Dawes Glacier

On Monday, May 16th, aboard the Celebrity Solstice Barb and I got up early, 4:24 AM, to get good indoor seats for our possible visit to a glacier.

The first glacier we attempted to visit, at the end of Tracy Arm, was blocked by small icebergs. So we turned around and went for plan B. This was Dawes Glacier.

The video below was this second attempt. When we were about a mile away Barb expressed her opinion, multiple times, that it was time to turn around. We continued. We got within about a half mile of the glacier then did a 270 degree turn before leaving.

The scale of the glacier was hard to comprehend. It is so big it seemed much closer than it actually was. We got to within about a half mile of the face. The face was several hundred feet above the surface of the ocean and a half mile across.

The ship is 1041 feet long and 121 feet wide. I created the image below from a screen shot of Google Maps with the Celebrity Solstice represented by a rectangle approximately to scale at the point of closest approach:

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One of the possible excursion was to depart the ship and get on a tour boat which went into shallower and narrower waters to get a look at things much closer than what the Solstice could. Barb and I did not do this but others did. If you were to go on a cruise like this don’t count on getting so close to a glacier from the main ship. The cruise director told us that in doing this for 11 years he can count on one hand the number of times the ship has gotten this close to a glacier.

Here is the tour boat as seen from an upper deck of the ship:

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Here some of the many chunks of ice we saw in the fiord. They are incredibly blue. This is because the ice is so thick. The ice absorbs all colors other than blue. Blue light is transmitted and scattered. Because sunlight has all colors present some of the blue light comes back out to give the ice a blue color.

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This was the high point of the cruise for us.

Some of the other events of our Alaska cruise were:

2 thoughts on “Dawes Glacier

  1. Really cool, Joe – I’m glad you got to experience this! Did you hear all the fizzing and hissing from the icebergs? Your statement about air not being in the ice is somewhat incorrect. There is plenty of air in glacial ice, but being a gas, it’s been very compressed over time. As the ice melts, the air is released, and glacial ice in water fizzes like crazy. The Explorer’s Club in Anchorage (I’m told) used to fly in glacial ice for their drinks to add some extra “zing” to the glass.

    When I was doing geology work in Alaska, we had a helicopter (Hughes 500) at our disposal – flying out in it every day for mapping or drilling. We landed on glaciers several times to look around, and even landed on a huge iceberg once – although the pilot never really settled the weight of the bird fully on the ice, since they can flip over unexpectedly. We also observed (safely from above) a glacial lake outburst – a smaller scale version of the Missoula Floods that carved out the landscapes of Eastern Washington.

    My weirdest glacier experience was hiking through a dense forest of young alder and willows, growing in the moraine debris on top of the glacier. This is all the soil and rocks that tumbles from the mountainsides onto the glacier as it moves through the valley. At the terminus of the glacier, this material piles up a few feet deep, and trees grow on it, occasionally falling into crevasses as they open up, and eventually tumbling over the snout as the ice continues to move forward, bringing the overlying forest along as if on a giant conveyor belt.

    Good stuff! I’ve never really considered doing a cruise, but looks like you and Barb were able to see some great things that you’d never see by just flying to Anchorage or Ketchican and driving around a bit.

    • My statement about the air in the ice was completely wrong. I misremembered but as soon as you mentioned I realized I had that wrong. Fixed.

      Yes, I heard the fizzing from the ship.

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