Cataract Glacier, Surprise Inlet

Cataract Glacier, Surprise Inlet

by | Nov 23, 2019

Cataract Glacier flows northeast for 2.7 miles (4.4 km) from an elevation of 5500 feet (1677 m) through a steep valley to its terminus at the head of a stream that flows for 0.45 miles (0.75 km) to Surprise Inlet, about 51 miles (82 km) east-southeast of Anchorage and 20 miles (32 km) northeast of Whittier, Alaska. The descriptive name was given in 1899 by members of the Harriman Alaska Expedition. Surprise Inlet is a fjord that now extends west for 2.5 miles (4 km) from Harriman Fjord to the tidewater terminus of Surprise Glacier.

The Harriman Expedition to Alaska in 1899 included Henry Gannett who was an influential American geographer. In 1879, he lobbied Congress to centralize the mapping functions of the United States into one government agency called the U.S. Geological and Geographical Survey, although the name U.S. Geological Survey would officially be approved. He is considered the “Father of the Quadrangle”, which is now the standard U.S Geological Survey 7.5-minute map, and the basis for topographical maps in the United States. In 1888, Gannett was one of the founding members of the National Geographic Society, and he served on the board until 1909. In 1890, he and Thomas Corwin Mendenhall of the U.S. National Geodetic Survey campaigned to establish the United States Board of Geographic Names to create official names for locations in the United States. In 1893, he wrote A Manual of Topographic Methods which was the basis for standardizing surveying and mapping processes, and three years later in his last year with the U.S. Geological Survey, he started the use of standard bronze surveyors benchmarks. In 1899, he was invited with other elite scientists on the Harriman Alaska Expedition.

Gannett’s map of Harriman Fjord shows the front of Surprise Glacier practically at the point where the Cataract Glacier reached tidewater. Ten years later, Grant and Higgins photographed the Surprise Glacier terminus and it had retreated about 1.1 miles (1.6 km) from the 1899 position. Today the Cataract Glacier is no longer tidal and has retreated about 0.45 miles (0.75 km) from the inlet. Read more here and here. Explore more of Cataract Glacier here:

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This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2021 (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. 

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