Thinking About Glaciers

As we work on the film, Tracing Roots, (working title) I’ve been thinking about glaciers.

They’re always on the move.  What they do impacts us. What we’ve done impacts them.

People around here, pre borders and highways, used to walk over glaciers to trade. As Lani Hotch says in an interview for the film, she remembers her grandmother’s stories of using an ice axe to travel to the interior from the coastal Alaskan community of Klukwan.

I  had a hunch, as I thought about glaciers that saying they’re melting was a simplification. Last week talking with Dr. Gwenn Flowers, a glaciologist,  I confirmed my hunch and learned about accumulation and ablation. When the loss is greater than the gain the terrain uncovered has usually not been exposed for a long time.

As I found in an article on archeological discoveries made possible by global warming, “An entirely new discipline of archaeology called ice patch archaeology is evolving. Ice patches are long frozen areas of water and snow that lie on the always shaded sides of mountain ranges”and they don’t move like glaciers.  More here.

In this landscape, archaeological artifacts that have been trapped in the ice for hundreds and sometimes thousands of years come to light once again.  These aren’t just stone objects, they’re organic material, like the Long Ago Man Found’s Spruce root hat–the hat Delores is replicating in the documentary.

When I chatted with a couple archeologists and read some more, I learned about finding Caribou dung in places where no one thought the caribou had been.  What was exciting about that was a 4,000 year old spear shaft found in the dung, So thinking about glaciers led me to talk about dung with scholars. That doesn’t happen everyday.

Plus Gwenn pointed me to a couple of useful resources.

Take a look at this interactive tool designed to help students better understand glaciers

Here’s a  link to Kate Hartman’s fun piece on glacier-human communication. It is a great example of art and science intersecting.