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1986: Giant glacier threatens eco disaster

A huge glacier in Alaska is threatening to cause an ecological disaster in the region.

Large areas of forest, sea animals and fish stocks are endangered by the ice block - known as the Hubbard Glacier - which is on the move after thousands of years of inactivity.

The Hubbard Glacier is the largest tidal water glacier in North America.

Rising 300-feet (91-metres) high and 6-miles (10km) wide from the ocean near Yakutat Bay off the coast of Canada and is moving up to 100 feet (30 metres) per day.

Dubbed the "galloping glacier", its endpoint has already blocked access to the Russell Fjord thereby turning it into a lake.

The ice advanced so rapidly that it trapped seals, porpoises, and other marine animals in the new lake.

A rescue effort has been mounted by environmentalists to capture the animals and transport them to safety.

Damage

Residents of the nearby town, Yakutat, are concerned the new freshwater lake may overflow into a local river.

They fear if that happens they may suffer from the loss of a profitable salmon-farming industry and a drop off in tourists who come to the town for fishing holidays.

Millions of pounds worth of damage has already been caused to the timber industry as whole sections of forest have been submerged.

Larry Mayo of the United States Geological Survey said the movement of the Hubbard Glacier was unprecedented in modern times.

"The sprint of the Hubbard is causing probably the largest natural alteration to occur in North America within our lifetimes," he said.

The Hubbard has been moving at a very slow pace for years but scientists say its current surge was set off last winter by the movement of other nearby glaciers.

They believe water may have built up beneath the glaciers reducing the natural friction that holds the ice in place.

In Context
The Hubbard glacier went on to threaten the nearby town of Yakutat itself leading to fears the airport might be flooded and the water supply contaminated.

On 8 October the dam formed by the glacier ruptured.

It reduced the water level to that of the former fjord and allowed trapped marine animals to escape.

However, glaciologists predicted that the Hubbard glacier would advance again in the future, making Russell Fjord a lake once more.


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