Outdoor enthusiast locates and names a new glacier in Alaska

A Valdez adventure guide recently discovered a previously-unnoticed glacier using satellite imagery data
Published: Feb. 13, 2023 at 6:00 PM AKST|Updated: Feb. 13, 2023 at 6:51 PM AKST
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VALDEZ, Alaska (KTUU) - Zach Sheldon, the owner of Alaska Guide Company in Valdez, loves adventure and has been involved with the outdoors since he was little.

“(I’ve) been rock climbing since my mid-teens and then an avid hiker since I was a kid,” Sheldon said. “My parents would strap me on their back and go hiking, so I grew up doing that stuff.”

Since moving to Alaska 16 years ago, he’s been exploring all that the state has to offer. Summers keep him pretty busy as a guide, but during the offseason, Sheldon enjoys looking at and building maps, which he said is a tedious process that’s done mostly behind the computer.

“Sometimes I can trace satellite imagery for six hours straight. Sometimes I burn out after an hour,” he said.

In the fall of 2022, Sheldon said he was working on a map and came across an online database called GLIMS, or Global Land Ice Measurements from Space. While adding labels to the map denoting glaciers, he noticed on his own map there were several labels for unnamed glaciers, but on the map layer, it looked like bare mountainside.

So, Sheldon went to the satellite imagery and started tracing out the glaciers, and that’s when he made a discovery.

“Everything I read said that there’s no glaciers north of the Brooks Range,” Sheldon said. “But I was looking in the mountains and I was thinking, ‘Well maybe there is something out there,’ and sure enough there was.”

He found a section of ice which he named Northernmost Glacier, since it’s the furthest north above-ground glacier in the United States. Most of the year it’s covered with snow, which is one of the reasons why Sheldon thinks it was overlooked.

“Right next to it — maybe less than a half mile, quarter mile, to the east — there’s also a rock glacier too, so there’s technically two glaciers,” Sheldon said. “They’re 10 miles further north than any glaciers were thought to exist.”

For someone whose job is to explore Alaska, Sheldon already has plans to try and make it to Northernmost Glacier this summer to see it for himself.

“Now it’s 2023 and you figure everything here on the surface of the planet’s been discovered, at least things the size of a glacier,” he said. “To find a new discovery is pretty cool.”

GLIMS officially recognized the glacier on its site shortly after Sheldon discovered it and marked it in its database.