First known freshwater springs found beneath the face of Columbia Glacier

Researchers working with the council have found what are believed to be the first documented freshwater springs found at the base of a tidewater glacier in Alaska.

Columbia Glacier
Columbia Glacier

This investigation was conducted by the Prince William Sound Science Center in support of ongoing council research focused on Columbia Glacier. Columbia Glacier has historically contributed to several maritime accidents related to the transportation of crude oil through Prince William Sound. The Glacier has been retreating rapidly from its terminal moraine near Heather Island since the early 1980s. Columbia Glacier’s main face is some 11 miles from Heather Island now. Icebergs produced by the glacier routinely cross into marine traffic lanes, posing a risk to crude oil tankers and their support vessels.

“The survey found several small freshwater springs in the bottom of the bay – places where fresh, clear water was seeping out of the bottom and mixing with the cloudier, saltier water of the bay, “ said Dr. Robert Campbell, researcher for the Prince William Sound Science Center.

“Subsurface seeps have been observed elsewhere, but to our knowledge this is the closest they have been identified to a tidewater glacier. Groundwater inputs could even have an impact on calving and iceberg production as the Columbia Glacier continues to recede,” Campbell added.

The council supports research efforts at Columbia Glacier to better understand its behavior and help ensure the safe transportation of crude oil through the Sound.

For more details, download the full report:

Hydrographic Survey Of Columbia Bay, October 8-11 2014

Please contact the council’s project manager for maritime operations, Alan Sorum, at 907.834.5020 if you have further questions.

Skip to content