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ALASKA SPECIAL ISSUE : Anatomy of a glacier

March 12, 1995

Alaska has an estimated 100,000 glaciers, covering 20,000 square miles, or about 6 percent of the state. Prince Williams Sound contains the greatest concentration of tidewater calving glaciers anywhere in Alaska

1. Glaciers are formed over a number of years when more snow falls than melts. The accumulated snow compacts and forms glacier ice.

2. A glacier's movement is due to gravity and the weight of the accumulating snow. These frozen rivers of ice can move up to 370 feet a day, however an average glacier moves only a few feet a day.

3. Calving is the dramatic process by which masses of of ice break away from the end of a glacier, producing icebergs.

4. Glacier ice most often appears brilliant blue because the glacier's great thickness absorbs all the colors of the spectrum, except blue, which is reflected back.

Source: World Book Encyclopedia, Alaska's glaciers

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