Chenega Glacier, Nassau Fjord

Chenega Glacier, Nassau Fjord

by | Nov 6, 2021

Chenega Glacier starts at an elevation of over 5,000 feet (1524 m) in the Sargent Icefield in Chugach National Forest and flows northeast for 10 miles (16 km) and then east for 4 miles (6 km) to Nassau Fjord on the western shore of Prince William Sound on the Kenai Peninsula, about 93 miles (150 km) west-southwest of Cordova and 37 miles (60 km) south-southeast of Whittier, Alaska. The glacier has a calving tidewater terminus 1.6 miles (2.6 km) wide at the head of Nassau Fjord which extends north for 4 miles (6 km) from Icy Bay. Princeton and Tigertail Glaciers are also in Nassau Fjord but are no longer tidewater and terminate within 1 mile (1.6 km) of sea level. Chenega Glacier is named after the old village of Chenega on nearby Chenega Island near the mouth of Icy Bay. In 1899, an expedition led by Edward H. Harriman, a wealthy railroad magnate, entered College Fjord in northwestern Prince William Sound and named many of the glaciers there for elite eastern U.S. colleges, and supposedly ignoring Princeton University. In 1909, Nassau Fjord, Princeton Glacier, and Tigertail Glacier were named by George W. Perkins, a friend of Harriman. Perkins was a well-known figure in American business during the early twentieth century. He spent many years in the insurance industry where he established a network of company agents that became the standard business model. He later worked with Wall Street powerhouse J.P. Morgan, where he supervised the consolidation of smaller firms into some of the biggest names in American industry.

In 1906, the Alaska Syndicate was formed by J.P. Morgan and Simon Guggenheim in an effort to thwart Alaska statehood and home rule. The Syndicate purchased the Kennicott-Bonanza copper mine in the Wrangell Mountains 114 miles (183 km) northeast of Cordova. In 1909, the Syndicate bought the Alaska Steamship Company and merged it with the Northwestern Steamship Company which gave them a monopoly in the Alaska shipping industry so they could control the transportation of copper ore and salmon from Alaska to Washington state leading to the Jones Act of 1920. In 1909, Perkins leased the SS Yucatan, the flagship of the Alaska Steamship Company, complete with captain and crew, to bring 18 members of his family to Alaska, where they were joined by District of Alaska Governor, Wilford B. Hoggatt to view the Morgan-Guggenheim holdings. On August 19, 1909, the Perkins party entered the fjord now exposed by the receding Chenega Glacier where they viewed two other ice streams which Perkins named Princeton and Tigers Tail Glaciers. In 1910, Perkins wrote a letter to his friend, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior Richard A. Ballinger, stating that he had discovered a new fjord and two new glaciers in Alaska and asked if they could formally be named Princeton Glacier, after the university in Princeton, New Jersey, Tiger’s Tail Glacier after the Tiger Glacier at the head of Icy Bay, and Nassau Fjord, presumably after the Nassau Club at Princeton. Ballinger referred the matter to the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey which replied that the two glaciers had already been charted and bore other names; however, the names suggested by Perkins were adopted. Ballinger was a strong advocate of the Alaska Syndicate and was later charged with obstructing a criminal investigation of coal claim purchases made by the Alaska Syndicate of wilderness land that would soon be protected by President Theodore Roosevelt as the Chugach National Forest, leading to the Pinchot–Ballinger controversy.

Nassau Fjord is glacially carved and the Chugach Alutiiq people have an oral history of the glaciers reaching the mouth of Nassau Fjord about 200 years ago. This is corroborated by the journals of Captain George Vancouver, who in 1794, explored this area, and glacier ice extended well into Icy Bay. Chenega Glacier is the largest of the glaciers in Icy Bay and is second in size only to the Columbia Glacier in Northeastern Prince William Sound. lt covers 87,040 acres (35,224 ha) and drains most of the center of the Sargent Icefield. The glacier is somewhat fan-shaped, with the terminus at the apex. The position of the terminus has not changed significantly since 1985. Because of the overwhelming proportion of the glacier in the accumulation area of the Sargent Icefield, any minor change in the position of the firn line would not seriously affect glacier behavior, but, any significant climatic change responsible for firn line movement would affect the glacial budget. Chenega Glacier discharges icebergs abundantly and supplies most of the ice stream entering Icy Bay. Ice loss due to iceberg calving is very high and although the glacier has only an overall moderate slope, the flow rate must be very fast. The steep gradient near the terminus and the tremendous number of large crevasses give the impression of a giant icefall ending in the deep water of Nassau Fjord. Due to a large amount of glacial activity in the fjord, it is a popular destination for sea kayakers and sightseeing boats from the nearby village of Chenega Bay on Evans Island and from Whittier. Read more here and here. Explore more of Chenega Glacier and Nassau Fjord here:

About the background graphic

This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2022 (bottom). Each stripe represents the average global temperature for one year. The average temperature from 1971-2000 is set as the boundary between blue and red. The color scale goes from -0.7°C to +0.7°C. The data are from the UK Met Office HadCRUT4.6 dataset. 

Credit: Professor Ed Hawkins (University of Reading). Click here for more information about the #warmingstripes.

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