The scientific tourist #167 — the Dyea, Alaska floodplain

This is the Dyea, Alaska floodplain — it may not look like much, but it’s got quite the story to tell:

The Dyea flood plain

Dyea was a small trading post and native village until the Klondike gold rush of the 1890’s. For a brief while, it was one of the contenders for favorite starting point to the Yukon gold fields (it’s at the base of the Chilkoot trail). But Dyea’s harbor was too shallow, and nearby Skagway better connected once the railroad came through, so Dyea died a fairly rapid death as people packed up and moved (often times with their buildings) the few miles east to Skagway.

These days, Dyea is better known for something else — along with its surroundings, it’s one of the fastest rising pieces of land on the planet. To be specific, the land here is rising about an inch a year — moving up about as fast as your fingernails grow. And it’s all thanks to one thing — post-glacial rebound. So the grasslands you see in this picture were the bottom of a harbor back in the gold rush days, and they just keep rising up.

Studies of old shorelines indicate that southeast Alaska started its fast rise around 1850, about the same time as local glaciers began retreating in the face of climate change. Given that the glaciers in the area are still retreating at a fast clip (around 30 feet / 10 meters each year), it’s unlikely that the land will stop moving any time soon. This is good news for local shore-line land owners (new property being produced every day!), not such good news for local fisheries.

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