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Quaternary Geology

January 01, 1994


Glaciers cover only about 5 percent of Alaska today, but they spread over as much as half of the state during the most widespread advances of the late Cenozoic (Fig. 1). Both modern and ancient glaciers have been most extensive in southern Alaska, where they were close to moisture sources in the North Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Alaska (Fig. 2). Glaciers were smaller farther to the north because the nearest water bodies were icecovered for much of the year and broad continental platforms were emergent during times of glacioeustatic sea-level lowering. The repeated glaciations of late Cenozoic time had great impact even on nonglaciated parts of Alaska, where they caused formation of proglacial lakes, construction of outwash terraces, loess deposition, and isostatic depression of coastal lowlands. Because the Alaskan glacial record interrelates with so many other physical processes and climate-related features, it provides the fundamental stratigraphic framework for the late Cenozoic history of much of the state.

The positions of readily accessible glaciers along the southeastern Alaskan coast were recorded during 18 th century explorations of La Perouse, Cook, Vancouver, and others, and detailed studies of those glaciers and their fluctuations began near the close of the 19th century (Reid, 1896; Gilbert, 1904; Tarr and Martin, 1914). Compilations of the statewide glacial record have been published by Capps (1932), Pewe and others (1953), Karlstrom and others (1964), Coulter and others (1965), and Péwé (1975).

Ancient as well as modern glaciers in Alaska were primarily alpine in character. Glaciers

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DNAG, Geology of North America

The Geology of Alaska

George Plafker
George Plafker
U.S. Geological Survey MS 904, 345 Middlefield Road Menlo Park, California 94025
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Henry C. Berg
Henry C. Berg
115 Malvern Avenue Fullerton, California 92632
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Geological Society of America
ISBN electronic:
Publication date:
January 01, 1994




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