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It's still creeping across the Alaskan landscape, but the massive Columbia Glacier, located near Valdez in Prince William Sound, doesn't creep quite as far as it did in its heyday. Between 1977 and 1999 its length decreased by eight miles (13 kilometers). The glacier is expected to lose another ten miles (20 kilometers) of length by 2010.
The Columbia Glacier is one of Alaska's tidewater glaciers. Approximately 50 to 60 glaciers calve into the sea with such diversified behavior that they have stumped glaciologists for many decades. Some glaciers will recede from 10 to 20 miles within a number of years, others will advance into standing forests. The Columbia Glacier was found to be the only sea-calving glacier in Alaska that terminated at a mature coastal forest of at least 4000 years of age. It had been discovered that the glacier was still grounded on the crest of its submarine moraine, located at the north end of Heather Island, and protected from rapid calving by ocean water. Soon to follow large embayments began forming each summer and the glacier began retreating from its moraine. Over the past decade, it has been found that 3 to 4 cubic kilometers (about 1.5 cubic miles) of ice accumulate on the glacier from just thesnowfall alone.
There is nowhere else in Alaska that has depths of up to ten meters (33 feet) of snow been found remaining on glaciers at the end of a summer. The mass of ice is generated from year-round snowfall high in the Chugach Mountains. This flows seaward along the main ice stream, which glacier-radar reveals to extend as far below sea level, and the glacier surface rises above it. The ice stream rides up the terminal moraine from well below sea level, as it thins it must accelerate to higher speeds.
Automatic cameras near the terminus measured speeds of over 15 meters per day, or 5000 meters per year (50 feet per day, or 3 miles per year). As the glacier developed, 1977, 1980 and 1981 produced approximately twice the normal snowfall levels in the mountains. The upper glacier actually thickened despite the rapid rate of flow. The storm of August 1981, washed away the highway to Valdez and deposited 8 meters (26 feet) of new snow high on the glacier. This and the other significant snowfalls reduced the total amount of retreat to only about 800 meters (2600 feet) over the past 5 years.
New developments include a surge of glacier ice that filled part of the sea between the ice cliff and Heather Island with icebergs. These became trapped and, frozen together with the winter sea ice and have been squeezed into a reconstituted ice tongue. An ice formation as such has not previously been observed in Alaska. The shape, size, speed and mass of the Columbia Glacier can change rapidly with time all depending on the existing conditions.
Columbia Glacier Sightseeing tours include kayak touring, fishing and glacier cruises.
Columbia & Meares Glacier:
A tour with plenty of highlights of Prince William Sound as well as thet Columbia Glacier. The largest tidewater glacier in Southcentral Alaska, see cascading waterfalls and a variety of wildlife, pass Blight Reef and learn about the historical events surrounding the 1989's Exxon Valdez oil spill.
Cruise within Columbia Glacier:
See the sea lions at Bull's Head, cascading waterfalls and enjoy a lunch onboard as you cruise through the protected waters. End your journey with a marine tour of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Terminal.
Columbia Glacier Kayak Adventure:
A breathtaking paddle adventure through floating ice in a bay so tranquil that you can see your own reflection on the water. This tour takes you up the coastline further up to Jade Harbor. Wildlife such as Whales, Sea Lions, Bald Eagles are highlights of this tour.

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