Global warming was not on the mind of George Vancouver as he explored the coast of southwest Alaska in 1794. Having sailed from the balmy coast of Maui, Hawaii, to the frozen Northwest, any kind of warming would be welcome.
While Vancouver couldn’t imagine global warming, he saw, measured and mapped the cold. He found a glacier of solid ice more than 4,000 feet thick, almost 20 miles wide and nearly 100 miles long.
We know it today as Glacier Bay, but when Vancouver saw it, it wasn’t a bay at all –it was all solid ice.
Global warming was also not on the mind of John Muir, the naturalist of Yosemite and founder of the Sierra Club, when he visited Glacier Bay in 1879. Muir had written his first published article a few years earlier on the glaciers of Yosemite and now he wanted to study glaciers in depth.
Muir had an excellent tool with which to work – George Vancouver’s accurate maps. With these maps, Muir discovered that the glacier George Vancouver mapped in 1779 had melted so dramatically that the river of ice was 40 miles smaller in 1880 than in 1779. It had melted at the rate of nearly 3 miles per year!
Today the glacier has retreated 65 miles. Glacier Bay, once solid ice, has melted to the pointed where cruise ships can carry tourists like me to watch the huge chunks of ice at the edge of the glacier break off and fall into the bay. The process is called “calving” and the result is that the glacier gets smaller and smaller. I recall watching the “calving” one morning while sipping hot soup on the freezing promenade deck of a cruise ship, roughing it.
It is getting warmer in Alaska. According to the Los Angeles Times, temperatures in Anchorage in 2014 stayed at 0 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer for the first time since 1926. In addition, sea ice has been disappearing and the polar bear populations have diminished significantly.
And it’s not only the American glaciers that are melting and getting smaller.
In New Zealand, Fox Glacier has retreated to a point where it has changed the course of a river. Instead of hiking up a glacier trail, tourists now have to helicopter to the top of the glacier.
The Pastouri Glacier in the Andes Mountains of Peru has retreated so dramatically that tourism has dropped from 100,00 per year to 34,000 in 2012.
On the other hand, in Greenland, glacier tourism is booming. Why? Tourists will pay to visit the retreating glaciers to personally witness the effects of climate change. This proves that it is possible to make money out of almost anything- even climate change.
Last year, the United States Government finally got into the act by establishing the US Global Change Research Project. (www.globalchange.gov) Hopefully, by studying and measuring climate change, science may eventually figure out definitively what is causing it and what to do about it.
Back in 1879, when John Muir visited Glacier Bay, he studied the glaciers to substantiate his theory that the beautiful Yosemite Valley had been carved by ice. He was accompanied by two human traveling companions: a Presbyterian missionary, S. Hall Young, and Toyette, an Indian nobleman, acting as guide.
But John Muir’s most famous traveling companion was not human. It was a small black dog named Stickeen. The dog belonged to Reverend Young, but formed an attachment to Muir.
Early one morning in camp, when everyone was still asleep, Muir decided to go out alone into a storm, to examine a glacier. He was not far from the camp when Stickeen came running after him. Muir tried to get the dog to return to camp, but every command was ignored and so the two became traveling companions and faced a situation together that challenged their lives.
Muir loved to tell the story of his adventure with Stickeen at campfires. Urged by his listeners, he set it down in writing and released it as a book in 1914. It is a great story that is not only an adventure but is, to me, very moving.
I published Muir’s story, “Stickeen” last month and you can hear a free preview at: http://listen2read.com/stickeen/
Before closing, I’d like to take a moment to wish everyone in the Listen2Read community a very Happy New Year! Thank you for your interest that keeps us researching and recording important audiobooks of history and adventure.