About the Juneau Icefield Research Program

Our Mission

The Juneau Icefield Research Program's mission is to provide an unrivaled educational and expeditionary experience in the stunning Coast Mountains of Alaska and British Columbia. We give students a wide range of training in Earth sciences, wilderness survival, and mountaineering skills, and provide unique opportunities for team building and personal growth. 

Participants are active partners with leading scientists pursuing groundbreaking research.  We stimulate cross-disciplinary collaboration among students from the United States and around the world with scientists engaged in all aspects of Earth systems science. 

The field-based curriculum and stunning mountain environment has inspired students for over sixty years, leading many to careers in science but also as teachers, doctors, artists, and explorers. Students learn from leading scientists in a wide range of disciplines, including glaciology, geology, climatology, and biology. The science curriculum is augmented by presentations by professional photographers, film makers, and doctors specializing in wilderness medicine. Student-faculty interaction extends past lectures to mentoring, training in the field, and conversations.  Students have near round-the-clock access to the faculty during meals, on field trips and around camp.

Our Program

The Juneau Icefield Research Program (JIRP) is an eight-week immersion in the wilderness of the Juneau Icefield, during which participants (undergraduate, graduate, and high school juniors and seniors) traverse from Juneau, Alaska to Atlin, British Columbia. 

The program starts in Juneau where students receive initial mountain safety training, introductory lectures to prepare them for what they will see on the icefield, and field trips to nearby glaciers.

From Juneau, students are led by faculty and staff members on a one to two day hike up to the first of JIRP's primary field camps, Camp 17, located at the edge of the icefield by the Lemon Creek Glacier. The focus at Camp 17 is field safety training and glacier travel, as well as more academic lectures.

From Camp 17, students and staff ski two days to Camp 10, the second camp, located above the Taku Glacier. Here students start their individual projects, guided by faculty mentors, assist in faculty research, and continue with the academic program.

After field research, exploration, and in-camp academics at Camp 10 participants travel to Camp 18, perched between two icefalls above the awe inspiring Gilkey Glacier.  Here research is continued, and projects are further developed and refined.

The final leg of the journey consists of a whole day ski from Camp 18 to Camp 26, followed by a full day's hike down the Llewellyn Glacier to Atlin Lake. Students complete their projects in Atlin, where they communicate their results to local residents during a public presentation before returning to Juneau by bus and ferry.

Our Director

Director Jeffrey Kavanaugh is an Associate Professor in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Alberta, where he studies the dynamics of glaciers and ice sheets, their responses to changing climate, and their impact on the landscape.  His research has taken him to glaciers in Alaska and British Columbia, Yukon, the Canadian High Arctic, and Antarctica.

Dr. Kavanaugh received a B.Sc. in Physics from Sonoma State University in 1994 and a Ph.D. in Geophysics from the University of British Columbia in 2001, where he studied with Dr. Garry K. C. Clarke.  Dr. Kavanaugh then spent several years as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley (working with JIRP '88 alumnus Dr. Kurt Cuffey) before joining the faculty at the University of Alberta in 2005.

 


JIRP provides a unique opportunity for students to gain both practical and theoretical exposure to a variety of different aspects of the Earth Sciences. It is the best – and grandest – Earth Sciences classroom in the world.
— Dr. Benjamin Santer, JIRP Faculty; Investigator of Climate Change, Lawrence Livermore National Labs; Member U.S. National Academy of Sciences

Our Classroom

Our classroom is the Juneau Icefield, situated in the Coast Mountains of the Tongass National Forest and Atlin Provincial Park.  This natural setting serves as educator, inspiration, and host for our summer program.  Students, staff and faculty traverse this terrain, conduct research, participate in a curriculum of lectures and research projects, and live in this amazing landscape.

 

The Juneau Icefield covers an area the size of Rhode Island, and includes some 50 outlet glaciers. The icefield straddles the Coast Mountains and owes its presence to the predominantly cool, wet maritime climate. 

While crossing the Juneau Icefield, students traverse the Ptarmigan, Lemon Creek, Norris, Taku, and Llewellyn glacier systems.  One to two-day journeys lead us from one established camp to another, which we use as bases for expeditions to more remote corners of the icefield and for in-camp lectures and activities.

Facilities

There are 11 permanent field stations and a dozen temporary camps on the Juneau Icefield and its peripheral areas, covering a wilderness region of 5,000 square miles about half of which is ice covered. Wood-framed buildings exist at the main research stations, while tents are used at trail camps. Communications with Juneau and Atlin and between camps are handled by FM radios and/or satellite phone. Ground transport is on foot or on skis. Helicopters are used for air logistical support. All members take their turns with camp chores, from cooking, to radio duty, weather observations, and repair work.

 

Our accomplishments

 

  • For over 60 years, The Juneau Icefield Research Program has maintained the longest running study of any glacier in the Western Hemisphere. Such comprehensive and continuous studies are rare yet crucial to our understanding of past and present climate change.

 

  • Over 1,000 reports and publications have come from research conducted with JIRP or with the assistance of FGER. In addition, some 70 M.S. and Ph.D. dissertations have resulted. JIRP seeks to conduct the highest quality research, collect the most reliable data, and cooperate with academic institutions and leaders of the scientific community.

 

  • Nearly 2,000 individuals, including students and professionals, have participated in the Juneau Icefield Research Program. JIRP is unique in that it conducts significant research in an expeditionary environment while seeking to train and inspire new scientists by including active student participation.

 

  • Participants of JIRP and members of FGER have established over 30 camps on the Juneau Icefield, some of which are permanent camps that survive each harsh winter and which are maintained by JIRP participants.

Copyright 2013 Foundation for Glacier and Environmental Research (FGER), unless otherwise noted.