Exploring Earth from Space: Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Alaska

A portion of Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, which lies along the southeast Alaskan coast, is shown in this image captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission. Credit: Contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2021), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

A portion of Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, which lies along the southeast Alaskan coast, is shown in this detailed satellite image captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission.

Covering more than 13,000 km2 of rugged, snow-capped mountains, freshwater lakes, glaciers and deep fjords, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is one of the highlights of Alaska’s Inside Passage. As marine waters make up almost a fifth of the park, Glacier Bay is rich in marine life, including humpback whales, killer whales and sea otters. It is also home to a large population of bears, moose, wolves and mountain goats.

Glacier Bay National ParkA highlight of the Inside Passage of Alaska and is part of a 25 million hectare World Heritage Site, one of the largest protected areas in the world. Glacier Bay, from sea to summit, offers limitless opportunities for adventure and inspiration.

The bay contains some of the most impressive glaciers in the world which descend from the ice-capped St. Elias Range to the east and the Fairweather Range to the west, with some notable tidal glaciers extending out to sea .

The John Hopkins Glacier, visible on the far left of the image, is the largest tidal glacier in the region. Muir Glacier, once the most famous of the tidal glaciers, once rose about 80m above the water and was nearly 3km wide, but has now shrunk and retreated and no longer reaches the sea.

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Glacier Bay is just one of many areas suffering from the effects of global warming. The bay is expected to become warmer and drier over the next century, resulting in fewer glaciers, less sea ice, and eroding coastline.

Monitoring glaciers is often a challenge given their size, remoteness, and rugged terrain. Satellites, in particular ESA’s CryoSat mission, with its elite space sensor – the radar altimeter – make it possible to map glaciers in great detail. In a study published last year in the journal Cryospherescientists used data from the CryoSat mission to show the amount of ice lost by mountain glaciers in the Gulf of Alaska.

June 17, 2022 marked the opening of the exhibition “Memory of the Earth – glaciers witnessing the climate crisis”, which follows the scientific and photographic journey of glaciers around the world, presenting a preview of the results of the project. “On the trail of the glaciers” directed by the Italian photographer Fabiano Ventura. The exhibition, which is held at the Forte di Bard museum, in the Aosta Valley (Italy), offers its visitors the opportunity to see the effects of global warming through photography and ESA satellite images.

The exhibit focuses on the world’s largest mountain glaciers, with 90 photographic comparisons displayed alongside scientific data collected during the team’s expedition to the world’s largest mountain glaciers. It runs until November 18, 2022 and includes images such as the one featured on this week’s Earth from Space show. You will find more information about the exhibition, which is part of a scientific collaboration between ESA and is sponsored by UNESCO. ici.

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This image is also featured in the Earth from Space video program which is embedded above.

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