While in Seward, we saw two glaciers up close. One was Exit Glacier (photo #4) which is a short bus ride from Seward. Exit Glacier no longer reaches the sea. It has been retreating for years, and continues to melt faster than it advances, as are most glaciers around the world.
We also sailed within a half-mile of the Holgate Glacier, a tide-water glacier whose terminal end floats on the water of Holgate Arm. As the tide rises and falls, the stresses cause the glacier to break apart, dropping immense chunks of ice into the water. We sailed through a sea of floating ice while approaching the glacier. Some of the larger chunks, called "bergy bits" are large enough to damage a boat, and must be avoided. Other smaller bits, called "brash ice", cover the sea in Holgate Arm. The falling ice creates a real hazard to boats, and we had to stay 1/4 to 1/2 mile away.
As we approached, we heard frequent loud noises coming from the glacier, like a rifle being discharged near the boat. When we turned to look, there was nothing there. Like so much in Alaska, the scale of these immense objects is deceptive. The sounds were being made by chunks of ice falling hundreds of feet from the face of the glacier. They hit the water with tremendous force, creating a loud noise. By the time this noise had traveled the distance to our boat, the splash had subsided, and the noise was reduced in volume to that of a nearby rifle. At the point of impact, it must have been deafening.
We learned to keep a sharp eye out for ice falling from the face of the glacier. What looked like small mounds of ice falling short distances into the sea were really immense quantities of ice falling hundreds of feet. Here is a photo sequence of five pictures showing one such ice fall. It may take a moment for each picture to load into your computer's cache. Once you have seen all the pictures, you can go back and repeat the sequence to get the full effect.
— return to the 2009 Journal Archive.