Recent retreat of outlet glaciers from the Harding and Grewingk-Yalik Icefields has revealed a vast array of deposits on the eastern and western flanks of the Kenai Mountains that records multiple glacier advances into coastal forests during late Holocene time. Treering dating, together with radiocarbon and lichenometric analyses, allows for the reconstruction of these glacial fluctuations to decadal precision over the past two thousand years.
The records of fluctuations are derived from 16 land-terminating and seven tidewater glaciers in three fjord systems, as well as two cirque glaciers. Three major intervals of Holocene glacier expansions are evident; they occurred about 3600 yr B.P., 600 A.D., and during the Little Ice Age, from 1300 to 1850 A.D. The earliest expansion beyond present ice margins is known only from the McCarty tidewater glacier. The 600 A.D. event involved the simultaneous advance of land-terminating and tidewater glaciers. During the Little Ice Age, however, tidewater glaciers were advancing several centuries prior to their land-terminating neighbors. Those land-terminating glaciers on the western mountain flank retreated from their Little Ice Age maxima as much as two centuries before those on the eastern mountain flank.
Land-terminating tongues on the eastern, more maritime, mountain flank have shown more sensitivity to variations in winter precipitation during the Little Ice Age and within recent decades than the more continental glaciers on the western flank that are affected more by summer temperatures. The glacial and climatic records suggest that advances of the ice tongues from about 1420 to 1460 A.D., between 1640 and 1670 A.D., at about 1750 A.D., and from 1880 to 1910 A.D. reflected times of increased winter precipitation. Advances between 1440 to 1460 A.D., from 1650 to 1710 A.D., and from 1830 to 1860 A.D. followed intervals of lower summer temperatures.