The glaciers of the world are melting at an alarming pace due to climate change. Once people absorb this fact and the reality that we need to do something about it, more details can follow about the intricacies of what this means in different parts of the world. Tongass National Forest in Alaska is the United States' largest national forest. It holds within it the Juneau icefields and their crown gem, Mendenhall Glacier. This glacier has been receding for centuries due to natural cycles of warming and cooling but it is likely suffering the effects of climate change in addition to this. Its shrinkage has caused and may continue to cause some interesting results.
Rising sea levels, habitat alteration, and reduction in access to fresh drinking water are all problems that may result from the loss of glacial mass in Alaska. These consequences should not be taken lightly. However, the lengthy melt of Mendenhall Glacier has changed the landscape in ways that are not strictly negative, and are certainly intriguing. Around the year 1900, runoff from the glacier began to form what is now known as Mendenhall Lake. Currently, this gorgeous lake is about 1.5 miles long, a mile wide, and 220 feet deep. The melting glacier has also begun to expose parts of an ancient forest, locked in ice-covered gravel for over 1,000 years. The United States Department of Agriculture's Forest Service says that, as the glacier retreats, it opens up the potential for alder, willow, and cottonwood trees to plant themselves. Over years, these would give way to spruce and hemlock. Eventually, this rather desolate area would become an old growth forest, supporting various plants and animals.
Turning a cheek to climate change because you think a forest is more pleasant than a glacier would be foolish and nearsighted. At the same time, if we want to attack this enormous issue, we should arm ourselves with the knowledge of what it is and what it does, even the outcomes that might seem appealing. With this fuller (albeit more complicated) picture, we can stand a fighting chance of facing the challenges ahead.
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Read more about Tongass National Forest and Medenhall Glacier:
USDA Forest Service: Tongass National Forest
Encyclopedia Britannica: Mendenhall Glacier
Huffington Post: Melting Mendenhall Glacier Reveals Ancient Forest