In Alaska, a Big Tourist Draw Is Turning Into a Threat

Record flooding related to Mendenhall Glacier hits capital city of Juneau
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 7, 2023 9:40 AM CDT
Alaskan Glacier Loved by Tourists Now Threatens
A helicopter flies over the Mendenhall Glacier on June 8, 2023, in Juneau, Alaska.   (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer)

Three words no Alaskan wants to hear strung together: "record glacier flooding." But that's the current reality for residents of the capital city of Juneau, thanks to a famous glacier that sits above the city, reports Axios. The Washington Post frames the big picture after the weekend flooding: "The water surrounding the 3,000-year-old Mendenhall Glacier, which draws tourists from around the world, is now threatening the city." Coverage:

  • The culprit: The deluge sprang from an overflowing basin (named Suicide Basin) near the glacier, explains the National Weather Service. It sent water gushing into Mendenhall Lake and Mendenhall River, a phenomenon that has been happening since 2011. This year's flood level, however, has smashed the previous record by nearly 3 feet.
  • Damage: At least two structures were swept into the roaring river, per the AP. Others have been severely damaged and condemned, and Juneau officials have declared a local emergency because the riverbanks are unstable, per CNN. It's "pretty devastating for the community," NWS meteorologist Andrew Park tells the Post. "It really exceeded our expectations."
  • Video: See video via KTOO also has a two-minute video shot by drone.

  • Culprit? Because this flooding has been happening only for about a decade, Park tells the Post it's not clear whether climate change can be blamed. "This is still a recent phenomenon," he says. "There's going to be a lot of eyes on this." A study out earlier this year warns that 15 million people around the world are at risk of such flooding from glaciers, with most of them in India, Pakistan, Peru, and China.
  • Receding: Whatever is happening with the basin, the glacier itself has been in retreat for years, as the AP explained in a separate story. "It is receding so quickly that by 2050, it might no longer be visible from the visitor center it once loomed outside," writes Becky Bohrer. Thousands of tourists visit daily from cruise ships, and Juneau officials are beginning to grapple with the long-term consequences to the tourism industry.
(More Mendenhall Glacier stories.)

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