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Glaciers are truly majestic. They form over many years, often centuries, and only on land, not to be confused with icebergs which float on the water. Together, icebergs and glaciers hold most of the earth’s fresh water, but many are disappearing. As the planet’s ice is rapidly melting, with glaciologists predicting that some of the world’s glaciers will be entirely gone within the next two to three decades, now is the time to see the most spectacular before they’ve disappeared.
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Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina
The Perito Moreno Glacier is one of the world’s most beautiful natural wonders and a major tourist attraction in the heart of the Patagonian glacial region near Los Glaciares National Park. Many travelers from across the globe head to El Calafate, about 48 miles away, just to get a chance to glimpse it. Visitors can witness massive chunks of ice breaking from the glacier, plunging into Lake Argentino, or the more adventurous may want to take a helicopter flight and go for a walk right on top of it. The 19-mile-long glacier can be viewed by taking a tour boat on the lake as well as from three on-land viewing areas. Though considered relatively stable, the sublime glacier is still advancing and deserves to be seen at least once in anyone’s lifetime.
Vatnajokull Glacier, Iceland
Vatnajokull, or the Vatna Glacier, covers nearly 8 percent of Iceland as Europe’s largest glacier. Found in Vatnajokull National Park, this top natural wonder in Iceland rises over 6,500 feet and covers 3,100 square miles, surrounded by breathtaking Jokulsarlon, a legendary lake filled with icebergs that have broken off Vatna over time. It’s so striking that it served as the opening setting of the James Bond film, “A View to a Kill.” The diverse and spectacular scenery is a wild landscape of towering volcanoes, canyons, highland plateaus, waterfalls and rivers. On its south side, 40 outlet glaciers spill from high ridges. With all but one receding, now is the time to see the ice that makes this country so aptly named.
Aletsch Glacier, Switzerland
The Aletsch Glacier is the largest in the Alps, with a length of over 14 miles, covering nearly 47 square miles. Part of the Jungfrau-Aletsch Protected Area, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, most get their first mesmerizing glimpse of Aletsch from Jungfraujoch, but the picturesque riverside Fiesch is truly the best place to view it. From the village, you can ride the cable car 7,257 feet up to Fiescheralp, renowned as a paragliding hotspot, continuing up to Eggishorn. From here, you’ll enjoy a jaw-dropping 360-degree panoramic view. Although it’s only retreated 1.6 miles since 1880, 30 percent of that reduction has occurred in just the past 25 years, losing an average of 164 feet every year.
While Aletsch is likely to still be around in the next century, the problem is that the large lakes of glacial meltwater are trapped behind dams of ice – and, when the dams get to the point of breaking, released waters can result in massive flooding which is already a problem in the Alps.
Athabasca Glacier - Alberta, Canada
The Athabasca Glacier is the largest of the six “toes” that make up the Columbia Icefield, which once covered the Canadian Rockies. This one is disappearing quickly, losing more than half of its volume over the last 125 years. Taking a road trip along Icefields Parkway from Banff to Jasper will reveal its stunning grandeur. You can even take a guided walk or snow coach ride on the glacier, the accessible tongue of ice that squeezes into a valley below. The melting ice has exposed raw bedrock, and you can see firsthand the progression of pioneering plant life that’s begun to take hold on the barren surface.
Margerie Glacier -Glacier Bay, Alaska
A popular attraction in Alaska, the Margerie Glacier is a must-see. This tidewater glacier, a valley glacier which starts on land and through falling snow falls out to sea, is in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve in Alaska. The 21-mile-long and one-mile-wide glacier can only be reached by air or water. Cruise ships and boats can anchor nearby, offering exceptional views. One of the most pristine of the glaciers in Glacier Bay with jewel-like blue ice, it’s also one of the most active. The fortunate may even be able to witness calving, with the incredible natural phenomenon accompanied by the astounding sound of ice cracking and falling thunderously into the water below.
Biafo Glacier - Karakoram, Pakistan
One of several glaciers in the Karakoram Mountains of Pakistan, the Biafo Glacier is 39 miles long, the world’s third-longest outside of the polar regions, intersecting with the 30-mile-long Hispar Glacier to create the longest glacial highway on earth, from Askole in Shigar valley to Hispar in Nagar Valley of Gilgit Baltistan. These glaciers are enormous reservoirs of freshwater resources, with their gradual melting feeding over 60 large and small rivers in Pakistan.
Biafo offers hikers several days of extremely strenuous boulder hopping, along with impressive views throughout. Snow Lake, made up of parts of the upper Biafo Glacier and its tributary, Sim Gang, is one of the largest basins of snow or ice on the planet. Along the way, a variety of wildlife can also be seen, including the Ibex, Markhor mountain goats, brown bears, and rarely, snow leopards.
Furtwangler Glacier - Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
The Furtwangler Glacier can be found near the summit of Tanzania’s 19,330-foot-high Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak. It’s a small remnant of the enormous icecap that once crowned the summit. Furtwangler has retreated dramatically over the past century, with 82 percent of the glacial ice disappearing between 1912 and 2000. If you hope to visit and take in the amazing views from the top, you’ll want to go as soon as you can. By 2020, all of the glaciers here are expected to be gone – and they’ve capped the mountain for nearly 12,000 years.
Pasterze Glacier, Austria
The Pasterze Glacier be reached via the Grossglockner High Alpine Road and a funicular railway in Austria. It is 5.2 miles in length as the longest glacier in the nation, and in the Eastern Alps, lying directly beneath Austria’s highest mountain, Grossglockner. The length of the glacier is currently decreasing by about 33 feet each year. One of the best ways to see it is to hike the breathtaking Gamsbruben Trail which runs above the impressive glacier with icefalls, moraines and glacier tongues that can easily be explored on foot in just 30 minutes or so. The more experienced climbers may want to continue across southern Bockkaar Glacier through the high alpine terrain to the Oberwalder hut.
Franz Joseph Glacier - South Island, New Zealand
Franz Joseph Glacier is one of the most accessible rivers of ice in the world. It offers New Zealand visitors a rare opportunity to experience a dynamic glacial environment in a temperate atmosphere. The 7.5-mile-long glacier starts in the Southern Alps and ends in Westland Tai Poutini National Park, home to a rainforest, along the west coast of the South Island. You can hike the entire glacier, and when you’re finished, relaxing and soothe sore muscles by soaking at the Glacier Hot Pools. Guided hikes are available as well as other options for seeing it, like flying in a helicopter, soaring over in a sightseeing plane or even a thrilling tandem skydive.
Yulong Glacier - Yunnan Province, China
One of China’s scenic wonders, Jade Dragon Mountain rises above the tiled rooftops and vermilion walls of Lijiang. It’s named as such as it resembles a dragon lying in the clouds. It’s also home to one of the country’s most dramatic and accessible glaciers, reached by taking a gondola right to its edge on an awe-inspiring sightseeing trip that may literally take your breath away. As it sits at 12,000 feet, many visitors carry canisters of oxygen to avoid altitude sickness, but it’s certainly worth the trouble for the incredible views. Unfortunately, the ice is melting very fast – its tongue has shrunk by 800 feet in the past two decades. In 50 years, experts believe it will be gone.
Canada Glacier, Antarctica
Antarctica is home to numerous glaciers, and it’s becoming an increasingly popular tourist destination. Canada glacier is one of its many glaciers, a small glacier flow that flows south-east into the northern side of Taylor Valley. As the area is far from the coast, tourists visit by helicopter. It receives less than 4 inches of snowfall annually, as the area is technically a desert ecosystem. Occasionally, a confused seal comes up into the valleys from McMurdo Sound. It’s easy to get off track here in the Antarctic, and so far from the coast, seals usually don’t survive. Dried by the extreme cold and winds, their mummies have been resting in the Dry Valleys for centuries and can still be seen today.
Jostedalsbreen Glacier, Norway
Jostedal Glacier National Park in western Norway surrounds Jostedalsbreen, the largest glacier in continental Europe. It measures 37 miles long, is 2,000 feet thick, and covers an area of 188-square miles. This massive plateau glacier has numerous glacier outcroppings and you’ll find many smaller, separate glaciers here too. Glaciers and water have shaped the landscape with many moraines and other geologically interesting phenomena. In the past, tracks and roads actually crossed the incredible ice sheet, linking western valleys and inland districts in south-east Norway. Cattle and horses were driven across it to be sold in markets in the east too. As the glacier has shrunk significantly since then, becoming steeper and developing more crevasses, it would be impossible today. But if you have the proper equipment and know-how, it can be skied or walked across. There are also old routes in the valleys around the glacier that offer thrilling walking tours.
Harker Glacier, South Georgia Island
This tidewater glacier is often considered the most beautiful glacier on this already-breathtaking sub-Antarctic island. While it’s advanced further into the bay due to climate change in recent decades, it’s still the grandest, most impressive glacier on the eastern side of Cumberland Bay. With its striking combination of stark white and dark sea blue, it looks like nature painted one of its most incredible works right here on earth’s canvas.
Sperry Glacier - Glacier National Park, Montana
Just a little over 100 years ago, Glacier National Park in northern Montana was home to 150 glaciers. Today, just 26 remain, and those are all predicted to disappear by 2030, if not sooner. Part of the reason is that the warmer climate is encouraging plants to bloom too early – and then pollinating birds arrive too late for the insects and plants on which they rely, throwing the cycle out of sync. Sperry Glacier sits on the north slopes of Gunsight Mountain. It’s retreated 75 percent since the mid-19th-century. At one point it covered 930 acres, but the latest estimate found an estimated area of 216 acres. While it has significantly retreated, there are still many minor glacial features, like large moraines, streams and milky aqua-hued lakes. Visitors can spend the night a Sperry Chalet, a mountain cabin build in 1913 by Glacier National Park developer Louis Hill, before hiking the steep trail.