St. Elias Mountains

It’s all about the St. Elias Mountains.

The St. Elias Mountains are some of the most rugged mountains in the world. The world’s tallest coastal mountain range, there are six mountains over 5000m (just over 16 000′) tall. The St. Elias Mountain Range is home to the highest mountain in Canada (Mt. Logan, 19 551′), the second highest mountain in both Canada AND the US (Mt. St. Elias, 18 008′, sits on the border of the two countries), the 3rd highest mountain in Canada (Mt. Lucerne, 17 147′) and the fourth highest mountain in both Canada (16 971′)  and the US (Mt. Bona, 16 421′). For good measure, the St. Elias Mountains are also home to mountain number five in Canada, mt. Steele, 16 644′.

Not a bad little portfolio to have.

The St. Elias Mountains are largely tectonic, though there are some volcanic mountains in the north and western reaches of the Saint Elias Range (Mt Bona is the tallest volcano in the US). All this altitude and proximity to the warm coastal air of the Pacific Northwest brings snow. Lots of snow. And with lots of snow and big altitude comes ice. The Saint Elias Range is home to the most extensive ice field and glacier complex in any non-polar region in the world.

Bagley Icefield is over 135 miles (200km) long and over 3000’ (1km) thick. Bailey combines with the Bering Glacier to form a region of 1900 sq miles ( 5200 sq km) of ice. Ice loss from the Bagley Glacier is measured to actually cause earthquakes. The weight of the glacier is so great that it compresses the earth’s crust, destabilizing the boundary between the two plates it sits on (the North American and the Pacific Plates). As the glacier loses mass and weight, the crust decompresses. Rocks move more freely along the faults and the result is more earthquakes.

Malaspina Glacier is the largest Piedmont Glacier in the world. With recent changes wrought on by climate change, it appears to now be the largest tidewater glacier in the world, as the toe of it near Sitka Bluffs reaches the tidal waters of the Pacific Ocean. The glacier is so large that the ice loss of just this single glacier between 1980 and 2000 is estimated to equal a contribution of one half of one percent of the rise in global sea level.