Arctic Field Projects

Project Title: Damming and Flooding of Russell Fiord by Rapidly Advancing Hubbard Glacier, Yakutat, Alaska (Award# 0949775)

PI: Lawson, Daniel E ( )
Phone: (603) 646.4344 
Institute/Department: Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory,  
IPY Project? NO
Funding Agency: US\Federal\NSF\GEO\OPP\ARC\ANS
Program Manager: Dr. William Wiseman (
Discipline(s): | Geological Sciences\Glaciohydrology | Geological Sciences\Glaciology | Geological Sciences\Glaciomarine | Geological Sciences\Ice Dynamics | Geological Sciences\Remote Sensing | Geological Sciences\Sedimentary Processes |

Project Web Site(s):

Science Summary:
Hubbard Glacier near Yakutat, Alaska, is the largest temperate tidewater glacier in the world. It encompasses an area of ~3900 km2, flowing 120 km from the flanks of Mt. Logan (5959 m elevation) in the Wrangell - St. Elias Mountains (Canada) to sea level where its terminus widens to over 13km across the head of Disenchantment Bay and the entrance to Russell Fiord. In contrast to most glaciers in Southeast Alaska, Hubbard Glacier is thickening and has been advancing for well over 200 years, most recently at an average rate of 35 m/yr for the last 15 years. The high accumulation area ratio (0.95) of Hubbard Glacier suggests that it will continue to advance for a hundred years or more, barring any significant changes in climate raising its Equilibrium Line Altitude (ELA) by nearly 1000 meters. The sustained advance of the glacier’s tidewater terminus will create an ice dam at Gilbert Point, closing the tidal channel linking Disenchantment Bay with Russell Fiord and forming a 64 km long lake. The natural event has only rarely been observed and the creation of an ice dam by an advancing tidewater glacier represents an unparalleled opportunity to monitor the process. This study will document the formation of the ice dam and analyze the processes, mechanics and factors determining the method and style of closure, dam stability and or failure. Understanding the dynamics of the ice margin is crucial to understanding how an ice dam is created and the dams performance as a permanent closure of Russell Fiord. During the advance and closure, instrumental measurements coupled to sequential image analysis will examine the ice marginal marine environment in relation to monitored ice flow and ice structure at the dam site.

Logistics Summary:
This NSF Rapid Response Research (RAPID) grant funds a study of southern Alaska’s fast-moving Hubbard Glacier, the largest tidewater glacier in North America, which is on the verge of damming adjacent Russell Fiord at Gilbert Point as it has several times in the past. A team of three to five people will spend about 6 – 8 weeks total in the field during 2009 and 2010 making field observations and gathering data. Basing from Yakutat, the researchers will collect a variety of information about the lead up to dam formation, and the current conditions within the area where damming may take place, using remote sensing information and a suite of sensors placed on the glacier surface in the area up-ice of the dam and in the ice marginal waters. The team will access observation points and instruments via helicopter or boat, and they will make several fixed-wing over-flights for aerial photography. In 2010, a series of aerial surveys to observe/document glacier activity will begin in March, and continue monthly through July. For this work, the PI will base in Yakutat and fly via chartered fixed-wing airplane. Additionally, a team of five will position at Yakatut in mid-May, and fly via helicopter to the glacier to install a GPS base station and instruments. This team will then return to the area periodically through mid-July, to monitor the glacier and check their instrument sites. The team will access observation points via helicopter or boat. The researchers will return to Hubbard Glacier in 2011. During this no-cost extension year, the field team will visit the glacier via fixed wing, helicopter and boat from April through July and then completely deinstrument the glacier in mid to late August or early September. Ice-marginal observations will coincide with land-based instrument and data retrieval.

CPS will provide fixed-wing and helicopter support and reimbursement for boat charter. The PI will arrange/pay for all other logistics through the grant.
SeasonField SiteDate InDate Out#People
2009Alaska - Hubbard Glacier09 / 03 / 2009 11 / 30 / 20093
2010Alaska - Hubbard Glacier03 / 24 / 2010 07 / 31 / 20105
2011Alaska - Hubbard Glacier04 / 17 / 2011 05 / 17 / 20115

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Parameters used to generate this report:, Grant# = "0949775", IPY = "ALL" 
     Number of projects returned based on your query parameters = 1