Alaska, Outdoors, Science

Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF) Investigation at Bear Glacier during 2018 Summer Season

Contact: Shauna Potocky, (907) 422-0530, shauna_potocky@nps.gov

Seward, AK –Bear Glacier is located on the Kenai Peninsula southwest of Resurrection Bay and Seward, Alaska.  The lower (proglacial) lake in front of Bear Glacier is a popular recreation area for kayaking, sight-seeing, stand-up paddleboarding, surfing and camping.

Twelve kilometers above the terminus of Bear Glacier is an ice-dammed lake that has been known to release water, draining down-glacier and resulting in flooding in the proglacial lake where Bear Glacier terminates.  These events are known as glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs).  In the past twenty years, the Bear Glacier ice-dammed lake has caused multiple GLOFs, typically in the late summer to early fall.  These releases can vary in intensity; they have occurred quickly, causing obvious flooding events in the lower, proglacial lake; and they have also occurred slowly without noticeable impacts downstream.  Eyewitness accounts during previous Bear Glacier flood events suggest the water level can rise up to 2 meters within the proglacial lake and can be accompanied by large calving events at the face of the glacier.

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Since June 2017, Kenai Fjords National Park has been monitoring these lakes using time-lapse, satellite-feed cameras to understand the processes and dynamics of Bear Glacier’s hydrology and outburst flood events.  This is a partner project with the State of Alaska.

At this time, the ice-dammed lake is currently at its highest observed level since June 2017.  Known GLOFs in this location have all occurred between August and October.  Kenai Fjords reminds visitors that glaciers are a dynamic natural force that are by definition in a constant state of change.  Ice falls, calvings, collapses and outburst floods can and do occur without warning.  People should always use caution when playing, working or traveling around glaciers, and be cognizant of monitoring equipment that may be encountered during recreational activities.

A video composed of the time-lapse photos of the ice-dammed lake can be viewed on the park’s YouTube page at youtu.be/SO868ADlIFg.

www.nps.gov/kefj

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