Watching Worthington Wane


Worthington Glacier, on the Richardson Highway just north of Thompson Pass, is one of the few road-accessible glaciers in Alaska. It’s an alpine or valley glacier, fed by the eastern end of the ice field that elsewhere flows down at Valdez Glacier and Columbia Glacier.

In 1974, WC was down Valdez way and snapped a black and white photo of Worthington. It’s not a very good photo – remember when you didn’t know what you had until you saw it in the darkroom? – but it shows the general size and shape well enough.

Worthington Glacier, 1974, from north side

Worthington Glacier, 1974, from north side

WC was down that way again this month. And, just for comparison, let’s see what it looks like forty-one (41!) years later.

Worthington Glacier, 2015, approximately the same point

Worthington Glacier, 2015, approximately the same point

Compare the thickness of the southerly (left lobe). Or the extent of ridge exposed between the two ribs. Or the thickness of the main sheet. To the amount of the peaks at the top that are exposed.

Clearly Worthington Glacier is in retreat. You certainly walk a lot further to reach the snout than you used to.

Admittedly, mountain glaciers are complex critters. They advance and retreat for any number of reasons, not all of them related to climate change. But increased annual temperatures obviously raise the altitude of the accumulation zone. And with a smaller accumulation zone, absent a change in the amount of snow, a glacier has to retreat.

Just saying.

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