Mendenhall Glacier is a glacier about 12 miles (19 km) long located in Mendenhall Valley, about 12 miles (19 km) from downtown Juneau in the southeast area of the U.S. state of Alaska. The glacier and surrounding landscape is protected as the 5,815-acre Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area, a federally designated unit of the Tongass National Forest.
Originally known as Sitaantaagu ("the Glacier Behind the Town") or Aak'wtaaksit ("the Glacier Behind the Little Lake") by the Tlingits, the glacier was named Auke (Auk) Glacier by naturalist John Muir for the Tlingit Auk Kwaan (or Aak'w Kwaan) band in 1888. In 1891 it was renamed in honor of Thomas Corwin Mendenhall. It extends from the Juneau Icefield, its source, to Mendenhall Lake and ultimately the Mendenhall River.
The glacier's retreat
Scientists overwhelmingly agree that earth is warming due to human activity. Climate change is causing glaciers to melt quicker than they would naturally. Over the past century human activities have released large amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. These greenhouse gases are a product of humans burning fossil fuels to produce energy. Deforestation, industrial processes, and some agricultural practices emit gases into the atmosphere as well. This emission of greenhouse gases creates a bubble around earth, trapping energy and causing the planet to warm. As temperatures rise and ice melts, water flows from the glaciers and ice caps causing the water to warm and expand. The rising temperature due to human actions is causing the glaciers to retreat at a faster rate then they would naturally.
The retreat of the Mendenhall Glacier and other glaciers in the area is a result of broader retreat and breakup of the Juneau Icefield. The Juneau Icefield is the fifth largest icefield in North America. To determine negative effects of glacial retreat we are able to look at other glaciers around the World and apply negative effects they experience to the recession of the Mendenhall glacier. For many populations near glacial areas these glaciers are a source of fresh drinking water.
Once these glaciers are gone the people relying on this fresh water will be out of their familiar fresh water source. For example, Anchorage is one of the most populated cities in Alaska and many people in this city rely on the Eklutna glacier for their freshwater. If the recession of this glacier continues they will be out of their main source of water.
The United States Forest Service operates the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center as part of the Tongass National Forest, offering interpretive programs throughout the year for children and adults. The Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center and surrounding area offers stunning views of a lake-terminating, calving glacier. The center is open year-round and receives close to 500,000 visitors each year, many coming by cruise ship in summer. There are two accessible entrances – an upper entrance with a ramp and a lower entrance with elevators.