It started as a three-quarter ton chunk of ice taken out of Mendenhall Lake on the Tongass National Forest in Juneau, Alaska.
The result of an estimated 200 years of snowfall compaction, the ice calved or broke off the Mendenhall Glacier and was retrieved by volunteers with the Juneau Economic Development Council. It began its 4,000 mile journey from Alaska’s capital at a fish processing plant where it was packed and placed on a refrigerator truck for the trip to the nation’s capital.
It will be on display at the USA Science and Engineering Festival taking place October 23-24 on The National Mall. The Juneau Economic Development Council along with the Army’s Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory will have a booth at the event called “Alaska’s Cool Cryosphere.”
Although the Juneau Icefield is at least 3,000 years old, the ice itself remains relatively young because it is perpetually renewed through snowfall at upper elevations as it flows downhill in its glaciers. Glacial ice at the terminus of Mendenhall Glacier has made a 13-mile trek to Mendenhall Lake
The Mendenhall Glacier started retreating in the mid-1700s because its annual rate of melt began to exceed its annual total accumulation. The glacier’s terminus currently calves into Mendenhall Lake, where the water is 220 feet deep. The ice is retreating at a rate of 100 to 150 feet a year. At this rate, the glacier would take several centuries to completely disappear.
The Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center, part of the Juneau Ranger District on the Tongass National Forest, provides tourists with panoramic views of the glacier, Mendenhall Lake and the surrounding landscape, and wildlife. More than 1 million visitors make the trek to the glacier annually.