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Glacier Bay was first surveyed in 1794 by a team from the H.M.S. Discovery, captained by George Vancouver. At that time, the survey showed a mere indentation in the shoreline. The massive glacier was more than 4,000 feet thick in places, up to 20 miles wide, and extended more than 100 miles to the St. Elias mountain range. By 1879, however, naturalist John Muir discovered that the ice had retreated more than 30 miles forming an actual bay. By 1916, the Grand Pacific Glacier – the main glacier credited with carving the bay – had melted back 60 miles to the head of what is now Tarr Inlet.
Efforts for protecting Glacier Bay were made by John Muir and other conservationists, and in 1925 President Calvin Coolidge signed a proclamation creating Glacier Bay National Monument. At the time, the monument contained less than half the area of the present park. In 1980, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act elevated the monument to national park status and also extended the park boundary northwest to the Alsek River and Dry Bay.
Further protection and recognition of Glacier Bay's significance occurred in 1986, when the Glacier Bay-Admiralty Island Biosphere Reserve was established under the United Nations Biosphere Program. In 1992 Glacier Bay became part of an international World Heritage Site.
Glacier Bay National Park includes numerous tidewater glaciers -several are actively calving icebergs into the bay. The show can be spectacular. As water undermines the ice fronts, great blocks of ice - up to 200 feet high - break loose and crash into the water.
The Johns Hopkins Glacier calves such enormous volumes of ice that it is rarely safe to get within two miles of its cliffs.
For more information about Glacier Bay National Park visit the National Park Service website or GlacierBay.org.