Fords Terror is a fjord in the Coast Mountains of Southeast Alaska that trends generally south for 8 miles (13 km) to Endicott Arm, about 64 miles (103 km) southeast of Juneau and 57 miles (92 km) north-northwest of Petersburg, Alaska. The fjord was named in 1889 by Lieutenant Commander Henry B. Mansfield, of the U.S. Navy, for H.L. Ford, the Master-at-Arms and a member of a surveying party on the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey Carlile P. Patterson. The Patterson was a survey ship that operated with a U.S. Navy crew between 1883 and 1918. Subsequently, she had a brief period of naval service and 15 years as a merchant vessel before she wrecked near Cape Fairweather in 1938. While exploring and charting the fjords, Ford was the coxswain of a small Herreshoff steam launch that encountered a tidal rapid in a constriction jammed with floating glacier ice, giving it the name ‘Fords Terror’. Prior to this survey, Endicott Arm and Tracy Arm were filled with glacier ice and not navigable or charted beyond Holkham Bay on the eastern shore of Stephens Passage. Holkham Bay was first charted by Lieutenant Joseph Whidbey in 1794 and named by Captain George Vancouver for a town in Norfolk, England. The Tlingit people inhabited a village in Holkham Bay called ‘Sumdum‘. Since that time, the Sawyer Glacier has retreated revealing Tracy Arm, and the Dawes Glacier retreated revealing Endicott Arm. Endicott Arm presently extends northwest for 33 miles (53 km) from the terminus of Dawes Glacier to Holkham Bay. Endicott Arm was also named in 1889 by Mansfield, for William Crowninshield Endicott, the Secretary of War under President Grover Cleveland. The Dawes Glacier was originally named the Young Glacier in 1880 by John Muir, for his travel companion Reverend Samuel Hall Young, but in 1891 the name was changed by U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. Today, Tracy Arm and Endicott Arm are part of the Tracy Arm-Fords Terror Wilderness that encompasses 653,179 acres (264,332 ha).
The Brown Glacier was once a tongue of the Sawyer Glacier that started at an elevation of 5,000 feet (1,524 m) and flowed west for 10 miles (16 km) and then south for 6 miles (10 km) to merge with the Dawes Glacier. Sometime shortly after Vancouver’s expedition in 1794, the Dawes and Brown Glaciers started retreating and in 1889, the Patterson was able to survey Endicott Arm for at least 17 miles (27 km) southeast of Holkham Bay and subsequently discover the entrance to a new fjord once occupied by the Brown Glacier. This represents a retreat rate of at least 945 feet (288 m) per year. H.L. Ford navigated a small wooden boat at great peril up the newly opened but ice-choked embayment to discover the terminus of the Brown Glacier grounded on a moraine about 6.5 miles (11 km) from the fjord mouth at Endicott Arm. In 1952, the glacier had retreated another 0.9 miles (1.4 km) and the terminus was emerging from tidewater. By 1967, the terminus had retreated another 2.5 miles (4 km) up the valley and had created a series of small proglacial lakes, but the glacier was still connected to the Sawyer Glacier at an elevation of roughly 4,100 feet (1,250 m). The glacier today is only a small remnant ice field about 1 mile (1.6 km) long and 0.4 miles (0.6 km) wide occupying a cirque at an elevation of 2,700 feet (823 m) about 7 miles (11 km) from tidewater and is no longer connected to the Sawyer Glacier which hangs above the cirque at an elevation of about 4,000 feet (1210 m).
The current Holocene glacial retreat is a geographical phenomenon that involved the global deglaciation of continental ice sheets that previously had advanced during the Last Glacial Maximum. The retreat of continental ice sheets started about 19,000 years ago and accelerated about 15,000 years ago. Abrupt warming started 11,700 years ago, resulting in the rapid melting of the remaining ice sheets of North America and Europe. Since alpine glaciers that descended to tidewater were first observed in Alaska by early European explorers, some have retreated dramatically in terms of recession distance and loss of ice volume. During this same period, the average temperature of the Earth has been increasing. Glaciers form in places where more snow accumulates each year than melts. Soon after falling, snowflakes begin to compress and slowly change from light fluffy crystals to hard round ice pellets. As more snow falls the granular snow is buried and becomes even more compressed, turning into a dense grainy ice called firn. The minimum elevation that firn accumulates on a glacier is called the firn line. The process that removes ice from a glacier is called ablation. Ablation includes melting, evaporation, erosion, sublimation, and calving. Glaciers retreat when ice ablates more quickly than firn can accumulate, and therefore glaciers are important indicators of global warming and climate change. Read more here and here. Explore more of Fords Terror here: