Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Alaska

Mendenhall Glacier on a clear spring day.
[Photo via Wikimedia Commons, User: Jacobmgray]

For the past three years, residents of Juneau, Alaska have been dealing with a new problem of glacial proportions – their treasured Mendenhall Glacier, 14 miles north of downtown Juneau, has exhibited sudden, torrential flood bursts during the summer.

Its first flood surge back in 2011 gushed roughly 10 billion gallons of water into the Mendenhall River in only three days, endangering homes and properties along the river that meanders through the city.

With temperatures rising due to climate change, these glacial flood bursts have become prevalent all of the world, so much so that glaciologists have coined the word jökulhlaup (an Icelandic word that means “glacier leap”) to describe the phenomenon.

Although jökulhlaups are happening worldwide, Mendenhall’s flood bursts are particularly alarming because of its proximity to a large city and tourists.  Upwards of 400,000 cruise ship tourists visit the glacier each year, while most other glaciers experiencing flood bursts are in complete isolation.  Natural Habitat Adventures does offer trips to see glaciers in Alaska, but not the Mendenhall Glacier.

Read this New York Times article to find out what scientists think is causing these flood bursts, and what is being done to predict them in advance to protect the people of Juneau and its tourists.