Every once in a while, there are moments in life that bring years of observation into perspective. I have been photographing, assisting scientists with the understanding of, and exploring and ogling over glacial ice for nearly 15 years and today, in the span of one hour, I saw the landscape of glaciology in a much clearer light.
Taking off from Haines Airport this morning, we had the privileged opportunity to fly over the northeast quadrant of Glacier Bay National Park. Climbing through the verdant Chilkat River Valley, past outwash plains of glacial debris, through a thin band of clouds cradling the surrounding peaks and onto the plateau of the Brady Icefield (at around 5,000’), we transitioned from post-glacial to glaciated in mere minutes. What would have taken me a full day back when I was a young, poor, ice-crazed photographer was laid out before me in the blink of an eye.
Here we were, soaring at eye level with the elevated topography responsible for some of our planet’s most beautiful features: U-shaped valleys, fjords, horns, and, eskers. Yes, eskers. What is an esker? Well, imagine a cave with a river running its length. Now imagine that river is carrying a very heavy silt load, with bowling ball to pinhead sized rocks that are all slowly transported downstream. Now imagine that cave is made of ice, sitting at the bottom of a glacier where all of its meltwater percolates, creating a glacial plumbing system beneath. Perhaps the entrance to that cave collapses one day, damming up that silt-laden river, causing the silt to begin filling the void of the cave. Up and up an upstream that metaphorical logjam continues, filling the entire sinuous course of that sub-glacial river with rock and silt over many years. Now, remove the ice. What’s left behind is a post glacial feature called an esker, something reminiscent of a large, rocky caterpillar sprawled across that landscape. This, in addition to countless other glacial and post-glacial features, is what we flew over today in one of the most visually stunning flights I’ve ever been on.
All hail the Ice, the backbone to Alaska’s beauty and the object of my camera’s affection for many years.