Communication and Toads

Riley Wall

Occidental College ’17

Blogging seems quite simple.  To blog one simply needs to communicate in an informal manner with one’s audience, but to be perfectly honest with you, blogging intimidates me.

When I write a blog I have a voice.  Not to say that I don’t usually have a voice; I mean writing a blog is like putting a megaphone in front of my mouth. My words can reach an audience far larger when written than when spoken.  I am intimidated. I am intimidated not because I find the process too difficult, but because I realize that if others are taking the time to read my words to better understand JIRP, that I have a responsibility to make those words representative of the experience and its impacts.  JIRP however, for me, has been so deeply impactful that I struggle with the question of how I could best attempt to communicate the myriad of ways that I have been changed by my experiences on the icefield and the myriad of landscapes that have contributed to those changes.  

I am reminded of a quote from one of my favorite authors, Yann Martell, “words are cold, muddy toads trying to understand sprites dancing in a field–but they’re all we have, ” and I know that I cannot communicate through my cold, muddy personal observations and senses what is most vital and important about JIRP.

I can describe the visual beauty of the enormous Gilkey Trench.  I can illustrate how it plunges 2,000 vertical feet down below JIRP’s Camp 18, how the curved ogives and enormous medial moraines create an unexpected symmetry in the ice until the canyon bends and carries them out of sight, how the glacier resembles a calm laminar flowing river several kilometers wide, and how the ice seems to light on fire as orange, pink, and purple clouds reflect down upon it at sunset.  I can effectively communicate what I see on the icefield, but I wonder if I can describe how the trench makes me small and insignificant before its grandeur, or how it can instill so much joy in me when I revel in its beauty one moment and so much sadness the next when I spot the engraved lines recording hundreds of feet of rapid glacial melting in the canyon walls, signaling that this mighty force before me is dying, and still I know that I cannot communicate how what I saw on the icefield changed me.  

The Gilkey Trench as seen from Camp 18. Photo by Riley Wall.

The Gilkey Trench as seen from Camp 18. Photo by Riley Wall.

I can describe the sounds that ice blocks larger than houses make when they tumble down the Vaughan Lewis Ice Fall.  I can convey how the noise that crumbling seracs make resembles the roar of distant thunder, how the crashes are often powerful enough to wake sleeping JIRPers, how the rumble that interjects forcefully into everyday life at random intervals never loses its novelty or ceases to cause excitement, and how one can’t help but hold his or her breath until each individual ice fall event terminates with an eerie thud.  I can effectively communicate what I hear on the icefield, but I wonder if I can communicate how these sounds indicate that despite the fact that the icefield seems static day to day, it is in a constant state of dynamic transformation, very much alive and susceptible to human actions, and still I know that I cannot communicate how what I heard on the icefield changed me.

The Vaughan Lewis Icefall. Photo by Allen Pope.

The Vaughan Lewis Icefall. Photo by Allen Pope.

I can describe the unexpected scents of the forget-me-not, heather, and fireweed blooms. I can express how tiny blue forget-me-nots conceal their fragrance during the day but unleash a powerful sweet aroma when the sun drops beneath the horizon, how the white, pink, and mountain heather release an earthy, herb-like smell that is reminiscent of the holiday season, and how expansive fields of deep purple fireweed draw passersby and bees alike with their citrus-honey like scent.  I can communicate what I smell on the icefield, but I wonder if I can communicate how these smells are more prevalent now than ever, how many of these plants are markers of change in the form of primary succession, how the hillsides now full of bright colors and smells used to be permanently white and scentless, how even though I enjoy the unexpected blooms, I can’t help but to feel a tinge of bitterness when encountering their aromas, and still I know that I cannot communicate how what I smelled on the icefield changed me.

Dwarf fireweed above Llewellyn Glacier. Photo by Riley Wall.

Dwarf fireweed above Llewellyn Glacier. Photo by Riley Wall.

I can describe the sensations caused by the ice of the Orphan Ice Caves.  I can explain how hands effortlessly slide across the walls as if they were greased with oil, how the ice’s surface is flawlessly smooth yet mere millimeters deeper within, billions of trapped bubbles resembling the cosmos crack and rearrange under the minimal pressure and heat of a fingertip, how the ridges of the inverted sun cups on the ceiling are as sharp as knife blades, and how the cave, warmed by the sun above, continually drips 0° C water, soaking clothing and causing moments of shock every time a drop touches exposed skin.  I can effectively communicate the feeling of what I touch on the icefield, but I wonder if I can communicate how lucky I feel to have walked through such an ephemeral feature of the landscape that morphs, stabilizes and destabilizes annually, ever-shrinking since changes in ice flow dynamics and rising temperatures permanently detached the caves from the larger glacier, bestowing on it the name Orphan, and still I know that I cannot communicate how what I felt on the icefield changed me.

Exploring the Orphan Ice Cave. Photo by Auri Clark.

Exploring the Orphan Ice Cave. Photo by Auri Clark.

I can describe even the flavor of the snow I ski across.  I can articulate how the finer snow is best for quenching one’s thirst because it melts most easily into refreshing water, how larger grained snow that has experienced melt and refreeze numerous times is best to provide a crunch in one’s PB&J sandwiches, and how concentrated Tang and Gatorade powder make the best snow-cone flavoring when carried out onto the icefield. I can even communicate what I taste on the icefield, but I wonder if I can communicate how I am constantly daydreaming about when the snow level was, on average, 8 meters (26 feet) above where I extract my cold treats now less than two decades ago, how I am terrified by the knowledge that many scientists estimate that the massive, seemingly unconquerable icefield I have been snacking on is already conquered and likely to completely disappear before 2200 (Ziemen et al., 2016), and still I know that I cannot communicate how even what I tasted on the icefield changed me.

Icefield trails. Photo by Riley Wall.

Icefield trails. Photo by Riley Wall.

The true value of JIRP comes from the realizations, revelations, and ideas that it inspires in its participants.  No amount of communication can describe the intangible elements of personal change that manifest from the first-hand icefield immersion of JIRP.  

Thus I am left with the conclusion that while one can gain an understanding of what JIRP and the icefield look like, sound like, smell like, feel like, and even taste like, the most important aspects, the impactful aspects, remain, for me, inexplicable…

Blogging perhaps intimidates me, therefore, not because I am incapable of communicating with readers, but because I am incapable of communicating what I feel needs to be communicated.  So my only remaining recourse is a plea to those truly interested in JIRP, glaciers, climate change, and the greater natural world: to embark on your own adventures, for you learn from your own personal experiences best, to foster any feelings of inspired motivation you find on those adventures, and to be a champion of the change you want to see. It is much easier to show people how you’ve changed than it is to describe it, trust me.   

 

Crevasse Orientation with Respect to Flow Velocity

Donald Jarrin

Colorado Mesa University

Here on the Juneau Icefield we have many hazards we must overcome on a day-to-day basis. These hazards range from hypothermia to snow blindness, but some of the biggest hazards we encounter are crevasses. These features are found across the glacier, and in this blog I will describe how ice flow velocity dictates crevasse orientation.

For the sketches here I will use the following color scheme: blue for the glacier, brown for the valley walls, yellow for glacier flow direction, green for lateral extension, red for zones of friction, and black for crevasses. It’s important to understand that there are arrows showing flow direction and speed, but there is an overall flow velocity throughout the glacier. The middle of the glacier flows more quickly than the sides of the glacier. There is friction from the valley walls which is causing the crescent shape in the flow velocity.  In all of figures (see Figure 1 below) we look down on the glacier from a bird’s-eye view.

Figure 1

Figure 1

Tension

In general, when two things are pulled apart this causes extensional stress (tension). On glaciers extensional stress occurs when faster moving ice is followed by slower moving ice, as seen in Figure 2 below. Because the stress acting upon the ice is extensional and oriented down glacier, the crevasse forms perpendicular to the flow direction.

Figure 2

Figure 2

Compression

Figure 3

Figure 3

The opposite of extensional stress is compressional stress. Glaciers experience compressional stress when ice with a faster velocity is uphill of ice with a slower velocity. The compressional stress creates a lateral extensional stress as the ice spreads to accommodate the change in volume. As the ice flows outward laterally, crevasses form parallel to flow. This results in crevasses in the exact opposite orientation to the previous extension method. This process is shown in Figure 3 above.

Shear

Figure 4

Figure 4

Shear stress is a little different from the two previous forms of stress. This is because shear stress is a product of both the ice flow and friction against the valley walls. As the ice grinds against the valley wall, the rest of the glacier moves at a more constant rate. This yields a crevasse orientation 45 degrees up glacier from the valley wall. Figure 4 above shows the flow direction of the ice at the shear zone, and a single resulting crevasse. Figure 5 below shows what the crevasses would look like as the glacier moves down valley and encounters friction on both sides of the glacier.  

Figure 5

Figure 5

Terminus Crevasses

Figure 6

Figure 6

The last type of crevasses are terminus crevasses. Once the glacier has made its journey down the valley is has the potential to form one last set of crevasses. If the glacier terminates in a broad flat area it can form a fan-shape toe (terminus). If this happens, the glacier begins to widen, thin, and create new crevasses that are sub-parallel to the original direction of flow- down the glacier. Figure 6 above shows that when the toe begins to expand the flow outward, lateral extension pulls the ice apart(shown in green). This is similar to the compression figure above but in this figure the ice is flowing down and outward to the lowest possible elevation.
    
Though crevasses are a major hazard to anyone who traverses any icefield, as well as being sobering reminders that glaciers are always in flux, they are also valuable teaching tools for looking at ice velocity and overall glacier movement.
    

 

 

 

 

 

What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger

Deirdre Collins

Georgetown University
 

Our first major traverse—the 10 mile hike to Camp 17, which sits on the edge of the Juneau Icefield and marks the beginning of our expedition—persistently sat in the back of my mind during my first week of JIRP. Having learned the stories and backgrounds of my peers upon my arrival in Juneau, I was initially intimidated by their physical strength, adventurous spirits and wilderness backgrounds. I was filled with nervous excitement as I listened to the staff tell stories of the swamps, elevation gains and challenging terrain we would encounter on our hike. Despite their descriptions of the trials we would face on our upcoming endeavor, the staff reminded me, as I reminded myself, that we were all capable of completing the hike to Camp 17, to begin our journey on the Juneau Icefield. Seeing that my fellow JIRPers exuded confidence in their attitudes towards the hike and were supportive of those who didn’t helped me feel secure as I anticipated the big day ahead.

On the morning of June 30th, I quickly shoved the remainder of my belongings into my pack, and questioned how on earth I would ever manage to lift all of its 40 pounds onto my back. I joined my trail party outside our University of Alaska Southeast dorm to drive to the trailhead. When we arrived, I jumped, twisted and jumped again several times to strap my pack to my body. Our Juneau-based staff said their goodbyes, snapped a “before” photo of us before we wouldn’t take a real shower for around 50 days, and we set out on the trail. The path underlay monstrous trees that I only imagined existed in movies like Lord of the Rings, and inclined gradually from the very start. Remembering that this was considered the “flat” part of the hike, a trace of panic emerged within me as I imagined what was referred to as the “vertical swamp” ahead. When Ibai, our Safety Manager and the head of my trail party, announced that we had reached the vertical swamp, I cranked my neck backwards to process the steep incline above me, which appeared impossible to maneuver. Holding onto any bit of hope I had that I would make it, I began to lift myself up the hillside, clambering under fallen trees, shoving my hands and feet into holds made by tree roots and leaning forward to ensure my pack didn’t take me down with it. Despite my best efforts, any slight movement of my pack caused me to tumble sideways, backwards, or even face first on many occasions. In that moment, I understood why we had practiced some of our climbing skills when we visited the Rock Dump, the local climbing wall, in Juneau.

JIRP students stand above the Ptarmigan Valley at Camp 17. Climbing up the Ptarmigan Valley represented the last leg of the traverse to Camp 17. Photo by Paul Neiman

JIRP students stand above the Ptarmigan Valley at Camp 17. Climbing up the Ptarmigan Valley represented the last leg of the traverse to Camp 17. Photo by Paul Neiman

We hiked through the wet understory of the Tongass National Forest, and the humidity quickly overcame me. With not much hiking experience throughout my life, I hadn’t properly nourished myself for the hike and I soon grew incredibly exhausted. I drank five liters of water, which I seemed to sweat out immediately, and as we climbed higher and higher in elevation, I had trouble regulating my breath. I was sure that this was the hardest thing I had ever done and was genuinely unsure as to whether I would make it to Camp 17 that night. Physical exertion soon turned to emotional panic and as I trailed behind my group, there were moments I wondered if I was in over my head choosing to do JIRP. I had always considered myself strong, but in these moments of difficulty, I lost confidence in my strength and in my ability to recover. As I trailed behind my group, I had a realization; I was with a staff member who had done this before, who had surely seen students struggle, and with friends who would help me if I vocalized how I was feeling. Once I told my trail party that I needed a break, that I didn’t feel well, everything changed. We stopped at a beautiful lake and took a 30 minute break. I made myself eat, drink Gatorade, change into a dry shirt and let Ibai take some of the weight from my pack. I suddenly felt better and was amazed at how quickly I was able to bounce back after having reached such a low point only a half an hour before. I replenished my electrolytes and started to retain more water. Thirty minutes, self-care and support from my group was all I needed to move forward and succeed. I walked up the last part of the hike— up the Ptarmigan valley to Camp 17—for hours feeling strong and revitalized. I was amazed how much my body could endure and that I already had so much to learn from an experience that had seemed so hopeless and negative just hours before. I will always have my trail party, those strong and understanding JIRPers, to thank for supporting me. I realized that I was no longer intimidated, but grateful for their wilderness backgrounds, strength and collective knowledge since they had so many lessons to teach me, even in my weakest moments.

After a week of safety training at Camp 17, full of lessons on glacier travel, ski practice and mini traverses, we have now completed the two-day, 23 mile traverse across the Juneau Icefield to Camp 10. Despite my difficult experience hiking to Camp 17, the weeks leading up to this traverse and the lessons I learned from my first hike, including to take care of myself, to seek help and to persevere, prepared me for this longer and arguably more difficult traverse. Having spent a week with other JIRPers at Camp 17 for safety training, I realized that I wasn’t the only person who struggled at times. As I grew closer to my new friends, we were able to look at the difficulties we encountered and laugh; Laugh at our many face plants on the Lemon Creek Glacier as we learned how to cross country ski, at our memories of the vertical swamp on the hike to Camp 17 and at the challenges that JIRP throws at us every day. We viewed these as learning experiences that would make us stronger for future traverses and became support systems for one another. With these lessons in mind, I crossed the first leg of the Juneau Icefield just a week ago to Camp 10 with a smile on my face despite many skiing falls and exhausting, steep elevation gains. I went from struggling as I walked up the vertical swamp to enjoying myself as I ascended a steep hill on skis just two weeks later. I arrived after two days to our new camp still smiling and had regained confidence in my physical and mental strength. My experience on the first traverse was so difficult, I was unsure if I could learn from it. In the end, that same experience proved to help me immensely on our second major traverse. I now know that I was right all along; I am strong and I can carry on in the face of challenge. Even more than that, it only takes me a few hops to get my backpack on now.

The Matthes-Llewellyn Divide

Kate Bartell

Wittenberg University

Science itself is an interesting focus. It is not just a thing, or an idea, or even a sole research topic. You cannot box it into a category with one title or one author. It is not defined to a single glacier system or a solitary winding stream. It can be studied in any part of the world, with any questions in mind. The science that I am working on now happens to be on the Juneau Icefield in Alaska. My science involves snow-machines, base-stations, and of course: Global-Positioning-System (GPS).

A beautiful sunset at Camp 8. Photo by Kate Bartell.

A beautiful sunset at Camp 8. Photo by Kate Bartell.

I am spending the majority of my summer traversing and researching the Juneau Icefield. As part of the GPS team here at the Juneau Icefield Research Program (JIRP), it is our job to help collect elevation, longitude, and latitude data points as we traverse along the icefield. This variety of information will be used to calculate velocity in the numerous areas of the Icefield and relate it with past GPS data and JIRP’s other research area’s data, for instance, Mass Balance.

One specific area of science and research that the GPS group is focusing in on is the Matthes-Llewellyn Divide. The Matthes-Llewellyn Divide is a glacier divide that connects and separates Matthes Glacier from Llewellyn Glacier. As part of our project, we are constructing a grid of GPS points that we will lay out onto the divide with bamboo wands. When we lay the wands out, we will survey their exact longitude and latitude coordinates. As the ice flows, the set points will flow along with the two different glaciers, moving in opposite directions. We then will return back to the bamboo wands and re-measure the new locations of the wands. The distance and direction the wands have travelled will allow us to calculate the ice flow velocities and where, exactly, the two glaciers separate. We are constructing this grid by looking at the divide data from 2013 and beyond, and interpreting where the Divide may have migrated in the intervening years.  By determining where exactly the flow divide is, how it has changed, and how it compares to previous years, we gain critical information about where one glacier ends and the other begins.

The research that the GPS team is working on over the course of summer 2016, and has worked on in many previous summers, provides important information about the condition of the Icefield. For example, that the Divide is shifting over time; this change can alter how much precipitation is being distributed to the Matthes and Llewellyn Glaciers. So, by using our GPS data along with data from other research teams, we can track long-term changes in the mass balance of the two glaciers. This, in turn, gives us a deeper understanding of the health of the whole glacial system.

One of JIRP’s trusty snow-machines that are used to collect points across the Juneau Icefield. Photo by Kristen Lyda Rees.

One of JIRP’s trusty snow-machines that are used to collect points across the Juneau Icefield. Photo by Kristen Lyda Rees.

Cross-Back-Tele-Country-Mark-Hiking

Sämi Hepner

University of Zurich

Before I learned to walk I learned to ski. Later, when I was 7 years young, I began to snowboard. During the last 15 years, I have become both a fanatic skier and snowboarder. I count my days on the snow. In a winter season, which for me, in Switzerland, begins in late October and ends at the end of May, I normally count about 50 snow days. My record was 60 days on the slope back when I was in high school.

Apart from downhill skiing and snowboarding I tried cross-country skiing a few times. It was fun, but did not compare with downhill skiing. Once I tried telemarking. The feeling was something between skiing and snowboarding: not as smooth and flowing as snowboarding, and not as fast and speedy as skiing. I was not convinced.

When I heard about JIRP I was excited about the idea of skiing in the summer. I have traveled to South America twice during my summertime, where I skied in their winter. But to ski in the actual summer was something new.

Reading the complicated description of the required ski gear for JIRP I couldn’t imagine what type of ski we would be using. I went to different ski and outdoor stores in Switzerland and showed the whole description to the salespeople. No one could help me find this weird ski creation. Finally, I purchased a pair on the website of an American outdoor store and sent them directly to Alaska. Even once they arrived in Alaska, we had to change the bindings to meet the JIRP requirements.

Once at JIRP, I tried the skis for the first time. It turned out that the ski is more or less a cross-country ski: it is long, lightweight and has no sidecut. Additionally, it has some features for backcountry use: the edges are metal for stability, and the bases have fish scales to allow uphill travel. The binding, which is an old school three-pin-style nordic binding, works like a telemark binding in that the toe is fixed while the heel is free. The boot itself is a telemarking boot and surprisingly compatible to the binding.

This style of skiing is more difficult than I expected. The thin ski requires a lot of balance, made even more difficult when you are wearing a heavy backpack. The snow is certainly not flat and there are a lot of bumps in the snow surface, called sun cups, which make the way challenging. Traversing the glacier often requires a rope to connect members of the trail party. Keeping the rope appropriately taut requires matching skiing speeds between the members of the team. Skiing on a rope team also requires constant attention to avoid both cutting the rope with the steel ski edges and creating tangles and snarls of rope around the harness, legs, and skis.

Typical rope team of four people with skis. From left to right:  Annika, Annie (Lynx), and Louise. Photo by Sämi Hepner

Typical rope team of four people with skis. From left to right:  Annika, Annie (Lynx), and Louise. Photo by Sämi Hepner

At our first camp we often went to the Ptarmigan Glacier to downhill ski in our meager spare time. Because of the slopes lack of constant exposure to the sun, the sun cups were not as bad. Without backpack and rope we succeeded and failed in some inspiring telemark turns. Without T-bars or gondolas, we had to earn every run and appreciated each one even more. The runs were something rare, special and valuable.

Riding the sunset. Photo by Sämi Hepner.

Riding the sunset. Photo by Sämi Hepner.

Continuing the traverse towards Atlin, we are confronted more and more with huge flat areas of the icefield without any ascents or descents. Crossing these plains, our transportation reminds me more of hiking than of skiing. These long walks in the middle of a wild landscape and in a certain amount of isolation leave time to think and philosophize.

One thought I’ve had is the following: It is insane, how big the energy footprint of conventional downhill skiing is. The production of artificial snow, as a result of decreasing natural snowfall, requires huge amounts of water and energy. The attempt to get more tourists and visitors uphill with continuously bigger and fancier gondolas leads to a kind of urbanization of the mountain. In the end it is another modification and conquest of a natural space by humans. Skiing, then, is no longer associated with a peaceful immersion in nature, but just another consumer’s entertainment. Maybe we should start to rethink skiing and go back to skiing’s roots; where sweaty ascents through beautiful landscapes are more valued than perfectly shaped but crowded slopes or après-ski parties that surround the whole mountain with loud and annoying sounds. Instead, maybe we can share the fascination of skiing with the next generation, or at least the fascination of Cross-Back-Tele-Country-Mark-Hiking.

 

Taku Glacier: Anomaly of the Juneau Icefield

Kate Bollen

On a map of the Juneau Icefield, Taku Glacier is a distinguished ribbon that winds out of the southeast corner of the icefield as an outlet glacier. It’s remarkably large, even by Alaskan standards. It encompasses 671 square kilometers (Pelto et al, 2013) and measures about 5 kilometers across where it passes in front of Camp 10. It’s fed by four tributary glaciers that line its upper margins, and its outline is similar to the shape of Thailand. Taku Glacier is quite special, not only because it sets a stunning scene for JIRPers to admire from the porch of the Camp 10 cook shack, but also because it’s one of only a hand-full of glaciers in Alaska (and around the world, for that matter), that has been advancing (Pelto et al, 2013).

Shawnee Reynoso and Louise Borthwick sleeping out on the porch of the Camp 10 cook shack overlooking Taku Glacier. Photo: Kate Bollen

Shawnee Reynoso and Louise Borthwick sleeping out on the porch of the Camp 10 cook shack overlooking Taku Glacier. Photo: Kate Bollen

Until recently, Taku Glacier has been growing in mass. Indeed, the Taku looks unlike its neighbors as it descends toward the floodplain of the Taku River. The ice juts out over the small trees that live in its path, as the adjacent Norris Glacier looks as if it’s withering away, cracked and shrunken. Since most Alaskan glaciers are surrounded by forests that are actively creeping out onto the new ground exposed by glacial retreat, the sight of the Taku mowing over trees and shrubs as it slides down its broad valley is quite victorious to the glacier enthusiast.

Positions of the end of Taku Glacier from 1948 to 2014. Adapted from a figure by Chris McNeil.

Positions of the end of Taku Glacier from 1948 to 2014. Adapted from a figure by Chris McNeil.

Boundaries of Taku Glacier on the Juneau Icefield. Adapted from a figure by Chris McNeil.

Boundaries of Taku Glacier on the Juneau Icefield. Adapted from a figure by Chris McNeil.

Students Molly Peek and Shawnee Reynoso and faculty member Chris McNeil ski through thinly exposed crevasses on Taku Glacier below Camp 10 on a sunny day. Photo: Kate Bollen

Students Molly Peek and Shawnee Reynoso and faculty member Chris McNeil ski through thinly exposed crevasses on Taku Glacier below Camp 10 on a sunny day. Photo: Kate Bollen

There are two main causes behind the anomalous case of the Taku. First, the glacier has a unique hypsometry, which refers to the distribution of the glacier’s surface area with respect to elevation. Most of the Taku lies above 1200 meters above sea level, so it has a huge accumulation zone (the area where annual snowfall doesn’t completely melt by the end of the melt season) compared to the total surface area of the glacier. As a result, the majority of Taku Glacier can gain mass from falling snow each year. Second, Taku Glacier is a tidewater glacier. This may strike an observer as peculiar since the Taku currently flows into a river rather than the ocean, but this classification stands based on the Taku’s behavior and bed topography.

Olivia Truax collects snow depth data on the Northwest branch of Taku Glacier. Photo: Kate Bollen

Olivia Truax collects snow depth data on the Northwest branch of Taku Glacier. Photo: Kate Bollen

To understand the dynamics of Taku Glacier, we have to know the story of the tidewater glacier cycle. Here is a summary derived from a lecture delivered to JIRP students by Martin Truffer earlier this summer at Camp 17. As the end of a tidewater glacier, known as the terminus, rests in a fjord, the elevation of the glacier’s bed is below sea level. As a result, the melt water beneath the terminus of the glacier becomes pressurized so that it can still flow into the ocean despite the weight of the seawater column. The terminus is quickly eroded as big chunks of ice peel away during calving events and as warm sea water circulates against the terminus. Consequently, the glacier is driven into a rapid retreat, and it recoils up its valley until it reaches a resting point above sea level. There, the glacier is able to stabilize and to eventually begin an advance by pushing its dirty, icy terminus forward on a terminal moraine (a pile of sediment collected by the glacier at its terminus as it grinds forward). By advancing a homemade mound of sediment ahead of itself, the glacier can rest above the deep water of the fjord and the subglacial hydraulics are less pressurized, so the glacier is protected from the intense melting and erosion that previously drove it back. As it continues to bulge onward, the glacier eventually reaches a state where its surface balance nears zero, which means that its accumulation and ablation (melting) are equal. At this point, the glacier can reenter a rapid retreat as the tidewater glacier cycle continues.

A steamship floats in front of the Taku terminus during an earlier advancement of the glacier.

A steamship floats in front of the Taku terminus during an earlier advancement of the glacier.

As for the Taku, its bed doesn’t rise above sea level until an estimated 20 kilometers up-valley of its terminus (oral comm. Beem 2016). Additionally, the Taku has been in the advancement stage of the tidewater glacier cycle since 1850, but its advance has halted in the last two years (oral comm. Truffer, 2016). It’s too early to determine if the Taku has reached the end of its advance or to say that a rapid retreat is imminent. However, the reactions of the Taku and other glaciers to climate will have wide-spread impacts and can tell us quite a bit about the changing climate. Mountain glaciers account for less than 1% of global glacial ice volume, but their rapid rate of mass loss is responsible for one-third of the current observed sea level rise (Larsen et al., 2015). Additionally, glaciers play a big role in downstream ecosystems as they deliver nutrients and sediment as well as well as manipulate water flow, turbidity, and temperature (O’Neel et al., 2015). Consequently, these glaciers can almost directly impact where and how people near and far are living. The Taku and other glaciers captivate us as scientists and inspire us as humans to understand the complex systems in which we live.

References

Beem, Lucas. Oral communication 2016.

Larsen, C. F., E. Burgess, A. A. Arendt, S. O’Neel, A. J. Johnson, and C. Kienholz (2015), Surface melt dominates Alaska glacier mass balance, Geophys. Res. Lett., 42, 5902–5908, doi:10.1002/2015GL064349.

O’Neel, S. et al. 2015. Icefield-to-Ocean Linkages across the Northern Pacific Coastal Temperate Rainforest Ecosystem, BioScience, 65, 5, 499-512.

Pelto, M., J. Kavanaugh, and C. McNeil , Juneau Icefield Mass Balance Program 1946-2011, Earth Syst. Sci. Data, 5, 319-330, doi:10.5194/essd-5-319-2013.

Truffer, Martin. Oral communication 2016.

 

The Icefield Within

Matty Miller

Harvard University

Camp 10 is unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been. There’s a stillness and monumental character to the surroundings that compels me in remarkable ways. From atop our rocky little nunatak, the snow expands so far in each direction that the land seems to me more of an ocean than an icefield, its placid waters interrupted by jagged black spines of mountains whose vertical rise seem so incongruous with the smoothness and flatness below. It’s alien and unbelievable, yet unchanging: each morning I wake up and this vast place that defies my prior experience has remained, by and large, the same.

Camp 10 with the Taku Range beyond. Photo by Matt Beedle.

Camp 10 with the Taku Range beyond. Photo by Matt Beedle.

Plenty of people have made the same trite (but indeed, true) observations of Man’s smallness in Nature, so I’ll spare you that. But what gets me about being in a place like this is the impossibility of denying it. What do I mean by that? Well, I suppose that so much of the way we perceive each other and our surroundings is based on imagined subjectivities that, if we will them enough, can be changed simply by modifying our thinking. We build complex and negative mindsets that we refuse to change often due to the fact that we simply assume them to be unchangeable. Take hate … something I believe to be an egregious untruth. If I hate something, I can (with sufficient will power) reorganize my mind to love. Or, for example, if a sensation (say, a snow bath) or taste (say, spam) disturbs me, I can (with time) condition myself to enjoy it. Thus, I find that certain phenomena to which we often believe ourselves bound, be they immediate or grand, are ultimately vulnerable to changes in perception. Some of these things, if we believe in the powers of the mind, are infinitely malleable.

Some things, but not all! I, for example, can’t wake up and simply imagine away the Taku Towers. I can’t close my eyes and melt away the glacier before me. There are places where the seemingly boundless limits of perception cease to expand and those places are in Nature! The physical Earth, which we have come here to study and understand, cannot be made one way or another with thought, great though its power may otherwise be. It objectively is, and this fact cannot be altered by human agency. In a world in which people are born with the freedom to direct their consciousness, I feel that it is the investment of the mind into such manifestations of objectivity (from the topsoil to the mountaintop) that constitutes the true search for, and embrace of, Truth. Herein lies the nobility of Science. Indeed, the direction of the mind towards the aforementioned, more malleable aspects of perception (from art to hatred and everything in between) takes up most of our time in life. In the end, however, they pale in comparison to the monumental veracity of the Wild, precisely due to the fact that the former are subjective, whereas the latter is absolute. Its existence lies beyond what we can ever hope to create or use to delude ourselves. That is why I love it here! That is why I must seek out a life devoted to science. To do so keeps me grounded, reminding me that 1) I do exist, as do other things and 2) the negative thoughts that I unconsciously carry around are ultimately vulnerable to the efforts of my own mind. Thus, Nature empowers me, though it may also show me to be tiny.

Sunset at Camp 17. Photo by Matt Beedle.

Sunset at Camp 17. Photo by Matt Beedle.

All well and good. I can reach out and touch nature. I can ski out to the mountains and climb on top of them, I can feel the cold of the snow, lay my hands on the granite of the nunatak. But what of the intangible? Does immutable Truth exist beyond the physical world? I have to believe that it does, in places that we must journey to within ourselves to discover. I think that this is the spirit of the explorer to which Dr.Miller once referred; for just as we seize the opportunity to venture into this wilderness, so too must we make the adventure to find the undeniable truths within ourselves.  We must turn the ideals of exploration inwards to find the white horizons and uncharted spaces inside us all that are so manifest that their clarity and immutability guide us to obvious self-understanding.  Love, friendship, patriotism, desire: the key drivers of the spirit can be summited and studied like any mountain, and only in doing so shall we find the vulnerabilities of our doubts, the humility of our condition, and the weakness of our weaknesses. Let us widen this expedition to the icefield within, taking the time to turn from the physical to the metaphysical as this unique space guides us not only to discoveries of the Earth, but discoveries of our own nature.  
 

 

Storytelling in JIRP

Victor Cabrera

Dartmouth College

Among the many idiosyncrasies of the JIRP micro-culture, perhaps none are more valuable than the culture of story-telling, which is so fondly expressed at every moment of every summer on the Juneau Icefield. Those who commonly read our blog will have noticed two of the main themes which so often occupy our thoughts: surmounting fear of death and surmounting the smell of our SPAM-laden outhouses. Oral tradition, however, proves to be much more complex when we learn to read between the lines of those events which most readily entrain the attention of young students, new to a life of expedition.

Staff member Allie Strel reads a humorous story on Expedition Behavior in the Library at Camp 17. Photo by Matt Beedle.

Staff member Allie Strel reads a humorous story on Expedition Behavior in the Library at Camp 17. Photo by Matt Beedle.

The JIRP storytelling tradition goes beyond a recounting of history. Indeed, it goes beyond any sort of written record as well as past any sensible degree of scale (did that person really fall 100 feet into a crevasse?). Whereas staff and faculty introduce the study of glaciers and the pursuit of truth as the backbone of JIRP, the true mainstays of JIRP are the tales told at the dinner table/porch/rock, the phrases carefully written on the walls of its buildings, the names stretched across the rafters, and the held breaths of a captive audience sustaining a barrage of onomatopoeias.

One of two events usually triggers a staff or faculty’s story: the mention of a scribble on a wall or an exasperated request to explain an inside joke which has remained outside of the students’ knowledge. Each trigger, however, develops into the same effect: a devilish look in the storyteller’s eye, the slight curl of the lips, and a knowing look at a complicit compatriot which hints to the audience exactly how great a story will be. In the spirit of scientific statistics, it is interesting to note that the intensity of the story is positively correlated to the amount of restless chuckling and background provided by the teller. Regardless of the build-up to the punch line, however, a promise of legendary shenanigans always keeps the listeners attentive through as many circuitous tangents as may be presented. We here at JIRP have realized that, in the end, it will always be good.

Kate Bollen peers into the 'Zoo' (Radio Room) at C17, where staff and faculty members Annika Ord, Chris McNeil, Annie Boucher, Newt Krumdieck and Ibai Rico spin a good yarn during meal time. Photo by Matt Beedle.

Kate Bollen peers into the 'Zoo' (Radio Room) at C17, where staff and faculty members Annika Ord, Chris McNeil, Annie Boucher, Newt Krumdieck and Ibai Rico spin a good yarn during meal time. Photo by Matt Beedle.

The cruxes of our stories create the very language we employ. They culminate at paramount lessons about life on the icefield which may perhaps even be employed outside the icy visage of the Taku Towers. Moral imperatives drawn from the tales of the illustrious Dry-Corner Man or that of the amorphous, yet readily sensed, Cook Shack Easter Bunny teach us about the value of selfless expeditionary tact. Tales behind the quotes on our outhouse walls tell us about the reflective potential of looking deep within ourselves during the only moments in which we are truly (usually) alone. Tales of daily camp life gone awry teach us both to look up to and to strive for the legendary flexibility which makes JIRP adventures possible. Lastly, tales of Dr. Maynard Miller teach us about the significance of the legacy we are inheriting and showcase the reverence that one person can potentially earn by following a clear and noble vision for good.

Storytelling in our modest nunatak camps is what establishes the nexus between JIRP’s two goals of expeditionary training and science. Moreover, it is what draws returning JIRPers back out into the wilderness and away from any recognizable degree of urbane comfort. It cements our friendships and validates our experiences and, most importantly, it slowly hands off traditions rooted in more than 70 years of experience to the next generation of fiendish JIRPers. No testament is stronger, however, than witnessing the tradition of storytelling beginning to be reflected among the students. It is then, when a student, rather than a staffer, begins to tell of experiences and events, that the devilish look, the rise in tone, and the knowing looks have clearly infected a new group of JIRPers. It is also then that the most intense and prideful laughs are projected by the staff, when it becomes clear that a new class of students has now joined them in adding to the collection of tall tales that colors life on the icefield.

 

Give me some space!

Evan Koncewicz

Tell me what you know about Wilderness! What words come to mind? Forests, the outdoors, trees, the unknown? For me, one word that comes to mind is space. I’m not talking about outer space, although that certainly is interesting and could be considered wilderness in itself. I’m talking about wide-open spaces! Places where man is a visitor and is not necessarily meant to be. Wide open sagebrush flats, high towering granite peaks, snow covered plateaus, and lush forests of pine and cedar. Places you see from a plane or from miles away, wondering why and how someone would be there. This is what I mean by space.

I grew up in what I call a ‘normal suburban town.’ Houses are roughly 10-15 meters apart, commercial areas and business plazas dominate areas outside of neighborhoods, and roads connect vast areas to make commute time to any place of necessity under 15 minutes. Here, there is no real appreciation of empty space. Space is something to be used and developed for business, growth, comfort, and convenience.

Sunset on the Southwest Branch of Taku Glacier - two days on foot from Juneau. Photo by Evan Koncewicz.

Sunset on the Southwest Branch of Taku Glacier - two days on foot from Juneau. Photo by Evan Koncewicz.

Outside of these congested areas we find the contrasting situation. Roads begin to lessen like roots converging to the stem of a plant. Smaller towns begin to consolidate in central locations rather than over vast areas of space. Vegetation, trees, mountains, and life exist and begin to increase in areas that roads and development do not touch or cross. The American West is one example, even more so Alaska, the last frontier. Here in Alaska on the Juneau Icefield, exists a place with a great amount of space, filled with snow, ice, and rock. It is wilderness.

Camp 10 is one of JIRP’s many camps across the Juneau Icefield. It is in the center of the icefield on a nunatak, an outcrop of rocks overlooking the Taku Glacier and an array of mountains that have poked through the ice. From miles away, Camp 10 is simply a bump on the horizon, disguised by the sheer distance of snow and ice.

In Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire, he rants about space and Industrial Tourism and the National Parks. To paraphrase his words, motorized vehicles, when not at rest, require a volume of space far out of proportion to their size. To illustrate; imagine a lake approximately ten miles long and one mile wide (a glacial lake!). A single motorboat could easily circumnavigate the lake; ten motorboats would begin to crowd it; twenty or thirty all in operation would dominate the lake; and fifty would create the hazards of confusion and turmoil that make pleasure impossible. Suppose we banned motorboats and allowed only canoes and rowboats; we would see at once that the lake seemed ten or perhaps a hundred times bigger. The same thing holds true, to an even greater degree, for the automobile. Distance and space are a function of time and speed.

We arrived at Camp 10 by ski, traversing across 20 miles of snow and ice. It is in isolation, where no automobiles or paved roads exist. Human impact is minimal. The only unnatural life that exists within our space is a backpack-carried succulent desert plant named Norris. To watch a group of skiers in the middle of the Taku Glacier ski for two hours, see their progress, and still be able to distinguish the group, is something surreal. We live in a barren rainforest of snow, rock, and ice. If not for helicopters that bring us fuel and food, life on the icefield would not be sustainable for more than a few days. The space between Camp 10 and the civilization of Juneau is what isolates us.

A trail party skis towards Camp 10, which is visible in the distance, but many hours away. Photo by Evan Koncewicz.

A trail party skis towards Camp 10, which is visible in the distance, but many hours away. Photo by Evan Koncewicz.

Wilderness’ leading multiplier in its made up equation is space. Untouched, undeveloped, unaltered space. Space where man and our machines are visitors, visitors that travel on skis, take pictures, learn, and share their findings with everyone around them. In a world of perpetual growth from our population, economy, and development, conservation is at direct conflict. Land conservation is one of the last hopes for preserving these wild places from ourselves. Alaska is the last frontier. One of the last states to unionize and one of the last places to protect. We as a society need to start collaborating about our space, protecting areas of ecological importance like the Pacific Coast Temperate Rainforest. Efforts like these start with an idea and live and die with action. Through actions from locals, advocates, and influential people, we can find a balance between protecting the environment, sustaining our economy, and preserving human culture.      

 

Cooking and Teamwork

Olivia Truax

Amherst College

On an expedition filled with steep learning curves (you’ve never seen snow before? Try telemark skiing down a hill with a 30-pound pack! You’ve never slept outside before? How about camping on a glacier! You’ve never had a science class before? Let’s talk biogeochemical field methods!) the steepest, by necessity, is that of camp cook. When your name appears on the “plan of the day” as part of the three-student cook team it’s do or die. Well, I doubt that our camp of hungry JIRPers would kill a cook who, at the end of a long day of fieldwork, failed to produce an edible meal. However, cooks do run the risk of going down in JIRP history like “that idiot in such-and-such year who cooked the pasta into barely edible salt mush.”

Luckily, Brittany, Lyda and my first mistake was one of quantity not quality. Fifty JIRPers can eat a lot of oatmeal. They cannot, however, eat eighty servings of oatmeal. Having made it through breakfast without memorable slipups we faced our next task: lunch and what to do with 30 servings of rapidly congealing Quaker Oats (because all of our food on the icefield is delivered via wildly expensive, gas-guzzling, helicopters, food waste, always environmentally and financially irresponsible, is inexcusable). Word to the wise: 1. JIRPers love burritos 2. if you mix leftover oatmeal with brown sugar, flour, raisins, vegetable oil, and baking powder and stick it in the oven it won’t turn into an “oatmeal cake,” but it will turn into a delicious pudding-esque dish even if you forget about it and bake it at 400 degrees for an hour and a half.

For dinner we decided that it’d be a fun challenge to make a meal that used every dish in the kitchen. Well, our goal was to make enough roasted potato medley, chopped salad, and beef stew, for 51 people— no more, no less. The somewhat predictable result was four hours of chopping and roasting twenty-five pounds of potatoes, sweet potatoes, and carrots in a single oven, stewing canned beef in the largest cast iron skillet I have ever encountered (this behemoth requires two burners), and a brief stint as short-order cooks desperately trying to chop enough peppers, apples, and lettuce to keep the salad bowl full in the face of the seemingly inexhaustible appetite of a never ending line of JIRPers (it was our own fault, we told them to help themselves to “bottomless salad”).

The Mass-Balance Team - Evan Koncewicz, Victor Cabrera, Tai Rozvar, Olivia Truax, Alex Burkhart and Kate Bollen - present their research proposal on the deck at Camp 10. Photo by Matt Beedle.

The Mass-Balance Team - Evan Koncewicz, Victor Cabrera, Tai Rozvar, Olivia Truax, Alex Burkhart and Kate Bollen - present their research proposal on the deck at Camp 10. Photo by Matt Beedle.

When the line of salad-seeking JIRPers finally ended we had a moment to enjoy our meal staring out at the view of the Taku Towers from the porch of the cook shack before the mountain of dishes called us back inside. Sitting with Brittany and Lyda, enjoying the meat Brittany stewed, clutching a cup of coffee Lyda brewed, and savoring the last of the peppers we had frantically chopped I found myself reflecting that 1. Kirkland-brand canned meet and pre-ground coffee has never tasted so good and 2. my day cooking, a task that I’d dreaded as a chore for weeks, had been one of my favorite days so far on the icefield. Sometime in-between preparing almost twice the amount of oatmeal we needed and the final dash to finish the salad something about JIRP clicked for me. Far from the day I had anticipated away from the science and exploration I thought constituted the “real” business of JIRP, my time in the kitchen—surrounded as I was by the laughter I shared with Lyda and Brittany, the aroma of baking “oatmeal cake,” and the smiles of JIRPers with full bellies—took me to the heart of what it means to be part of an expedition family.

Here on the icefield we talk a lot about community and teamwork. The idea that we are stronger together than the sum of our parts is an organizing principle of our daily life, drawing us closer as we navigate the challenges of living and learning in this harsh environment. I began to feel the strength of this community on the long trek from Camp 17 to Camp 10 when the quiet encouragement of the person ahead of me on the rope team got me through the final slog up the crevasse field to our camp at the Norris Cache. It buoyed me when I took a hard fall running through Camp 17 to grab my ski boots for a sunset ski on the Ptarmigan Glacier and my fellow JIRPers patched up my bruised knees and low stoke level (word to the wise: DO NOT RUN IN CAMP). Co-authoring a research proposal and digging snow pits with the rest of the Mass Balance project group, I’d begun to feel an inkling of what’s possible when JIRPers devote themselves to a project as a team. But it was in the kitchen with Brittany and Lyda brainstorming an original menu from limited ingredients and dashing about to make enough salad that I first understood that phrase “stronger together than the sum of our parts” as not only an aspirational aphorism but an incontrovertible truth.

Completing the two-day traverse from Camp 17 to Camp 10. Photo by Catharine White.

Completing the two-day traverse from Camp 17 to Camp 10. Photo by Catharine White.

Our meal won’t go down in JIRP history. I’m sure the potatoes we agonized over have already begun to fade into the many delicious meals we’ve had here on the icefield in the minds of our fellow JIRPers, but my first day in the kitchen will stay with me. Working together wasn’t always easy: I stubbornly stuck to the idea that we should fry up two sausages to feed 51 people for dinner long after Brittany and Lyda, sensibly, pointed out that if we did that 40 JIRPers would go hungry. But, together, we produced three meals (none of which involved sausage) that kept our expedition, our community, happy and fed.