Sunday, October 4, 2015

Glaciers of Alaska

Yakutat Bay
FACT: Alaska is home to over 50 percent of the world's glaciers.
With our embarkation day behind us, our first full day on board the Coral Princess offered up an afternoon of scenic cruising of the Yakutat and Disenchantment Bays.
As we approached the entrance to Yakutat Bay the afternoon air was crisp, and foggy with an unrelenting drizzle. We took advantage of the shelter our stateroom balcony afforded us in order to take in the spectacular views we were about to witness.
One of the first things we noticed among the icy water was small icebergs had started to appear around the ship. It was eerily quiet; the only sounds could be likened to the well-known snap crackle and pop of my favourite childhood breakfast food Rice Krispies.
These small icebergs are a result of what is called glacier calving.

 Our captain carefully maneuvered our ship through the thickening ice field into the narrow Disenchantment Bay which contained three glaciers, Turner, Valerie and Hubbard Glacier. 
The ship slowly approached the face of Hubbard Glacier, an imposing sight to say the least. We were told it can be seen from over 30 miles away, and is a staggering 76 miles long, 6.5 miles wide and 1200 feet deep. Its face is over 400 feet high, which can be equated to a 30-40 story building.
FACT: It actually reaches back into Yukon, Canada. (So then is this a Canadian Glacier? (Hmmm-food for thought.)

To the left of the Hubbard glacier is the Valerie Glacier. This glacier actually meets up and merges with the Hubbard; both are considered to be “advancing” glaciers.

Glacier Bay (National Park/Preserve)

Today’s forecast was supposed to be cloudy with rain and a high of 49 degrees Fahrenheit. As you can see from the below photo we didn’t have a repeat of yesterdays lousy weather for today’s scenic cruising of Glacier Bay.

Below you can see our local Pilot boat coming along side Coral Princess. Pilots are expert ship handlers who possess detailed knowledge of local waterways and manoeuvre ships through dangerous or congested waters, such as harbors or river mouths.

 Hello neighbour
Enjoying the view

Once upon a time Glacier Bay was all glacier and no bay. A massive river of ice, roughly 100 miles long and thousands of feet deep occupied the entire bay. Today, that glacier is gone, having retreated north. Fewer than a dozen smaller tidal water glaciers remain. Today you have to travel 65 miles up the bay to view any of them.
Glacier Bay provides excellent glacier experiences of both receding and advancing glaciers existing side by side.
Below you can see silt-laden glacier runoff meeting sea water.
Silt-laden glacier runoff is ground by glacial ice from solid rock high in the mountains and becomes silt and clay, which is then carried slowly downhill to be dumped into the sea. The heavier material unloaded by glaciers such as boulders to gravel settle to the bottom of the ocean inlets (fiords). The mud, however, may travel many miles, riding fresh meltwater currents beside and above the saltier and less murky seawater.

Approaching the Tarr Inlet

Our ship reached the Tarr Inlet where we literally came to a dead stop for about an hour. On the starboard side of the ship was the Grand Pacific Glacier pictured here; a 25 mile long glacier that stretched into both British Columbia and Alaska.
On our port side was the Margerie Glacier which is a 21 mile long tidewater glacier.
The captain provided equal opportunity for each side of the ship to have 30 minutes of viewing pleasure by pivoting the ship 180 degrees. 

Glacier Bay and the Margerie Glacier are approachable only by air and water. The steep drop-off of this particular glacier's cliff allows large cruise ships to park close to it and provides for incredible views as seen in the picture below.
When it was our turn to view Margerie, there was a moment when we heard a loud crack remindful of thunder. Then a portion of the glacier came crashing down into the ocean creating a miniature tsunami. Breaking the silence was the starboard side passengers erupting in cheer, sorry for your luck port side!
All I can say is once you’ve seen the Glaciers of Alaska you come away somewhat intrigued and inspired. You’ve been witness to a land constantly being reborn; a living lesson in resilience.  Somehow the cool ice age air has an effect on you. You can’t help but imagine the way things used to be.
I hope by now if you've been following our adventure we have at least peak a little desire in you to entertain visiting Alaska at some point in your lifetime. I swear you won't be disappointed.
Still to come....a trip to Canada's Yukon, and whale watching off the shores of Juneau. I hope you come along with us.
Rick and Sandra :)