Gabriel Wolken is a research professor at the University of Alaska Fairbank’s Climate Adaptation Science Center and manager of the State of Alaska’s Climate and Cryosphere Hazards Program.

Gabriel Wolken,Research professor, University of Alaska Fairbank’s Climate Adaptation Center

Just outside Juneau, Alaska, sits the Mendenhall Glacier, a massive body of ice stretching 21 km (13 mi). It was once connected to another body of ice, called Suicide Glacier. But over the past 80 years, Suicide Glacier has retreated. In the wake of this movement, it left a piece of itself in a deep basin. Beneath this remnant ice, the “Suicide Basin” reservoir fills with water. All of this is held in place by the Mendenhall Glacier, which is still sitting right next to it.

This point—where the basin and Mendenhall Glacier meet—is the target area where the team is conducting many lines of remote sensing to detect the change in the lake level, Wolken said.

“The main issue is that it’s ice covered so we can’t really see the water as it fills up the basin on a seasonal basis,” he explained. “WingtraOne covers a large area, efficiently and provides data that is high quality in terms of visualization and location accuracy.”

Key to all of this is how Mendenhall Glacier functions as a dam that contains the water in the basin. When the water gets too high, it either flows over it or pushes it up from below due to massive amounts of hydraulic pressure that builds up.

“And then, in a catastrophic event, the water drains,” Wolken explained. “The entire lake drains over about a day and a half, and floods the infrastructure and community down below.”

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