The Juneau Icefield: Sub-Surface Exploration

Kit Cunningham, Montana State University
Annie Zaccarin, University of California, San Diego

As the sun warmed the rocks and the clouds drifted away from Camp 18, the biogeochemistry research group skied up and away from camp. The weather was pleasant. A glacial breeze cooled us as we gleefully kicked and glided our way across the icefield towards the Matthes-Llewellyn divide. The divide is a topographic high between the two glaciers, from which point the ice flows downhill and away in both directions. Our research group aimed to gather snow samples from the past years’ snowpack on the Llewellyn Glacier to analyze in a lab.

We arrived at our location, roughly halfway between the two sides of the Llewellyn Glacier, on a relatively flat area downhill of the divide. Enthusiastic to start working, we kicked off our skis and set up our work area amid the ever glorious snow and mountain peaks surrounding us. The first step was to dig a trench roughly 1.5 m by 3 m, and 1 m deep. We used the excavated snow to build a shade wall on the south side of the work area, protecting sensitive samples from the sun. This trench and wall created our main workstation, a sort of subterranean workbench where we could comfortably stand and use the top of the snowpack as a waist-high counter top. After this our team prepared to gather snow samples by pulling up snow cores from the depths of the snow beneath our feet, just to the side of the trench. We all picked a job to start at on our snow core assembly line and enthusiastically got ready for a day of collecting samples.

The snow core assembly starts with gathering the snow core itself. This consisted of 3 main parts: the snow corer, the flights, and the handle. The snow corer is a tube about 1.5 m long, with plastic threads down the outside connecting to sharp teeth, and metal latches in the inside, also known as ‘dogs’ (Fig. 1). The snow corer acts like a hollow screw, with the plastic threads on the side helping to guide it straight downward as the sharp teeth cut into the snow. The metal latches are at the inside bottom of the tube, which prevent the snow core from sliding out when the snow core is brought to the surface.
 

Figure 1. Image of the bottom of a snow corer. Photo Credit: Kovacs Enterprise; Ice Drilling and Core Equipment

Figure 1. Image of the bottom of a snow corer. Photo Credit: Kovacs Enterprise; Ice Drilling and Core Equipment

A flight, the second section of the set up, is a meter-long attachment to the handle. It is meant to increase the depth of the coring hole. Basically, once the snow corer is deeper than its own height (1.5 m), we need additional attachments in able to retrieve it. A flight is one meter long, so if the snow core hole is 10 m deep, we need to attach 10 flights to the handle to drill and recover the core. The last piece of the snow corer set up is the handle. This is where all the power comes from, with our own arm strength. We operate the drill by turning the T-shaped handle, slowly spinning the whole apparatus and drilling the corer deep into the snow.

Caption: Kit Cunningham and Chris Miele adding flights to the drill (partly lowered in the hole). Photo credit: Sarah Fortner

Caption: Kit Cunningham and Chris Miele adding flights to the drill (partly lowered in the hole). Photo credit: Sarah Fortner

Once the snow corer is set up, we began the core extraction. I started out at the beginning of the assembly line, pulling the snow core out of the hole; which in my opinion is the most fun job. Using the snow core assembly, I pulled out our first segment of snow and slid it out of the snow corer and onto our workbench. Since extra snow shavings, or filings, from the threads of the snow corer can gather on top of the snow core sample itself, we measured both the depth of the hole and the length of the snow core and compared the measurements. If the snow core sample was longer than the depth of the hole, we removed the excess snow (filings from the side and top of the hole). As the snow core assembly went deeper, more filings got into the core, and this discrepancy increased. After we matched our snow core sample to the depth of the hole, the next two people in the assembly line, the snow core sawer, cut the snow core into 10 cm segments. We treated each of these 10 cm segments as individual samples. We measured the top and bottom diameters and the mass of each segment using a field scale, so that we could calculate the density of the sample later. The next person in the assembly line, the master note keeper, carefully recorded all these measurements. The master note keeper also kept track of any ice lenses, layers of ice within the snow core, in each sample. The master note keeper handed off the baggie holding the snow core segment to yet another member of the assembly line, the snow core pulverizer. The snow core pulverizer had perhaps the most entertaining job, breaking the snow core up into tiny little pieces. Accomplished via fist pounding and sometimes the use of a hammer, the goal is to break up and mix all of the snow core segment particles together, to make them as uniform in size as possible. Because we did not have enough sample bottles, or helicopter space, to carry out the entire snow core, we filled two sample bottles with the pulverized snow from each 10 cm segment. Pulverizing the segment helps ensure that the snow core pieces bottled are representative of the entire 10cm segment and not just the top or bottom part. Last, but not least of our tasks, the bottle labeler was responsible for marking all the sample bottles with the core segment label, so that back at the lab everyone knows which bottle goes with which part of the snow core.

Caption: Field staffer Matt Pickart and faculty member Natalie Kehrwald measure the snow core section, camouflaged on the snow workbench. Biogeochemistry students Molly Peek, Annie Holt, and faculty member Sarah Fortner bottle and label samples in the background. Photo credit: Annie Zaccarin.

Caption: Field staffer Matt Pickart and faculty member Natalie Kehrwald measure the snow core section, camouflaged on the snow workbench. Biogeochemistry students Molly Peek, Annie Holt, and faculty member Sarah Fortner bottle and label samples in the background.
Photo credit: Annie Zaccarin.

These snow cores will travel, from our backpacks, hundreds of miles via helicopter, car, and airplane to get to a laboratory to be tested for inclusions. These inclusions will function as proxies for different characteristics and changes occurring on the Icefield. The inclusions we will be testing for are isotopes, major ion content, snow density, levoglucosan (which is a chemical produced through burning plant biomass), and dust particles. Through these five things, we will be able to understand changing precipitation and wind patterns, temperature fluxes, types of rock surrounding the glaciers, and the quantity of forest fires in the area and if they are affecting the Icefield melt. Independently, each test is a little clue about the Icefield health and together it can make a more encompassing picture.

The Juneau Icefield is the fifth largest Icefield in the western hemisphere and determining whether changes are occurring, such as increased precipitation or ash deposits, are important factors in hypothesizing its present and future melt patterns. Since these cores can go back approximately 3-5 years depending on depth, we can compare this year’s annual melt, precipitation, and wind data to previous year’s data as a way to put current changes into perspective. Through these little microscopic changes in the snow, we can gain huge amounts of information on the Icefield's present and future health. And this whole process starts with a group of excited students enjoying the day and stuffing snow inside small bottles.

This brings us back to our makeshift conveyor belt of snow chunks, and what marked the end of the day’s sample collection. Our snow core reached an impressive 9.2 meters depth, which contains snow dating back 3-4 years. We packed the hundreds of sample bottles away into our bags, ready to be carry them back to camp. After taking off a layer and grabbing a quick snack, we all put on our skis and started the long trek back to camp for supper. We gazed at the tall, mountainous beauty of the Storm Range, hypothesized about what might be cooking for supper, and reflected on how lucky we are to learn science in a place as wonderful as the Juneau Icefield.

To learn more about the potential links between snow cores and forest fires, take a listen to this podcast by Elizabeth Jenkins about our group’s snow coring on the icefield.

The JIRP 2017 Biogeochemistry team at Camp 18. From left to right: Kiana Ziola, Dr. Sarah Fortner, Auri Clark, Molly Peek, Annie Zaccarin, Kit Cunningham, Annie Holt, Chris Miele and Dr. Natalie Kehrwald.

The JIRP 2017 Biogeochemistry team at Camp 18. From left to right: Kiana Ziola, Dr. Sarah Fortner, Auri Clark, Molly Peek, Annie Zaccarin, Kit Cunningham, Annie Holt, Chris Miele and Dr. Natalie Kehrwald.

 

 

Meet Chuck - Our Field Spectroradiometer

Meet Chuck – Our Field Spectroradiometer

Shawnee Reynoso

Sonoma State University

Reflectance. To most of us, it is just light bouncing back from a surface. Most of us refer to it when talking about a mirror or road signs. To a JIRPer, it is the reason behind our most frequent and prominent sunburns. As a glaciologist, reflectance is the key to understanding the relationship between incoming solar radiation, glaciers, and melt. When dust or ash or algae is deposited on a glacier’s surface, it gets darker and melts more. It is important for us glaciologists to measure and understand these processes. But how?

To measure the glacier surface reflectance, JIRP faculty member Allen Pope introduced us to the field spectroradiometer. We named it Chuck. Why you may ask? Because it stuck. That’s pretty much the only requirement to name things here at JIRP.

Chuck the field spectroradiometer is a lightweight box you can easily carry into the field. So what does a spectroradiometer do? It measures the amount of visible and near-infrared light being reflected off a surface. Along with the spectroradiometer comes a Spectralon panel. Spectralon is a ceramic white palette which is very bright in almost all wavelengths, making it close to 100% reflective. This Spectralon is used as a reference for how much light is present where you are currently taking surface reflectance measurements.

Deirdre Collins, Brittany Ooman, and Kate Bartell discuss reflectance data in the field. Photo by Shawnee Reynoso.

Deirdre Collins, Brittany Ooman, and Kate Bartell discuss reflectance data in the field. Photo by Shawnee Reynoso.

To use Chuck the spectroradiometer, you hold it as far away from you as possible and point it at your intended surface. First, you take a snap of your Spectralon to get a reference reflectance. This device is highly sensitive meaning that the color clothing you are wearing or your shadow can significantly influence its results. Next, you take a measurement of your surface and then you can see a graph on the computer screen showing your results. This graph shows highs and lows throughout visible and near-infrared light indicating which colors are being reflected and which are being absorbed.

Excited at how easy it was to use Chuck, we ran around camp and found various surfaces to measure and then compare. We pointed Chuck at brightly colored clothing, green moss, white snow, dark pools of water, and more! In measuring the reflectance of a reddish-tan granite, the graph peaked near the red point of visible light. This is the result we would have expected considering the tint of the rock. White snow matched up with our expectation of a bright and even reflectance spectrum throughout the visible light (because white is made up of all colors of light) but darker in the near infra-red (which is typical), and so our results made logical sense, which is always encouraging.

Deirdre Collins uses Chuck the Field Spectroradiometer to investigate the reflectance of various surfaces near Camp 18. Photo by Shawnee Reynoso.

Deirdre Collins uses Chuck the Field Spectroradiometer to investigate the reflectance of various surfaces near Camp 18. Photo by Shawnee Reynoso.

This exercise allowed us first hand experience with one of the research tools used by scientists. Allen’s research then uses this type of field data to help better interpret satellite imagery, for example. We were able to explore potential for what we could learn being able to get this data from specific locations in the field. Automatically retrieving the data also allowed us to consider and discuss the data while we were still collecting it in the field. (On another day, we used the data to calculate how much darker algae on the snow made the surface.) Aside from data collecting this was a fun activity that allowed me to understand reflectance in a clearer way then I had previously.

 

JIRP 2016 - Success at AGU

Matt Beedle

JIRP Director of Academics and Research

As we work through the application materials for JIRP's prospective 2017 cohort (amazing applicants, by the way!), I'm reminiscing on this process from a year ago and the phenomenal JIRP class of 2016. JIRP, of course, is a research program, an educational expedition. The more years I'm involved in JIRP, however, the more I realize that it is the community of JIRP that is transformative. In the words of Dr. Maynard Miller, reflecting on why he was so drawn to the program he helped shape and led for decades:

I can’t get away, because you’re all so wonderful!

After completing the summer field season, the 2016 cohort went their separate ways, but continued their summer research, building towards the American Geophysical Union's Fall Meeting in early December where they presented their work. Half of our 2016 cohort of 32 made the trek to San Francisco to present, expand their scientific understanding and connections, and enjoy a number of gatherings with JIRP alumni and faculty. Engaging once again with this talented group of young scientists, introducing them to the larger JIRP family of alumni and faculty, and helping them make connections on their career paths was a real highlight of AGU 2016. The JIRP team is proud of your work and we are excited to build upon these efforts with JIRP's 2017 students!

Please see the images and text below for a team-by-team synopsis of student research presented at the 2016 AGU Fall Meeting:

BIOGEOCHEMISTRY: Team members Annie Holt, Annie Zaccarin, Auri Clark and Molly Peek (left to right in image below), present their group's work.

Abstract: Previous work has characterized chemical weathering in polar, polythermal, and alpine settings. However, chemical weathering and the role of supraglacial streams within the carbon cycle on the Juneau Icefield glacial system is not well documented. This study examines the concentration and spatial variability of alkalinity and major ions present in the ablation zone of the Llewellyn glacier, which is on the northeast side of the Icefield in Canada.

In particular, we explore how differences in chemistry are associated with source area reflectivity. By conducting measurements to characterize melt chemistry and alkalinity, we present results of a spatial variation survey of the Llewellyn Glacier ablation zone and relate the findings to surface albedo. We sample 30 locations in August 2016 during the late ablation season using a Hach digital titrator, ion chromatograph and an albedometer to measure alkalinity, major ion concentrations and albedo respectively. We characterize the relation between alkalinity concentrations and dust patterns and compare our data to other glacial systems. This study contributes to the larger understanding of chemical weathering in glacial environments.


BOTANY/ECOLOGY: Deirdre Collins presents her team's work.

Abstract: Alpine environments are particularly vulnerable to climate change, and alpine plant populations of the Juneau Icefield are currently experiencing increased environmental stress. In this study, vascular plants on selected nunataks of the Juneau Icefield of the Coast Range Mountains are investigated. Sixty meter transects spanning an elevation range are collected along prominently vegetated portions of each study site. The population of vascular plants found is considered in relation to the nunatak soil microbiota, elevation, latitude, nunatak emergence and geology. Results indicate previously unknown variations in nunatak soil microbiota and provide baseline data that may be used for future studies.


GEOPHYSICS: Tae Hamm, Dr. Kiya Riverman and DJ Jarrin present the geophysics team's 2016 research.

Abstract: High resolution measurements of spatial ice thickness variability on the Juneau Icefield are critical to an understanding of current glacial dynamics in the Coast Mountains of Southeast Alaska. In particular, such data are lacking on the Taku Glacier, a tidewater glacier in the Juneau region whose unique advance has slowed in recent years.

Significantly, such information is necessary to develop an accurate description of ice dynamics as well as sub-surface hydrology and bedrock erosion. Utilizing relative gravimetry, we sought to modify existing parameterized models of ice thickness with field measurements taken along the centerline of the Taku. Here we present a three-dimensional representation of ice thickness for the Taku, based on in situ observations from July 2016. As the glacier approaches a potential period of rapid terminal retreat, this data gives refined physical information prior to this potential juncture in the tidewater cycle-an observation that may yield insight into marine ice sheet instabilities more broadly.


GPS SURVEY: Brittany Ooman (with the assistance of DJ Jarrin) presents the survey team's work from 2016.

Abstract: Glaciers are retreating at unprecedented rates worldwide, but the Taku Glacier in Southeast Alaska underwent a recent advance. As part of the Juneau Icefield Research Program, glacier surface elevation and short-term velocity are measured annually during the summer season along longitudinal and transverse profiles using a real time kinematic global positioning system (GPS).

We compared our survey results from 2016 to those of recent decades to determine changes in surface elevation and velocity over time. The observed changes are discussed in relation to the available bed topography data. In addition, we generated a detailed surface model and measured the pattern of local surface flow to constrain the location of the Matthes-Llewellyn divide, and determine if it is migrating through time. The results will help us understand the evolving dynamics of Taku glacier.


ISOTOPE GEOCHEMISTRY: Cezy Semnacher and Mo Michels present the 2016 efforts of the JIRP isotope team.

Abstract: The glaciers and climate of Southeast Alaska are currently changing, and the water isotopic record stored within these glaciers can act as an informant of this variability. Toward this end, it is necessary to understand the modern relationship between environmental factors and the patterns of water isotope variability. In this study, we present a spatio-temporal survey of water isotopes in precipitation on the Juneau Icefield of Southeast Alaska, carried out through the Juneau Icefield Research Program during the summer of 2016.

Samples were collected from 75 kilometers of surface transects, seven pits, and three cores of the annual snow pack, including repeat measurements to test for isotopic alteration from rainfall events. Measurements span three glaciers, a range of elevations, and multiple climate zones. Results, including those from annually repeated surface transects, were compared to data collected in the summers of 2012 and 2015.

Data from 2015 show an icefield-wide trend between δ18O values and elevation. However, a locally reversed trend was identified across the Taku Glacier. The data collected from this study will help to explain this unexpected result. Comparisons are made to other environmental factors including annual average temperature, distance from the coast, and the influence of different weather patterns.

Understanding the spatial and temporal patterns of isotopes across the Juneau Icefield will allow for a deeper understanding of the local relationship between these tracers and climate. This understanding is critical to interpreting water isotopes as a proxy for climate changes in the past.


MASS BALANCE: Dr. Shad O'Neel, Kate Bollen, Olivia Truax, Evan Koncewicz, Tai Rovzar and Alex Burkhart present the mass balance team's 2016 research.

Abstract: The Juneau Icefield Research Program has collected mass balance data over the last 70 years on the Taku and Lemon Creek glaciers. We analyze data from 2004-2016 to investigate the interannual variability in the accumulation gradients of these two glaciers from ground penetrating radar (GPR), probing, and snow pits. Understanding interannual variability of accumulation gradients on the Juneau Icefield will help us to interpret its long-term mass balance record.

The Lemon Creek Glacier is a small valley glacier on the southwest edge of the Icefield. GPR data was collected over the glacier surface in March 2015 and 2016. In July of 2014 and 2016, the accumulation area was probed for snow depth, and two snow pits were dug for snow depth and density. The accumulation gradients resulting from each method are compared between years to assess the interannnual variability of the accumulation gradient and the resulting glacier wide mass balance.

The Taku Glacier is the largest outlet glacier on the Juneau Icefield. We use three snow pits dug each year along the longitudinal profile of the glacier between ~1000m and ~1115m, the region that typically reflects the ELA. In 2004, 2005, 2010, 2011, and 2016, snow probing was continued in the central region of the Taku and the resulting gradients are compared to each other and to the gradients derived from the snow pits. We assess the resulting impact on glacier wide mass balance furthering our understanding of the state of these two well-monitored glaciers on the Juneau Icefield.


PLANNING FOR 2017: We are excited to build upon these research efforts and also expand in new and exciting research directions. Stay tuned for more information on our 2017 season in the coming weeks!

A portion of the JIRP crew at the 2016 AGU Fall Meeting gathers for dinner after a day of science in San Francisco. Back row: Annie Zaccarin, Annie Holt, Olivia Truax, Evan Koncewicz, Kate Bollen, Molly Peek, Deirdre Collins, Matt Beedle, ????, Brad Markle, Tai Rovzar. Front row: DJ Jarrin, Cezy Semnacher, Chris McNeil

A portion of the JIRP crew at the 2016 AGU Fall Meeting gathers for dinner after a day of science in San Francisco.

Back row: Annie Zaccarin, Annie Holt, Olivia Truax, Evan Koncewicz, Kate Bollen, Molly Peek, Deirdre Collins, Matt Beedle, ????, Brad Markle, Tai Rovzar. Front row: DJ Jarrin, Cezy Semnacher, Chris McNeil

Stuck with strangers?

Kit Cunningham

Montana State University

Coming into this program, I didn’t know what to expect. I knew the various aspects of glacial travel and academics that I would be learning; however, I didn’t know how this group of 40ish people would shape the dynamics around me.  Now, after the program, I realize the intense impact they had on my experience.

These people, who came from all walks of life and from so many different backgrounds, had the ability to create a unique environment where all forms of growth were welcomed and could flourish. I realize in hindsight that this growth began through the initial questions surrounding the journey, which could only be approached with unabashed curiosity and high excitement. These questions could be something like, “How do I put my foot in my ski binding?”, “What does ablation mean?”, “How many cans of spam would you use to feed this camp?”, and, my personal favorite, “Is the rainfly just a rain jacket for the tent?” These questions, as innocent and rudimentary as they seem, sparked the fire for continuous curiosity that would surround the group for the rest of the summer.

Other factors that fueled the fire of inquisition were the traverses from camp to camp. When you have been skiing through what looks like the inside of a Ping-Pong ball for six hours, and still have seven hours more to go, the only source of entertainment are these weird beings beside you also trudging along. The traverses led to new forms of questions revolving around life stories, embarrassing moments, and of course, the weirdest places everyone has ever pooped. When there is nothing to do and the people around you are the only outlet for mental stimulation, it’s no surprise that some weird and very personal stories emerged. In any other circumstance, I would have never heard the situation in which Tae held a dead cat. Or when Mo was forgotten in the back of the truck or when Auri almost died in a plane crash. I am normally hesitant to surround myself with strangers due to my own antisocial tendencies, but after learning facts about the people around me that I normally would never begin to unfold, I realize the special environment for vulnerability and friendship that traverses tend to create.

A trail party traverses the upper Thomas Glacier on day one of the two-day traverse from Camp 17 to Camp 10. Photo by Matt Beedle.

A trail party traverses the upper Thomas Glacier on day one of the two-day traverse from Camp 17 to Camp 10. Photo by Matt Beedle.

The last main factor that contributed to the atmosphere around me was the people themselves. These people are all so special, in both similar and completely different ways. They all have this drive for adventure that makes them ask more, dive in a little deeper, and want to look just around the next corner. The constant fear of missing out (fondly known as FOMO) is deeply embedded in all members, causing impromptu dances in the moonlight, sing-alongs to guitar, and sunset ski runs. Everyone also has unique characteristics they bring to the table that add to the group’s flavor. If you give Kellie a rusty spoon and an expired can of cream of mushroom, for example, she will undoubtedly create a culinary or artistic masterpiece out of it. Or if you tell Annie B. a dream you had the night before that is only interesting to you, regardless, she will raise her eyebrows, open her eyes a little wider, and look at you like you are telling her the most exciting thing she has heard all day. Or if you are listening to music, Joel will demonstrate crazy, psychedelic hand motions that will both hypnotize and entertain.

While I can’t speak for the rest of the 2016 JIRP crew, the comfortable space created this summer has had a permanent impact on my life. I personally struggle with emerging from my shell, and more specifically, talking about myself. I have never been around a group of people who have not only welcomed my oddities and my presence, but have pleasantly harassed me for personal quirks. Off of the icefield, I feel like I can blend in with the people around me and be one with the wallpaper, but being in an area as beautiful as Camp 18, and surrounded by people equally as beautiful, I can’t help but remove myself from the sidelines and let myself be engulfed by the wonderful aroma of curiosity, vulnerability, foot stank, and immeasurable love and acceptance that the 2016 JIRP crew has fostered.
 

To top it off, here is a photo of Molly popping a pimple on her leg, Victor feeling “one” with the rock, and I don’t know what Tai and Alexandra are doing. Photo by Kit Cunningham.

To top it off, here is a photo of Molly popping a pimple on her leg, Victor feeling “one” with the rock, and I don’t know what Tai and Alexandra are doing. Photo by Kit Cunningham.

JIRP Presence at AGU

Dr. Lindsey Nicholson

Universität Innsbruck

San Francisco at sunset. Photo by Dr. Lindsey Nicholson

San Francisco at sunset. Photo by Dr. Lindsey Nicholson

The American Geophysical Union (AGU) annual Fall Meeting later this month is one of the biggest earth science meetings of the year. This year the student research projects have each prepared a poster on their scientific projects and findings to be presented at this meeting by a student representative of the group. It is a great achievement and I hope those who can attend the meeting have a great time there. If you are visiting the AGU please try to visit the posters being presented by our teams of students, which I have listed below. The name of the person presenting the poster is given in brackets after the poster title although the posters were prepared by a whole team, whose names can be found following the title link to the abstract.

C33A-0756: Gravimetric determination of the Thickness of Taku Glacier: Impact of Glacier Thickness on Subglacial Hydrology and Potential Erosion (Hamm, Tae)

H13A-1334: Chemical Weathering on the Llewellyn Glacier, Juneau Icefield (Zaccarin, Annie)

PP31D-2330: Spatio-temporal Variation of Water Isotopes on the Juneau Icefield (Semnacher, Cezanna)

GC31C-1133: Vascular Vegetation and Soil Microbiota of Juneau Icefield Nunataks (Collins, Deirdre)

C41C-0688: Evaluating Interannual Variability of Accumulation Gradients on the Juneau Icefield (Koncewicz, Evan)

C53D-0777: Temporal Changes of Surface Elevation and Velocity of Taku Glacier, Juneau Icefield (Ooman, Brittany)

Many JIRP faculty are also presenting at the AGU Fall Meeting, including Jason Amundson, Anthony Arendt, Billy Armstrong, Matt Beedle, Kiya Riverman, Eric Klein, Jeremy Littell, Brad Markle, Chris McNeil, Twila Moon, Allen Pope, Shad O’Neel and Martin Truffer. Have a talk to any of our former students of these faculty members to learn more about the program. 

There will also be a JIRP Open House on December 14th from 5pm to 8pm in the Sierra C Room of the San Francisco Marriott Marquis Hotel. Come learn about our program or reunited with old JIRPers. Cash bar provided. There will be a short presentation by our academic director, Dr. Matt Beedle. Hope to see you there!

The Beauty of the North

Deirdre Collins

Georgetown University

On August 5, Camp 18 echoed with rumors that the Northern Lights, or the Aurora Borealis, would make an appearance later that night. The clear and starry night sky enclosed us and appeared faintly green, exciting onlookers with fantasies of one of the Earth’s most impressive phenomena. Determined not to miss the twisting and twirling lights that would dance through the night, my friends and I decided to sleep on the north side of camp and set alarms every hour to inspect the sky. By half past midnight, my excitement had kept me up way past my normal bedtime. The sky glowed light green, indicating that the Aurora had started and foreshadowing the curtains of light that would soon appear above me. Constellations like the Big Dipper were sprinkled delicately across the vast expanse of space above. Without quite realizing it, I soon drifted off to sleep, hoping that my next conscious moments would be under the Aurora. 

At 2 am, I was awoken by my friends who wore faces of pure wonderment and admiration. As my eyes adjusted to the light above me, I saw it — curtains of lime green light meandering and moving quickly through the sky. Streaks of violet and white radiated from the snaking luminance that occupied our astonished minds. The lights twisted and turned rapidly around each other and we tried not to blink for fear that we would miss a second of something so spectacular. Shooting stars cut through the Aurora every now and then, appearing to pierce through the light that moved so rapidly through the sky. Curled up in our sleeping bags under the show, we lay there contemplating the power and beauty of nature and as scientists, questioning the mechanisms that could produce such magnificence. The scientific understanding that underlay the beauty of the Aurora is what truly captivated me that night on the Camp 18 nunatak above the Juneau Icefield.

Storm Range at Camp 18 under the Aurora Borealis. Photo Credit: Deirdre Collins

Storm Range at Camp 18 under the Aurora Borealis. Photo Credit: Deirdre Collins

The Aurora Borealis in the northern hemisphere, and the Aurora Australis in the southern hemisphere, result from solar storms. Large amounts of highly charged particles from the sun travel towards the Earth and interact with the Earth’s magnetic field. These charged particles travel along the Earth’s magnetic field to the planet’s north and south poles. Entering the Earth’s upper atmosphere, roughly 100-200 km above the surface, these highly charged particles excite various gases. When these gases return to a resting state — their electrons moving back down an orbital or energy level — releasing visible radiation (light!). According to the American Geophysical Union’s Earth & Space Science News, the Aurora is most prominent 2-3 days after outbursts of high solar activity. The type of gas and the difference in energy between the gas’s excited and resting states determine the wavelength of light released and, therefore, the color we see in the night sky. The greens and yellows we observe in the Aurora result from the release of radiation from one gas, whereas the purples we see result from release of radiation from another gas. The excitement of atmospheric gases by the interaction of highly charged particles from the sun with the Earth’s magnetic field produce one of the most spectacular wonders observed by man. It was both the exquisiteness of the Northern Lights and their intriguing scientific explanation that captivated me as I lay on a nunatak on the Icefield that night following the colorful lights as they danced throughout the sky. 

Mountains above the Gilkey Trench under the Aurora Borealis. Photo Credit: Deirdre Collins

Mountains above the Gilkey Trench under the Aurora Borealis. Photo Credit: Deirdre Collins

 

 

The Magic of Camp-8

Mackenzie McAdams

Purdue University

I would love to say I felt the magic of Camp-8 right when I arrived, but that was far from reality. After being towed behind a snow machine across the Matthes Glacier in a whiteout, we came to a halt on the edge of a slope. Newt told us that the snow machine had gone as far as it would go, and it was time to ski up from there. Still completely disoriented as to where I was, I started switchbacking up the slope until we reached the nunatak that Camp-8 was on. Dropping our skis and boot-packing to the top, we couldn’t wait to see our new home for the next two days. We opened up the door to a musty smelling one-room building with four bunks, a table, and a kitchen fully equipped with a waffle maker. We didn’t get to stay too long at first, because at the bottom of the nunatak sat the sled full of food and four tanks of propane. We headed back down, filling our empty packs with all the food and supplies we could, and grabbing a propane tank each. Slowly but surely, we made our way back up to camp. Magical yet? Not in the slightest, but as with most things that are worthwhile, you’ve got to work a little bit to achieve them. Arriving back at camp, and still only able to see about a meter in front of us, we tucked away inside our new home and finished all of our camp opening chores. 

Camp-8 when we first arrived. Photo by Kenzie McAdams.

Camp-8 when we first arrived. Photo by Kenzie McAdams.

After we finished cleaning, we stepped outside and the clouds were starting to clear. Newt and Tristan insisted that we take advantage of the weather and make the trek up to Mt. Moore, the summit of the nunatak. Deirdre and I exchanged glances. I knew we were both tired from opening and just wanted to take a break. But here we were standing in the middle of the icefield with hopes of blue sky above us; how could we not take the opportunity to see this beautiful place from a different perspective? So up we went, and boy was it worth it. At the summit, the sun was shining bright above and the clouds were flowing over the peaks below us like a river. I had never seen anything even close in comparison to the views that day. It was ethereal, everything below us was moving so fluidly, an important part of this natural system that happens every hour of every day, regardless if anyone is there to see it or not. It was in this moment that I felt the true magic of Camp-8. In the rest of our time at Camp-8 we summited Mount Moore twice more, each time different from the last. 

Newt Krumdieck overlooking the cloud-covered icefield from the summit of Mount Moore. Photo by Kenzie McAdams. 

Newt Krumdieck overlooking the cloud-covered icefield from the summit of Mount Moore. Photo by Kenzie McAdams. 

The magic didn’t stop once we came down from the summit. That evening we made cornbread waffles with barbeque chicken and roasted potatoes, played Settlers of Catan, and shared chocolate brownies right out of the tin with a couple of forks. We became fast friends with Lucifer, the heating unit that warmed the whole room, and learned all about the tradition of “RASHing”. We were trained on the radio, learning how to keep the radio log, understand the lingo, and what the importance of radio communication meant to JIRP. Whether it be the back and forth between Juneau Base to Camp-8 and Camp-8 to Camp-18 trying to relay weather information to get a helicopter in that day, or the happy-go-lucky trail parties calling in for their daily check-ins, the success of JIRP hinges on this radio system. Although we had an important duty monitoring the radio, in the true spirit of JIRP we didn’t stop exploring. Our remaining time at Camp-8 was spent exploring the bergschrund on the side of the nunatak, (or more fondly know as “the ‘schrund!”), mastering our tele turns on the hill and rappelling into the snow crevasse that opened up near camp overnight, always to return to warm waffles waiting for us at camp.

Kenzie Mcadams sharing the view from inside the Camp-8 crevasse. 

The opportunities for exploration and growth are endless on the icefield; each camp, each traverse and each conversation has its own unique type of magic. After reading all of the writing on the walls and chatting of the JIRPers before us, we left Camp-8 knowing that we were joining the ranks of those JIRPers who got to experience this magical place. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 

The Many Lessons Learnt by JIRPers

Kellie Schaefer

Michigan Technological University

It is fair to say that the majority of students participating in JIRP this year have never been on a glacier before. I thought it was insane that a large group of 20-somethings was going to be transported via skiing throughout different locations on a large ice sheet in Alaska. Through trial and error that broadened their range of knowledge (and perhaps developed some “character”), the students began to learn a few lessons on their JIRP journey.  

Crampon training on the Mendenhall Glacier. Photo by Kellie Schaefer.

Crampon training on the Mendenhall Glacier. Photo by Kellie Schaefer.

They first began their quest through the famed “vertical swamp”. While most of the trek consisted of slogging through dense blueberry bushes and boggy muskeg, there were a few short moments of excitement. While crossing a large stream, Chris managed to drop his bright green roll of duct tape into the rushing water. The duct tape was eventually fished out of the stream with a ski pole, much to the excitement of the trail party. Two lessons were learned during this episode:

1) Don’t “Christmas Tree” your pack

2) Duct tape is a crucial piece of gear that must be saved at all costs

About halfway up the vertical swamp, Victor hiked past a stump, and promptly began to hoot and holler, yelling “Stinging!!! Stingers!!! Aaahhhhh!!” Having no idea what was meant my “stingers”, I continued to slosh through the muskeg, only to hear a buzzing sound. I glanced up to see a swarm of angry bees. I quickly changed my course and escaped with no bee stings, while Victor managed to receive three. About three weeks later, I was collecting Isotope samples along Profile A. Unfortunately, I was paying more attention to the GPS path than the terrain. Before I knew it, I had toppled face first into a rather large sun cup. Maybe I was not being as observant on the icefield as I had been with the bees. In short:

3) Be aware of your surroundings at all times

4) You don’t always have to follow the exact GPS path

The weather had treated us JIRPers unusually well during the voyage up to Camp 17, with the exception of one night that consisted of 60 mph winds and everyone in the camp running outside to lean into the wind. Clear skies and impromptu outdoor nights of sleep continued throughout the week at Camp 10. The staffers continuously reminded us of how spoiled we were in terms of weather. When the clouds rolled in and the rain began to patter on the corrugated roofs of the various camp buildings, the students began to panic. Clothes that had been laying out on the granite rocks for days had suddenly become sodden. Boots left out to dry were now soaked again. People scrambled for their rain gear, which is pretty unserviceable on the icefield (unless you utilize the rubber rain jackets in the cook shack). When mass balance or GPS teams returned from their daily excursions in the rain, their faces were freshly sunburned and contoured with even more tan lines. The recent precipitation has taught us many things:

5)    Rain is wet

6)    The driest sock is sacred

7)    You can get sunburned all of the time, even when you’re in a cloud 

Shawnee and Alex being the "victims" during crevasse rescue training. Photo by Kellie Schaefer.

Shawnee and Alex being the "victims" during crevasse rescue training. Photo by Kellie Schaefer.

Due to the change in weather, most of the student’s free time is now spent in the kitchen area. If they are feeling particularly observant, they may find entertainment in witnessing the exploits of the creatures known as “the cooks”. The cooks are extremely vigilant of “vultures”, swooping in on anyone who takes one too many slices of fried spam. Only the bold will enter their domain to seek a certain spice, or if they are feeling particularly cocky, exit/enter the cook shack through the cook’s door. The cooks can become frazzled after a long day of catering to hungry FGERs, and can sometimes do silly things. Take Joel for example, who turned on the stove, struck the match (after a brief period of time), and lit the stove. Joel did not realize that propane gas is quite flammable, and proceeded to scorch all of the hair off of his hand in the flame that ensued. Kate-CO forgot to drain the water after cooking the mac n cheese noodles, and ended up making a mac n cheese soup.  Eric somehow got bit by a carrot. The cooks frequently make too much oatmeal in the morning, and creative new recipes are born from the leftovers. A few very important life lessons can be obtained from the experience of being a cook:

8)    Light the match before turning on the burner

9)    You love oatmeal and oatmeal loves you

10)    SPAM® is a beautiful thing 

Cheers from 'Taku B'!!!

Cheers from 'Taku B'!!!