November 1, 2009
Above is a paired Landsat image from 1984 left and 2013 right indicaing the 3200 m retreat during this period of Gilkey Glacier.The Juneau Icefield Research Program has long monitored the mass balance of the Lemon Creek and Taku Glacier on the Juneau Icefield. This program begun by Maynard Miller in 1946 and continuing through today has also monitored the terminus behavior of the icefields outlet glaciers. Of the 17 significant outlet glaciers 5 have retreated more than 500 m since 1948, 11 more than 1000 m, and one glacier the Taku has advanced. I have a chance to visit the glaciers during a number of summers over the last 25 years as part of this ongoing annual program. The Gilkey Glacier is a 32 km long 245 km2 outlet glacier flowing west from the Juneau Icefield. In 1948 it terminate at the head of a braided outwash plain. At that time it was joined 5 km above the terminus by the Battle and Thiel Glaciers from the south. All three of these glaciers drain from the Juneau Iceifeld accumulation zone between 1500 and 2000 m, which maintain consistent snow cover. From 1948 to 1967 the Gilkey Glacier retreated 600 m and in 1961 a proglacial lake began to form. By 2005 Gilkey Glacier had retreated another 3200 m , generating a proglacial lake that is now 3.9 kilometers long, which is approximately the amount of retreat in the last 60 years as well. The lake is partly filled with large icebergs from disintegration of the, note below in an image from Scott McGee of JIRP,Gilkey terminus. The lake is currently terminating in this still growing lake. Approximately half of this retreat occurred after a 1991 satellite image indicated the lake was close to half its current size. The retreat has been resulted from calving icebergs into the new lake as well as thinning from melting in the lower reach of the glacier. The extensive debris cover and lack of crevassing in the lower 1500 meters of the glacier indicates that this section is stagnant and will break up soon.
Gilkey Glacier was in 1955 joined by the tributary glaciers Battle and Thiel Glacier. A visit to the Battle Glacier in 1982 indicated that it had separated from the Gilkey Glacier and the Thiel Glacier, but the Thiel Glacier was still connected. By 1991 the Thiel Glacier had separated. Today these glaciers terminate 3200 m and 1700 m up their respective valleys from Gilkey Glacier. Thiel has retreated 1700 m from the Gilkey Glacier. A retreat of 3200 m has created a glacier 70 % its former length. The vast bare valley beyond the terminus is in stark contrast to the map above. Thiel Glacier has extensive lateral moraines extending above the glacier terminus indicating the ongoing retreat. The lower 3 kilometers of this glacier are flat and are downwasting, indicating a substantial retreat is still underway. A view up the valley from the Gilkey toward the terminus of Battle Glacier indicates that most of the area deglaciated was a flat low elevation valley. Now that the glacier is retreating up a steeper slope, the retreat rate of Battle Glacier should slow.