Johns Hopkins Glacier, named for the University in Baltimore, Maryland, is one of the most impressive glaciers in Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park and “must see” when visiting Alaska. It is around 12 miles (19km) long, stretching from the eastern sloped of Lituya Mountain and Mount Salisbury to the head of Johns Hopkins Inlet, which is around a mile southwest of the terminus of Clark Glacier and around 79 miles northwest of the town of Hoonah, on Chichagof Island. www.travelrows.com
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While most glaciers around the world are shrinking, this glacier in Alaska is believed to be one of the few advancing tidewater glaciers of the Fairweather Range – one of a small number of global glaciers still getting bigger over time. The glacier is currently around a mile wide, 250 ft high at the terminus and 200 ft deep at the water line. It has numerous tributary glaciers stretching back into the surrounding peaks.
While you may have imagined that all glaciers look more or less the same, a visit to this and other glaciers of the Glacier Bay National Park will disabuse you of that notion. Each glacier here has its own distinctive character. In the case of Johns Hopkins glacier, for example, the ice face is given character by the debris collected from medial moraines along the tributary glaciers. The debris can be seen in the ice face, extending up the glacier in prominent black bands.
The glacier flows down the main valley at a rate of around 3,000 ft per year, or about 8ft per day. These measurements were made in the 1970s, but do not seem to have changed much since that time, or since the glacier began advancing in 1924. Fluctuation, however, in ice flow and terminus advance rates in recent years mean that there is some doubt over these issues, and how the glaciers here are affected by climate change.
On the ice face of John Hopkins glacier, icebergs calve into the inlet. This glacier is characterized by submarine calving – calving of ice from below the water surface, creating ‘basal bergs’ which rise unexpectedly and suddenly from the water.
Meltwater from the glacier is discharged through underwater tunnels near the eastern and western edges of the glacier. Sometimes, melt water forms fountains on the inlet’s surface. Where the meltwater wells up, black-legged kittiwakes are commonly seen diving, floating and feeding.
The Johns Hopkins glacier’s face cannot be reached by trail. It is accessed only by means of boat trips on private or tourist vessels down St Johns Inlet. However, there is much more to see and do within the Glacier Bay National Park and if you would like to hike in the area, there are a number of trails – for example, those that begin in the vicinity of Bartlett Cove – the only built up area within the national park.