday, October 6, 2005

03:57 PM PDT on Thursday, October 6, 2005

Associated Press

JUNEAU, Alaska - It may not take much longer for one of the world's most-visited glaciers to calve and melt out of its scenic toehold in Mendenhall Lake.

The Mendenhall Glacier could come out of the lake "in the next few years, or less," said Roman Motyka, a University of Alaska Fairbanks glaciologist based in Juneau.

The Mendenhall's hasty retreat - 656 feet lost on its east side in 2004 and 269 feet lost on its west side in 2005 - is attracting a lot of curiosity from visitors around the world, federal tourism officials said this week.

About 366,000 people visited the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center this year. More than ever before, "We got the question, is the glacier melting because of global warming?" said Laurie Craig, a naturalist at the visitor center, which is operated by the U.S.

Forest Service.

Craig and her colleagues at the center said Tuesday that they want to begin providing visitors with scientific resources that help answer their questions about the causes, as well as the potential effects, of the Mendenhall's retreat.

"We're not qualified to say this. We want (to provide visitors) the sources," Craig said.

Their quest for information is coming at a time when Motyka's work at the Mendenhall is coming to an end. He wraps up his studies of Juneau-area glaciers this year.

His studies so far have pointed out the rapid melting of the glacier.

Less ice is accumulating at the top of the Mendenhall and less is coming down to its base, according to mass-balance measurements by Motyka and his colleagues.

Motyka has also instructed the visitor center staff and Juneau residents on how Mendenhall Lake can play a vital role in controlling the glacier's massive calving periods, as it did last summer.

"This year, calving is much reduced," Motyka said. The glacier "has been pushed into a shallower area of the lake," he said.

Deeper water against the glacier accelerates calving.

Though more people seem curious about the Mendenhall's retreat than ever before, there isn't much funding in place yet to continue research at the Mendenhall.

A couple of University of Alaska Southeast professors want to install a climate station and "glacier cam" at the top of the glacier, and take over Motyka's measurements of its retreat.

"There are just very few glaciers (in North America) that have this. Keeping the record going is important," said Eran Hood, a hydrologist at the University of Alaska Southeast.

Hood said he is teaming up with fellow UAS researcher Matt Heavner to seek funds for the climate station and regular measurements at the Mendenhall.

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