Athabasca Glacier

The Athabasca Glacier is considered one of the primary destinations for tourists visiting Banff and Jasper National Parks. Situated 1km away from the Icefield Parkway, it is considered the most visited glacier in Canada (Ommanney, 2002).

General Description:
The 6.5-km-long glacier leaves the ice field at 2,800 m. It descends in a series of three ice falls as it passes over successive rock thresholds and continues as a gentle 1-km-wide tongue with a slope of 3–7° to its terminus at 1,925 m asl. It cuts through the axis of a gentle anticline and is flanked by walls of limestone, dolostone, and shale (Ommanney,2002). Crevasses are well developed in the lower two ice falls and extend almost across the entire width of the glacier. Kucera (1987) measured 15 of the largest crevasses and found them to be no deeper than 36 m. Part of the glacier front is formed by moraine-covered ice that continues up valley, forming about two-fifths of the glacier along the northwest side.

Mass Balance:
Unfortunately there have been no systematic annual mass balance studies have been carried out on the Athabasca Glacier. However, geochemical studies within the 2,600–2,700-m elevation band were used by Butler and others (1980) to estimate a net annual mass balance here of 1.5 and 2.4–2.7 m w.e., respectively, for 1976–77 and 1977–78. Average snowfall on the ice field is approximated at ore than 7 m, and the ELA is at about 2,600 m asl (Ommanney, 2002).

During the 20th century, the overall mass-balance trend for Athabasca has been strongly negative (Ommanney, 2002).. In 1870, the glacier was about 1.5 times its present total volume (1,013x106 m3) and 2.5 times its area (6x106 m2 vs. 2.6x106 m2). The average rates of decrease in volumehave declined: 3.2x106 m3 a–1 for 1870–1971 to 2.5x106 m3 a–1 for 1959–1971 (Ommanney, 2002).

Athabasca glacier's retreating terminus has been well recorded over many years which can be seen in Figures 1-3 and Table 1.

Athabasca Glacier - Canadian Glacier Inventory Project
Figure 1: Athabasca Glacier in 1952 (Ommanney, 2002)

Athabasca Glacier - Canadian Glacier Inventory Project
Figure 2: Athabasca Glacier in 1977 (Ommanney, 2002)

Figure 3: Athabasca Glacier in 2006
Figure 3: Athabasca Glacier in 2006 (Thomson, 2006)

Table 1: Recession and volume change between 1870-1970
Athabasca Glacier - Canadian Glacier Inventory Project
(Ommanney, 2002)

Athabasca Glacier - Canadian Glacier Inventory Project
Figure 4: Moraines created from the Little Ice Age on Athabasca Glacier (Luckman et al., 1984)

Click HERE to view images of Athabasca Glacier in 1964 at the GeoData Center Archive Gallery

Name: Athabasca Glacier
Location: Jasper National Park
Province: Alberta
Latitude: 52o11.0'
Longitude: 117o15.7'
Length: 6.5km
Classification: Outlet valley glacier
(Ommanney, 2002; Luckman, 1988)

- Glacier tongue is 1km wide and possesses a thickness between 250-320m (Luckman, 1988; Ommanney, 2002)
-Glacier tongue has a slope of 3-7 degrees to its terminus at 1925m asl (Ommanney, 2002).
Mass Balance: Negative (Ommanney, 2002)
Athabasca Glacier Progression