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The Thickest Mountain Glacier in the World is Melting

Credit: NASA Earth Observatory

Why? Starts with “C,” ends with “limate change.”

For almost fifty years, the Taku Glacier in the Alaskan Juneau Icefield has been accumulating mass and spreading out. Out of the 20 major glaciers in the region, the Taku is the thickest, not to mention a contender for the thickest hunk of ice in the whole wide world, measuring in at a titanic 4,860 feet, or 1,480 meters, from surface to floor. It’s quite an astounding natural phenomenon. Or, at least, it was.

Based on some newly released aerial snapshots of the Taku taken at the NASA Earth Observatory back in August, the mighty glacier has begun to lose mass. The tendrils of the glacier that had previously reached out into the neighboring river have begun to recede. According to glaciologist Mauri Pelto, the Taku was predicted to continue its march all the way up to the year 2100, even in spite of current climate change trends. However, it seems those trends have taken a dramatic spike; the global climate has raised high enough that even an impossibly dense glacier like the Taku can’t stand up to the heat.

“This is a big deal for me because I had this one glacier I could hold on to,” Pelto told NASA. “But not anymore. This makes the score climate change: 250 and alpine glaciers: 0.”

All glaciers, even giant ones, do recede eventually. However, the periods of advancement and recession are usually sandwiched between decades of stagnation, where the glacier neither grows nor shrinks. For a glacier to switch so quickly from growing to shrinking can only mean that the global climate is rising even faster than previously thought.