Just 13 miles from Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's office in downtown Juneau lies the famous Mendenhall Glacier. Every year some 400,000 people visit the glacier, the most popular one in Alaska. Every year there's less of it to see. One of the many "rivers of ice" formed 3,000 years ago, the glacier — part of Tongass National Forest — flows for 12 miles down the Mendenhall Valley into Mendenhall Lake. Until the 1700s, the ice grew and grew. Then it began to retreat — a natural process for glaciers, which tend to wax and wane. But now, according to the National Forest Service, it's retreating at a rate of 100 to 150 feet a year, faster than ever before. "The rate of recession has been accelerating over the last two decades," said Roman Motyka, an associate professor of geology and geophysics at the University of Alaska Southeast who has studied Mendenhall. Between 1985 and 2000, the glacier retreated as much as it had retreated in the previous 50 years, said Bruce Molnia, a U.S. Geological Survey glacier expert. Sometime in the next two years, he predicted, the glacier will no longer reach the lake. What's happening at Mendenhall is "a reflection of what's happening statewide with all our glaciers," Motyka said. "There's no question it's because of global warming." However, Molnia contends that it's more complicated. Global warming is speeding up Mendenhall's retreat, but there are other factors too, he said. And he noted that while 99 percent of Alaska's glaciers are retreating, the other 1 percent are actually advancing. Gov. Palin has acknowledged the impact that global warming is likely to have on her state. "A changing environment will affect Alaska more than any other state, because of our location," she told Newsmax magazine in a recent interview. "I'm not one, though, who would attribute it to being man-made." Her position is contrary to the findings of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration — not to mention contrary to the position of GOP presidential candidate John McCain. Craig Pittman, Times Staff Writer
Close by Gov. Sarah Palin, a glacier on thin ice
The Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center has its own Web cam, offering a view that's refreshed every five minutes.
Go to www.fs.fed.us/r10/tongass/districts/mendenhall/webcam.html
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