Saturday, June 20, 2009

Columbia Glacier Cruise Tour

Today we took a cruise on the Stan Stephens Glacier and Wildlife Cruises out of Valdez. It was a cruise of about 7 hours to near the foot of the Columbia Glacier. We enjoyed the trip a lot and were able to see a lot of wildlife and scenery in the Prince William Sound and to learn about the local area.

Valdez is famous for being the terminus of the Alaska Pipeline which we saw from the boat, as well as being the site of 2 disasters. The area suffered the largest earthquake ever recorded in North America in 1964. That earthquake destroyed the town of Valdez which was relocated to its present site 4 miles away. We were able to see the site of the old town of Valdez which has largely returned to nature. The area is known at least as well for the huge oil spill that occurred when the tanker Exxon-Valdez went aground in 1989. Although signs of the oil spill are no longer visible to a casual observer it can still be detected. Many affected wildlife species have recovered from the effects of the spill while others have not or are still recovering. We saw the site of the spill. We saw a tanker being escorted through the area by 2 small boats which is one of the measures to reduce the risk of a recurrence. Valdez harbor was not affected by the spill due to a wind that came up several days later and carried the oil away from the harbor.

Among the wild life we saw were several humpback and fin whales. We also saw a number of porpoises. We saw bald eagles and a number of horned and tufted puffins. We saw otters, harbor seals and a very large group of sea lions.

This a humpback whale

bald eagle on top of the tree

Anderson waterfall

sea lions sleeping

The boat approached as close as possible to Columbia Glacier. Although Columbia began retreating and disintegrating only about 1980 it is retreating rapidly. The glacier is about 2000 feet high of which about 1800 feet is below sea level. The glacier has now retreated about 10 miles from where it was in 1980. It is a very fast moving glacier with the loss of ice estimated to be over a 100 tons of ice a day. The area we were in was covered with an tremendous number of ice burgs from the glacier. The amount of ice is huge when you consider that at close to 90 percent of an ice burg is under water. The ice was rapidly moving in mostly circular currents due to fact that the water from the melting glacier is fresh water and about 16 degrees cooler that the salt water of Prince William Sound.

This is one of many large icebergs floating in the water

Those are all icebergs behind me in this picture.

I am hold a large piece of ice from the water

It was a pleasant and surprisingly tiring day as we were mostly on our feet moving to look at one site or another during most of the cruise.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Barbara and Dennis,

    It is killing me to read this blog as I am so envious of your trip! You must be have a grand time. I love the pictures and stories.

    XX Wendy