The Bering Glacier was named for Vitus Jonassen Bering, an Arctic explorer. Lake Vitus was also named for him.
The Bering Glacier was discovered during the Great Nordic Expedition, which lasted from 1733 to 1741. If you were already familiar with the Bering name, it was probably due to his other namesake – Bering Island. Vitus Jonassen Bering died on Bering Island in 1742.
Geography of Bering Glacier
Bering Glacier is located in Alaska, about a hundred miles east of Prince William Sound and Anchorage, Alaska. It begins in the St. Elias Mountains and is located entirely with the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park managed by the BLM. It ends at Vitus Lake, which is connected to the Gulf of Alaska by the Seal River. Vitus Lake grows as the Bering Glacier retreats. Melt water from the Bering Glacier eventually ends up in the Gulf of Alaska. Yakutat is a local community near the glacier’s outflow.
The Bering Glacier is the namesake of the Bering Glacier system. There are a variety of smaller tidewater glaciers, approximately 50, in the Bering Glacier system that are local tourist attractions.
Facts About Bering Glacier
Bering Glacier is the largest glacier in North America, covering more than 2,000 square miles. It is also the longest glacier in North America, around 190 kilometers. Bering Glacier is the largest temperate surging glacier, meaning that it has receded and grown over time, instead of a steady state glacier like those in Iceland and Antarctica that haven’t changed in length over time. The last glacier surge was between 1993 and 1995. Surges and retreats vary based on annual snow load, ice melt, air temperatures and other factors. The Bering Glacier can move up to five inches a day. The glacier is so large that different parts move at different speeds.
It is up to 800 meters thick. The frequency of earthquakes in the region has been linked to thinning of the glaciers in the area. It is thought that the weight of the glaciers along the tectonic plates at the edge of the Pacific Ring of Fire (where the North American and Pacific Plates collide) stabilizes it. As the glaciers melt and retreat, the faults move more freely and earthquakes grow more frequent.
Studies of the Bering Glacier
The Michigan Tech Research Institute or MTRI has been studying the Bering Glacier system for the Bureau of Land Management. It studies the melting and surging of the glacier with a variety of instruments that take the temperature, air pressure, wind speed and solar light levels every hour as well as tracking the sensor’s location every hour to track the glacier’s movement over time.
It is estimated that each spring, as much water as flows from the mouth of the Nile River flows from the melting glacier to the Gulf of Alaska. It discharges about 40 cubic kilometers of fresh water each year.
The glaciers in the Bering Glacier system don’t all advance and retreat at the same time. Studies by the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute found that 24 of 36 glaciers mostly retreated from 1972 to 2012, while 11 advanced at least five miles and one was essentially unchanged. For some tidewater glaciers, the existence of marine shoals may decrease their retreat by protecting coast chilled by meltwater from the warmer ocean water.