Story at a glance:

  • A glacier in Denali is experiencing a surge event.
    • Glaciers move due to the ice on the base becoming wet from heat.
    • Muldrow Glacier has not moved this fast since the 1950s.

Muldrow Glacier, a mountain in Denali — south central Alaska — is moving quickly in what is called a glacial surge event.

The surging glacier is moving at a rate between 50 and 100 times faster than normal, according to Denali National Park, Gizmodo reported.

“They are these things that have fascinated glaciologists for decades,” Jonny Kingslake, an assistant professor of environmental science at Columbia University, said.

Glaciers normally move at a glacial rate of mere millimeters per day, but sometimes some of them experience rare surges, likely tied to the seasons.

The glacier surge was first discovered by Chris Palm, a K2 Aviation pilot, which does flight-seeing tours and glacier landings in Talkeetna, Alaska.


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Experts aren’t sure what causes the surge, but they suspect this particular one isn’t related to climate change. Still, a warming world is causing many of the world’s glaciers to recede and has been implicated in some surge events.

The bottom base of the ice creates a lubricant for the glacier to tile or move.

“The whole thing is flowing very slowly, and then suddenly it accelerates, and that can cause the glacier at higher elevations to thin, and then the ice slumps down to lower elevations,” Kingslake explained. “Then that happens, and it slows back down, and the material at lower elevations starts to melt, and the ice near the top thickens, and the whole thing repeats. It’s doing, like, a see-saw thing.”

The sometimes-slow, sometimes-fast moving river of ice presents challenges to people and animals who depend on transportation and the use of water.

“Denali for climbers, may no longer be transversable for the nearly 1,000 climbers who have signed up to climb Denali this year, as the surge creates new crevasses and jostles up the familiar landscape,” Gizmodo reported.

The last time Muldrow Glacier surged was in the 1950s, when it moved 4 miles over a couple of months.


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Published on Apr 12, 2021