History & Geography of Glacier Bay Park
Glacier Bay was first surveyed in detail in 1794 by a team from the H.M.S. Discovery, captained by George Vancouver. At the time the survey produced showed a mere indentation in the shoreline. That massive glacier was more than 4,000 feet thick in places, up to 20 miles wide, and extended more than 100 miles to the St. Elias mountain range.
By 1879, however, naturalist John Muir discovered that the ice had retreated more than 30 miles forming an actual bay. By 1916, the Grand Pacific Glacier – the main glacier credited with carving the bay – had melted back 60 miles to the head of what is now Tarr Inlet.
Efforts for protection of Glacier Bay were made by John Muir and other conservationists, and in 1925 President Calvin Coolidge signed a proclamation creating Glacier Bay National Monument. At the time the monument contained less than half the area of the present park. In 1980, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act elevated the monument to national park status and also extended the park boundary northwest to the Alsek River and Dry Bay.
Further protection and recognition of Glacier Bay's significance occurred in 1986, when the Glacier Bay-Admiralty Island Biosphere Reserve was established under the United Nations Biosphere Program.
In 1992 Glacier Bay became part of an international World Heritage Site, along with Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Canada's Kluane National Park.
For all you history trivia buffs, here's a few important dates for Glacier Bay to remember: 1925= National Monument, 1980= National Park, 1986= Biosphere reserve, 1992= World Heritage Sight.
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The park has snow-capped mountain ranges rising to over 15,000 feet, coastal beaches with protected coves, deep fjords, tidewater glaciers, coastal and estuarine waters, and freshwater lakes. Steep, sculpted peaks and scoured, rock-strewn valleys show scars of glacial activity and mark the advances and retreats of glaciers dating back over 115,000 years to before the Wisconsin Ice Age.
The sheltered waters of Glacier Bay ebb and flow with the region’s huge tides, which can change as much as 25 feet during a six-hour period. Ocean waves pound the beaches of the wild and remote Gulf of Alaska coast.
Between the bay and the coast, snow-clad peaks of the Fairweather Range capture the moisture coming in off the Gulf of Alaska and, in turn, spawn the park’s largest glaciers. At the base of these lofty peaks, deglaciated foothills and outwash plains rapidly turn green as the ice retreats and seeds find their way to the newly revealed land.
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The snowcapped Fairweather Range supplies ice to all glaciers
on the peninsula seperating Glacier Bay form the Gulf of Alaska. Mount Fairweather,
the range's highest peak, stand at 15, 320 feet.
In Johns Hopkins Inlet, several
peaks rise from sea level to 6,520 feet within just 4 miles of shore. The
great glaciers of the past carved these fjords, or drowned valleys, out of
the mountains like great troughs. Landslides help widen the troughs as the
glaciers remove the bedrock support on upper slopes.
See the Glacier Bay photos section to see what this park is all about.
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Glacier Bay Park
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