June 12, 2015 · USA
childs glacier calving copper rtiver alaska usa

The Calving of the Childs Glacier Alaska

The calving of the Child’s glacier near Cordova Alaska can be a dramatic event, triggering a river tsunami and launching an air-borne wave.

 Childs glacier attached to Copper River. Google Earth

Fig3. Childs glacier attached to Copper River. Google Earth

Childs glacier camp grounds map

fig2. Childs glacier camp grounds map

 Childs Glacier map. (Google Maps)

fig1. Childs Glacier map. (Google Maps)

The car park and campground for the Child’s Glacier lies some 50 miles along the road from Cordova, 2 miles before the Million Dollar Bridge (see Child’s Glacier location map Fig1). Footpaths lead from the recreation area (see Child’s Glacier campsite map fig2) to the high gravel banks of the Copper River overlooking the 100m high, 4km long, terminus of the Child’s Glacier, located 300m away on the opposite bank. During the summer months there are frequent calving events. At this time of year  the Copper River is a shallow fast moving river, swollen from the melt water of the Miles and other glaciers upstream. The fast flowing stream undercuts the Child’s Glacier cantilevering the ice over the water and flushing debris away from previous calving sites.  So when a calving occurs, it can be a dramatic event producing both a Tsunami that can carry large boulders onto the opposite bank, and an airborne wave of water and ice fragments that can almost reach the centre of the river. Over the last decade the Child’s glacier, as with most of Alaska’s glaciers has been thinning and receding. Still the Child’s glacier has not yet detached from the edge of the Cooper River ( see Google earth map Fig3),  so spectacular calving should still occur in the near future.

Childs Glacier on 4th July.

fig4. Childs Glacier on 4th July.

Child’s Glacier Performs.

It was a beautiful sunny fourth of July day as we joined the other picnickers on the gravel bank. It wasn’t long before small echo popping sounds indicated the ice was cracking and splitting, and everyone sat upright full of expectation, but nothing further happened and soon everyone went back to to watching and waiting. Some even fell asleep.

A little while later the popping sound started again, but this time it felt different. Two seconds of  silence went by before a mighty crack and a roar made everyone jump, and small bits of ice cascaded down the front of the glacier. Then in unbelievable slow motion, a large section of the ice face detached, and slithered down into the river, exposing the intense blue  of  ancient ice.  I recall the cry of birds as they scattered from the ice face, as a giant brown wave  lept into the air and a  huge surface ripple raced towards us, while its counterpart  sloshed back and forth over the ice debris. The calving scared the fishermen at the waters edge who dropped their rods and fled up the gravel bank. A good thing too, as the ensuing Tsunami was large enough to flop salmon onto the shore. This soon attracted a juvenile black bear that came scampering along the foreshore followed by anxious rangers trying to keep us safe.

Interestingly, a fishing license permits the public to fish the river for salmon, but does not allow them to pick up any salmon that may have been flung up onto the shore. This is reserved for the bears and other wildlife scavengers that patrol the river banks.

Some observations.

♦ Please note my photograph of the calving is not shown here as it is reserved for my book.
♦ Cars can be rented from Cordova.
♦ A new lodge is being constructed with views of the  Child’s Glacier. See http://www.childsglacierlodge.com/
♦ Booking for the 16 campsites can be made on the website:  http://www.recreation.gov