A glacier in Alaska gives way: a swollen river overwhelms Juneau



by LORENZO CIOTTI

A glacier in Alaska gives way: a swollen river overwhelms Juneau

The record-breaking flooding in Alaska, caused by the rupture of the Suicide Basin, a lateral basin of the Mendenhall Glacier, located about 20 kilometers north of Juneau, the capital of the Country. According to the National Weather Service, the Suicide Basin produces floods of Lake Mendenhall and the river of the same name, fed by subsidences of the glacial lake since 2011.

Global warming, according to climate science, increases the risk of floods linked to melting glaciers. Events of this type occur when trapped water presses on and pushes its way through melting and thinning ice. A drone captured the moment a house collapsed into the swollen Mendenhall River last Saturday in Juneau.

About Juneau, the capital of Alaska

The city is located along the Gastineau Canal: the downtown area, business area and port are on the mainland on the east side of the canal, while the mainly residential West Juneau neighborhood is on Douglas Island on the west side of the canal, connected to the east side by the Juneau–Douglas Bridge.

The city can be reached by land only from the north, via the coastal road called Glacier Highway, an artery that is just a hundred km long and serves the airport and a few smaller towns. From further away it can only be reached by ship or plane.

Seaplanes are mainly used to get around. Although located at sea level, it is close to many mountains, among which is the Taku Glacier. Juneau's primary vegetation is taiga and consists primarily of pine, spruce, and low shrubs.

The islands of Juneau are mountainous.
Juneau, despite its location in Southeast Alaska, has a fairly low temperature, with annual averages below 5 °C; it is also the city with the mildest winters in the whole state. In summer, the temperature can reach 15°C, with lots of clouds and lots of rain, especially in August and September.

The maximum temperature recorded in the history of Juneau was 32 °C, in July 1975. The summer minimum was recorded in July 1895, with −8 °C. In winter the thermal averages are −8 °C/1 °C, and it snows a lot, since the mass of cold air brings saturated clouds.

In January 1973, the minimum winter temperature of −30 °C was recorded, and the highest reached 16 °C also in January. Snow accumulations for the whole winter are around 4 m and the snow cover lasts a couple of months.