Isostatic Rebound

During 1794 George Vancouver, and his meticulous survey parties exploring Icy Strait, did not find Glacier Bay. It was filled with 4000 vertical feet of ice.

Leading edge of the Lamplugh tidewater glacier.

Less than a century later, In 1879 John Muir entered and “discovered” Glacier Bay, describing a geology melting into the geography we might recognize today.

Over 200 years the immense trunk glacier and most of the feeding glaciers were wasted at their bases by the warmer seawater and at their heights by the atmosphere.

A section of Reid Glacier’s leading edge, recently calved and exposing blue dense ice

Not to be outdone by sea-level, in this region the land is rising, fast.

Relieved of the great weight of the rapidly melting ice, its mantle is lifting out of the underlying magma like a river barge unloaded of its cargo. Simultaneously the earth’s crust is decompressing like an unburdened memory-foam mattress. In Glacier Bay the uplift is causing land rise of almost an inch per year.

This is geologic Isostatic Rebound.

Entering Glacier Bay National Park on a five-day cruising permit, Jupiter travels north and backwards in time to a land that is scraped clean and newly exposed.

At its southern entrance Glacier Bay has a similar prospect to the rest of Southeast Alaska, but traveling up bay you finally reach a glacial bulkhead in its dirty impermanence where recent recession of glaciers leaves a raw and poor landscape gradually and sparsely populated by indigenous flora and fauna.

Relieved of its icy burden, the land receives a succession of vegetative species beginning with mosses and lichens. Pioneer plants such as fireweed and paintbrushes are followed by small shrubs, alders and cottonwoods. After 100-200 years coniferous forests will again prevail.

Jupiter, anchored in the loom of Reid Glacier, enjoyed a pleasant afternoon and evening, until the glacier had other ideas.

Bergie Bit aboard, nothing deters Jupiter’s natators from 34º water.

Ambient temperature drops into the 40’s, sea temperature into the 30’s near ice. The unfamiliar scope of Glacier Bay confounds a sapient escapade.

Alice & Ky in front of the Reid Glacier whose upper surface is covered with cryoconite.

Jupiter’s crew logs more bears, more birds, more sea otters, sea lions, dolphin, whales, wolves, and freshly peeled rock in one week, than during any previous month of cruising.

We anchor each afternoon in one of the few remote coves or bays shallow enough and protected enough to allow a peaceful night.

Exploration by Jupiter, the mothership, is well in this immensity of ice and water, but close examination must be by tender or kayak.

A place this vast and empyrean, encompasses the curious and the observable. We are removed from the carping of societal life, and savor our own psychical isostatic rebound.

Iceberg Salad

Divide half heads of iceberg lettuce into three wedges for each plate. Fry pancetta in a dry skillet and remove to crisp as it cools. Sauté finely sliced shallot in the rendered fat until golden brown.

Organize wedges like mountain peaks, slotting the pancetta between. Create lateral moraines of sliced cherry tomatoes and wedges of avocado. Rain smoked blue cheese over the summits. Drizzle with a creamy dressing then shower shallots across the whole range.

Gloomy Knob was formed on the ocean floor at the tropical equator, and through plate tectonics has traveled, like us, northwest to this latitude where it was pushed above sea level then scoured and gouged by flowing glaciers.


  1. Sally Seymour says:

    Ahhh!!! I’ve been waiting for this adventure and you didn’t disappoint. I suspect Alice and Ky will remember their dip into the icy water. And the recipe for iceberg salad is pure genius. Thanks.

  2. Heather says:

    Mind blowing photographs and adventures! The glaciers are mesmerizing. Sending you warm hugs from VT.

  3. Jane Pout says:

    Thank you for sharing your intrepid adventures with us. They give us a wonderful personal insight into the lives of the local people and the natural world. We really do appreciate hearing your well-told stories and we love all your photos.
    Jane and Ian

  4. David & Estelle Condra says:

    Thanks Randy and Fiona for your magnificent descriptive prose. This one brought back fond memories from 22 years ago when Estelle and I and friends did our week in Glacier Bay!

    Estelle just wants to know if Fiona tried the glacial mud facial mask?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *