The changes of the solid Earth in south central Alaska in response to two major glacial fluctuations on different temporal and spatial scales have been estimated and we evaluated their influence on the stress state and ongoing tectonic deformation of the region. During the recent (1993–1995) Bering Glacier surge, a large transfer of ice from the Bagley Ice Field to the Bering Glacier terminus region occurred. We estimated the elastic displacement of the solid Earth due to ice mass redistribution from Global Positioning System (GPS) measurements at sites near the surging glacier. We can account for these displacements by transfer of an ice volume of about 14 km3 from the surge reservoir area to the terminus region. We examined the background seismicity (ML ≥ 2.5) before, during, and after the surge. We found that the occurrence of small earthquakes (ML ≤ 4.0) in the surge reservoir region increased during the surge time interval possibly in response to a decrease in ice mass. This suggests that a small decrease in the vertical stress, σ3, could be enough to modulate the occurrence of small, shallow earthquakes in this dominantly thrust fault setting. During this century the southern Alaska coastal glaciers have been undergoing an overall decrease in volume. Based on our compilation of changes in the extent and thickness of the coastal glaciers between the Malaspina and Bering, we calculated surface displacements due to the Earth's viscoelastic response to annual thinning and to the cumulative retreat over the last 100 years. The uplift of the region due to an average annual thinning rate of 1–6 m/yr in the ablation region is 1–12 mm/yr. For our reference model with a viscosity of 5×1019 Pa s for depths between ≈ 40 and 200 km the total viscoelastic response due to the retreat over the last century may be as much as a couple of meters within the coastal ablation zone near Icy Bay. The maximum decrease in σv between 0 and 10 km was ≈ 1.0 MPa, which is significant in relation to the stress drops in recent earthquakes (≈ 2 to 10 MPa) but small in relation to the estimated tectonic stress magnitude. Therefore the occurrence of an earthquake such as the St. Elias (1979, MS = 7.2) may have been advanced in time; however, most of the ongoing stress accumulation would be primarily due to tectonic forces.
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Crustal deformation associated with glacial fluctuations in the eastern Chugach Mountains, Alaska