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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Halibut Cove and Exit Glacier

Location: Seward, Alaska
Population: 2830

Yesterday we had another boat ride out of Homer, this time a passenger ferry over to Halibut Cove, a small artist's community on the other side of Kachemak Bay. The weather report was for wind and showers, but we lucked out and were greeted with a beautiful day. On the ferry ride over we got to make a stop at Gull Island again, and I certainly didn't mind seeing it twice! The sun was shining and some different birds were about, so I got some completely different photos from the day before. Here's a pigeon guillemot taking flight:

Most of the murres that were floating in rafts the day before were perched on top of the rocks this time. Although it's a more common sight in Alaska, it's still bizarre to see mountains behind sea birds:

Most exciting of all, horned puffins (year bird 202)!! We didn't see any the day before, but we saw at least two or three yesterday, and we were even close enough for pictures:

Most of the people that take the few hour excursion to Halibut Cove eat at their locally famous restaurant, The Saltry. We decided to pack a picnic lunch and take more time to explore the quaint boardwalk community and the two art galleries featuring local artists. It was certainly a picturesque place!

We also hiked up the hill on the island where Halibut Cove is situated, which gave views towards the Kenai Mountains on one side and back towards Homer on the other. Here is a view overlooking the trail, the town, and the mountains beyond:

This morning as we packed the car the owner of the cabin where we were staying came to tell us there was a moose nearby. We went over to take a look, hoping it would be one of the moms with calves she had seen around recently. Sure enough, with a little patience, two young ones emerged from the trees and took a curious look at us before scampering deeper into the woods after mom:

Then it was time to hit the road and make our way towards Seward on the other side of the Kenai Peninsula. We stopped a few miles outside of Seward to take the hike up to Exit Glacier, the most accessible point of Kenai Fjords National Park and Preserve. As we hiked up the trail, we saw and heard a couple of hermit thrushes (year bird 203). It was amazing to see how much the glacier as receded, as marked by signs stating the years at sites that were formerly the ice front of the glacier. This photo was taken from where the ice stood in 1998:

It's easy to jump to the conclusion that global climate change is the sole reason for the recession of this and other glaciers. I'm sure it plays a role, but it's also interesting to think about the cyclical advance and retreat of ice ages that the earth goes through anyway. Exit Glacier, for instance, has been retreating since the end of the last "little ice age" around 1815. We passed signs showing where the glacier stood along what is now the highway, miles away from its present location. It lost a lot of ground before we humans were pouring greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, indicating that we're in the middle of a warming phase anyway, though human factors are accelerating it to never before seen levels.

The air temperature dropped considerably as we approached the glacier and we started feeling the katabatic winds, or a chilly breeze that runs off the glacier as the cold air rushes down its slopes. Basically, the air on top of the glacier is cooled, and as a result becomes more dense since the density of air is inversely proportional to its temperature. The denser air then sinks and is pulled down the slope by gravity, replacing the warmer, less dense air down at the face of the glacier, where we were standing. Luckily it was warm enough out that the cold air felt great!

Even though Exit Glacier is just a fraction of its former size, and in fact is one of the smallest glaciers that extend of the Harding Ice Field that makes up the bulk of Kenai Fjords National Park, when you are right at the face of the glacier it still seems pretty huge!


Lancashire and Lakeland Outback Adventure Wildlife Safaris said...

Hi Monika pardon me for being pedantic but surely all glaciers have receeded since the end of the Little Ice Age, by definition it must have warmed up a bit since then! Did you know that the reason you lot aren't still a British colony is due to the Little Ice Age as the Delaware River froze and enabled Washington to make a tactical manoeuvre which ultimately ended up in the defeat of the British...doh...and the lad was born only 25 miles from here...traitor.


PS you're well ahead now stuck on 166, might have to count the FL not the horrid ectoparasites!

Monika said...

Dave - I guess that was my point that things have warmed up since the Little Ice Age anyway regardless of what humans have done since then. There's so much talk about global warming all the time I think some people forget to talk about the bigger cycles at work. As for the ticks, if you counted the ectoparasites I'm sure you would be far ahead! Even the Florida birds might put you out in front.

layana said...

Those pictures look lovely. It is really worth it to do all that we can to save these wonderful creatures that we see. How great it will be if our descendants will still be able to enjoy these sights.