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Abstract

Glaciers are a significant natural resource in Alaska and the Western United States, covering respective areas of ~74,600 and 688 km2 (Dyurgerov, 2002; Fountain et al., 2007). A large percentage of these glaciers exist within the boundaries of lands managed by the U.S. federal government. For example, glaciers in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve and Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska cover a total area of ~20,000 km2 (Adema, 2004). In contrast to geologic processes that operate on time scales on the order of thousands or even millions of years, significant glacier change can occur within a human lifetime. The dynamic nature of glaciers strongly influences the hydrologic, geologic, and ecological systems in the environments in which they exist. Additionally, the sensitive and dynamic response to changes in temperature and precipitation make glaciers excellent indicators of regional and global climate change (Riedel and Burrows, 2005). Long-term monitoring of glacier change is important because it provides basic data for understanding and assessing past, current, and possible future conditions of the local, regional, and global environment. A basic understanding of local and regional environmental systems is critical for responsible land management and decision-making.

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