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A Lifeless Glacier?

a snow covered mountain
a close up of a rock

Moss balls found on the Matanuska

From the surface, glaciers can look like a lifeless, frozen land, but if you look at the glacier closely, you’ll be able to see that is far from the truth.

The glacier itself is constantly moving and changing not unlike a river of ice filling in the valley, a gradual process that you can see remnants of when you drive through the Matanuska Valley. One of the most obvious ways to understand the way landscapes over time is by understanding the natural history of a region, and valleys like the Mat-Su Valley are a great place to start. You’ll come to realize that there is a lot more movement on this block of ice than you might have thought.


As wonderful and fascinating as glaciers are, they aren’t necessarily the place you would go to see much flora or fauna. While the moraine does get the occasional bush or wildflower where the glacier meets land, the white ice is rather barren.

That being said, one of the great mysteries of glacial life is the moss ball, also called glacier mice! No one quite understands these herds of moss where these come from, but they are found on glaciers across the world, and always a pleasant surprise to stumble upon on the otherwise lifeless ice.

One of my favorite examples of life on the glacier is actually better described as end of life…because occasionally you will spot some bones or dead rodents on the ice. I once came across a dead mouse in the middle of the backcountry – a place you would not likely see a living mouse. One theory about these skeletons and bodies on the ice is that birds of prey drop them when passing over the glacier, using it as a refrigerator of sorts. It’s unclear if these remains are forgotten or just disregarded, but it is always a bit of a shock to come across bones on the ice.

Unknown bones found on the glacier

a pile of snow

A dead mouse found in the middle of the glacier

Perhaps the glacier is not so lifeless after all…

While Alaska is a spectacular destination for wildlife viewing, this is one place you won’t necessarily be surrounded by lots of wild animals. A visit to the Matanuska Glacier will fill you with wonder nonetheless. Try out a MICA Guides tour to explore this natural beauty and discover life on the Matanuska.