Hobbyist Discovers Northernmost Glacier In The U.S.

In an age of satellites and detailed maps and air photos of seemingly every corner of the Earth, one Alaskan guide has proved that it’s still possible to discover something new.

Zachary Sheldon, the 40-year-old owner of Alaska Guide Co. in Valdez, has spent years cataloguing the state’s many glaciers. Last year, while poring over maps and satellite images, he found a glacier unrecorded by science that’s also the northernmost in the country.

It’s a small glacier — just 20 to 24 hectares in size and wedged between slopes of the Shublik Mountains along Alaska’s Arctic coast. Yet tracking glaciers — and their disappearance — remains a crucial part of geography and climate science.

Sheldon’s discovery represents the first glacier found north of the state’s Brooks Range, according to a USGS publication. 

“Here, in 2022, when it feels like everything has already been discovered, there’s a glacier that doesn’t show up anywhere,” Sheldon told the Anchorage Daily News.  “I’m a bit of a glacier nut so it excites me.”

Located at 69.50912, -145.51683, the glacier is 48km from the coast and 16km northwest of the Brooks Range, the Anchorage newspaper reported.

Brooks Range

Until Sheldon’s discovery, scientists believed no glaciers existed north of the Brooks Range, above. Photo: Shutterstock

A surprising find

With its small size, it’s surprising that climate change hasn’t melted Sheldon’s glacier, Matthew Sturm of the University of Alaska Fairbanks said in the Anchorage Daily News story.

“Throughout the world, the smallest glaciers are disappearing due to climate change,” the geophysicist said. “And here’s this little glacier way up north…When they were counting the kids in the classroom, they forgot to count this little guy.”

Several factors have influenced the glacier’s ability to avoid the worst effects of climate change, 4sport.ua reported. That includes the shade from surrounding mountains and snow cover for most of the year.


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Una publicación compartida por Zachary Sheldon (@goforzach)

So how did Sheldon find this hidden glacier? Although an amateur, he takes his hobby very seriously. After moving to Alaska with his family in 2015, Sheldon began creating a digital database about Alaska’s geography, plants, and animals.

While collecting data about the Shublik Mountains in the fall of 2022, he discovered the glacier. He soon realized it wasn’t even registered in GLIMS (Global Land Ice Measurements from Space). This thorough database monitors the world’s glaciers based on satellite data.

He submitted his info to the agency and suggested its scientists photograph and sample the glacier as soon as possible to date it.

“Glaciers, 99% of them aren’t growing,” Sheldon said. “[Their] time is limited.”

Andrew McLemore

An award-winning journalist and photographer, Andrew McLemore brings more than 14 years of experience to his position as Associate News Editor for Lola Digital Media. Andrew is also a musician, climber and traveler who currently lives in Medellin, Colombia. When he’s not writing, playing gigs or exploring the outdoors, he’s hanging out with his dog Campana.