Ice Calving

Margerie Glacier, Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska

One of the stops on most Alaskan cruises will be to some of the many glaciers that have their terminus on the coast. Favorite spots are Glacier National Park and Hubbard Glacier. Not only are these glaciers beautiful, there can be actual "action" opportunities to photograph. What types of action can be captured? Ice Calving. Ice calving is the sudden release and breaking away of a mass of ice from a glacier. Calving of glaciers is often preceded by a loud cracking sound before blocks of ice up to 250 feet high break loose and crash into the water. The entry of the ice into the water causes large and potentially dangerous wakes.

Trying to photograph an ice calving can be challenging. The first challenge, especially if you are on a cruise ship, is finding a vantage point. You would be amazed to see almost every passenger on the rail of the cruise ship (for some ships, that number could be 1,500- 2,000). The next decision is at what focal length to shoot at. That depends on how close you are to the glacier and how wide the glacier is. Because you never know where along the glacier the calving will occur, too tight of a shot may cause you to miss it and too wide of a shot makes the calving hard to see. A third challenge is anticipating where along the glacier wall the calving will occur. The only notice that you have is a large cracking sound. Unless it happens directly in front of you, there are a scant few seconds to turn toward the sound, aim the camera and shoot a burst. The last challenge is patience. A cruise ship may spend up to an hour in front of a glacier, and many times, there are no calvings.

This image is of an ice calving on the Margerie Glacier in Glacier Bay National Park. To put this into perspective, the height of the glacier is 350 feet, 250 feet visible above water and a width of about a mile.