From the Archives: JIRP 1953 Forecasts Mild Winter in 2053

Recent communication between George Argus (JIRP '52) and JIRP surveyor Scott McGee (JIRP '88) has brought to light a short piece on JIRP in Popular Science - "Scientists Probe Glaciers for Tomorrow's Weather" - from November 1953. Most enlightening, perhaps, are the aspects of JIRP that have not changed in the 60+ years since this article was published.

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As we prepare for JIRP 2016, it is these commonalities that are striking. Dr. Calvin Heusser was one of the on-ice leaders in the early 1950s, and his quotes on botany, ecology, glacier surface color and the riddle of the advancing Taku Glaicer resonate and continue as areas of study today. And with humanity continuing to grapple with the challenges of climate change, it's with more than a bit of awe to read about some of the early understanding and indeed forecasts of a warming Earth. 

Look forward to announcements of JIRP 2016 details in the coming weeks, including core research areas, participating faculty and the fantastic group of students we look forward to welcoming to the JIRP family in 2016.

As you wait, enjoy this short article and delight in what has made JIRP a phenomenal experience, and vital scientific endeavor for 70 years. In the words of Dr. Heusser:

"It makes you feel all's right with the world, and is a big reason you go up there aside from the scientific purposes."

Access the November 1953 Popular Science article here.

Icefield Chemistry

Icefield Chemistry, by Donovan Dennis, Occidental College

As our avid blog readers likely know by now, the chemistry of snow and ice evolves across the icefield, a function of the physical properties of oxygen and hydrogen isotopes. Students in the isotope research group investigate how the distribution of the isotopes change, from variation over several meters to variation over the entire icefield. Do isotope ratios change with elevation? How does rain change the composition of the surface snow? And the overarching question that we are all trying to address: is isotope analysis a useful measure for reconstructing past temperatures in this unique glacial environment? We are fortunate to have the tools and instructors available here on the ice to address these questions.

Isotope studies in other locations as well as the simplified Rayleigh model for fractionation[1] indicate that water molecules with heavy isotopes (Oxygen atoms with 18 neutrons) and Deuterium (Hydrogen atoms with two neutrons) fractionate (fall) first, typically nearest the source of the water. As the precipitation event moves farther away from its source, the clouds become more depleted in these heavy isotopes. In theory, we can track weather systems as they move across the icefield by measuring the concentrations of heavy isotopes in the snow and firn records. For more information on water chemistry across the icefield, numerous other blog entries tackle the Sisyphusian[2] task of explaining these projects and concepts.

June 23, 2015: Thirty-two JIRPers from strikingly different backgrounds coalesced in Juneau, AK, unsure of what to expect as they readied to ascend the ice. Like newly evaporated water, the composition of the group reflected its source: lots of variation.

“The people seem nice, and there is a healthy mix of intellect between us all. I’ve never known myself to be this obstructively shy before. I think it’s because everyone here seems to have something to say and there isn’t much else to offer in terms of conversation. Although after just a few hours here I can certainly see why so many are impressed by the rugged allure of Alaska. I’ve yet to be less than impressed by anything.”

 June 28, 2015: The ascent to Camp 17. The first isotope to fractionate out is the ego. Though we all come in with differing mountaineering experiences, fitness levels, and attitudes, the hike to Camp 17 sends the rugged individualist in us all packing. 

“Around 7:35, we took off from the trailhead, and the weight of my pack became very apparent as we began the ascent up the first hill. It poured and poured, and my first fall came on a failing mud slope. That was a nice preface of what was to come. Had we not paid for this experience, I’m fairly certain it would have compared to a Vietnam jungle march. […] For much of the trip, I hiked/climbed/whined/cried with Isabel and Eric, two very mellow JIRPers from who knows where. We ascended much of the swamp together and became fast friends. As we exited the swamp, fully saturated in our boots up through the shins, I was unsure whether or not I could remember moving this quickly through the six stages as I grieved the health of my feet.”

Laurel Rand-Lewis (L) and Jeremy Littell (R) reach the Camp 17 ridge after the storied swamp ascent. All photos by author.

Laurel Rand-Lewis (L) and Jeremy Littell (R) reach the Camp 17 ridge after the storied swamp ascent. All photos by author.

A cloudless view near the same rocks. Photo by author.

A cloudless view near the same rocks. Photo by author.

July 5, 2015: Our first best day on the icefield, and the emergence of a group mentality. The continued depletion of the luxuries of off-icefield lives and adaptation to our surroundings lent itself to the emergence of the JIRP 2015 family.

“We took our desserts to the Ptarmigan view rocks, and as Aaron’s guitar got louder we gathered a small group of singers and percussionists. Whereas the sunset on July 4 went out with a flourish of orange and red, the sunset of July 5 was a simple fiery orb dropping behind the mountains. In that moment, I never wanted to leave the icefield.”

Sunset on the fourth of July. The sunset July 5th was captured via good memories rather than good photographs.

Sunset on the fourth of July. The sunset July 5th was captured via good memories rather than good photographs.

As our group ebbed and flowed with the influx of faculty and staff, we came closer as a unit of 32. The inside jokes flourished in our microculture[3], intimidating the incoming faculty as they attempted to edge in. Individual backgrounds fractionated out as our group developed its own history—an entire past to draw upon for humor and inspiration. We started to evolve as a unit, growing together and becoming more similar as we moved across the icefield.

Moving across the icefield: the Norris Cache between camps 17 and 10. 

Moving across the icefield: the Norris Cache between camps 17 and 10. 

The ping pong ball effect provides for beautiful views of the enveloping clouds.

The ping pong ball effect provides for beautiful views of the enveloping clouds.

July 30, 2015: Total immersion and acceptable uniformity. I began to understand the bigger picture of JIRP, the icefield, and came to know a version of myself unrecognizable six weeks before. Whereas in Juneau the survival of the group depended on the individuals, now the survival of the individual (or at least this individual) relied on the group.

“I now know that I will return to the icefield. It’s calming almost, accepting this certainty. To be in the presence of something so much more than me, it’s more than inspiring—it’s possessing. The landscape grips its beholder with an iron clench, refusing to budge. It’s hard to breath. Camp 17 was new; Camp 10 was vast; but Camp 18 is aggressive. Alone, these hideaways are but individual camps on an icefield, but together they complement each other with un-named harmony. I have to be back.”

The view from Camp 17.

The view from Camp 17.

The view from Camp 10.

The view from Camp 10.

The view from “The Cleaver” at Camp 18.

The view from “The Cleaver” at Camp 18.

This wasn’t an easy journey. It was physically exhausting. It levied a tax on emotions and interpersonal skills, and it forced us to question ourselves as we battled frigid “summer”[4] temperatures, unrelenting wind, and other undesirables[5] associated with the icefield. But now, as we progress farther away from Juneau and rapidly encroach upon Atlin, we rely less on ourselves for perseverance and support, and more on the group and environment to sustain us. Like the ice under our feet, our chemistry has changed. We are friends and family, the FGERs in us all understood only by each other.

Celebrating the completion of Llewellyn Pit 2 with the American and Canadian flags looking on. From left to right Allie Strel, me (Donovan), Jeff Gunderson, Jacob Hollander, and Tristan Amaral.

Celebrating the completion of Llewellyn Pit 2 with the American and Canadian flags looking on. From left to right Allie Strel, me (Donovan), Jeff Gunderson, Jacob Hollander, and Tristan Amaral.

 

[1] See blog entry by Jutta Hopkins- for more information regarding Rayleigh distillation. Also, Google is a thing.

[2] Sisyphusian: an immense and infinite task only able to be undertaken by the most heroic amongst us.

[3] Microculture: A culture that develops within a small, seemingly abandoned group via total isolation from society and popular culture.

[4] I found myself planted in the rocks at Camp 8 several mornings ago, having slipped on the ice layer that enveloped the rocks overnight. The icecap over the water supply buckets measured in at one inch thick.

[5] For example: skiing downhill with a 50-pound backpack, avoiding baths and showers for months on end, undercooked spam, having more blister than foot après ski, and the “ping pong ball” effect.

Burn Pit Conversations

Burn Pit Conversations

Andrew Hollyday, Middlebury College

8/6/2015

“We need someone to burn trash,” Annika announced during our daily post-breakfast work detail assignments.  I raised my hand to volunteer.  I figured it would be good to get the full picture of where my trash was going.  Later in the day, I met Annika at the burn pit, a metal grate on the side of the nunatak, where we burn the trash.  She explained the procedure, which involved first emptying the bags of used wrappers, toilet paper, food scraps, and plastic bags.  Then, she proceeded to pour gasoline over the trash (an essential step in this rainy climate).  Then she poured a bit more gas into a tin can, lit it then tossed it into the mound of garbage.  The pit ignited, and she instructed me to poke the pile with a long stick to give the flames oxygen. 

I told her burning the trash reminded me of my time in Chile where the gauchos (cowboys) would also burn their waste, even the plastic that is known to be carcinogenic.  This spiraled into a discussion of how best we could deal with our waste on JIRP.  We both seemed to agree that given our remoteness, burning seemed most suitable and low-impact.  We also talked about more general things such as how hyper-consumption is dangerous and how it is important to expose people to nature in order for them to care about it. 

A few days before getting to know the burn pit, Cathy Conner, a faculty on JIRP and Professor Emeritus at the University of Alaska Southeast, led a walk on the nunatak at Camp 18.  Her field lecture examined different geologic features like the peculiar dark blobs and Xenoliths (rock that is surrounded by compositionally-different igneous rock) that are contained in the bedrock around camp.  We followed her around and eventually came to an interesting outcropping of seemingly iron-rich rock.  She told us there were pyrite (fools gold), molybdenum (useful for steel making), galena (a metallic mineral), and even a bit of copper ore.  She talked about how deposits like this are critical for manufacturing iphones and other gadgets, but she also said that people tend not to want the mines in their own neighborhoods, so they tend to end up in the poor countries.  “Us first worlders must get a grip,” she suggested.  

The burn pit at Camp 17. Photo by Deb Gregoire.

The burn pit at Camp 17. Photo by Deb Gregoire.

Later in the day, Matt Beedle, the current faculty lead on JIRP, led an exercise that challenged us to role-play a fictitious town down valley of the Gilkey Glacier.  The preconditions were that the glacier was quickly receding and melting, and we were tasked with considering the economic and social implications of that change and ultimately shaping policy in reaction to it.  We divided into groups: policy advisors, community members, town government, and science advisors; eventually the town officials voted, and the whole group discussed the exercise.  As a member of the science advisory, we suggested continued glacial study, while the town members shared they were skeptical of continuing studies that didn’t produce tangible benefits for the town.  Following the exercise, Matt led us in a discussion about the intersection of the scientific community, the public, and policymakers. 

The exercise spurred conversation about the fundamental causes of melting ice and climate change that spilled into the evening.  As I sat in the cook shack grating cheese for dinner, Jolon, Anna, Olivia, and I settled on capitalism as the true culprit.  We talked about feudalism and Jolon convinced us that the relationships between serfs and landlords followed the same sort of exploitative framework as that of the big oil companies that are melting the world’s glaciers.  Later in the evening, Adrian called capitalism a religion and said that he has simply chosen not to believe in it anymore.    

Olivia tends the burn pit at Camp 18. Photo by Sydney LeCras.

Olivia tends the burn pit at Camp 18. Photo by Sydney LeCras.

As I stood by the pit, gray smoke rushing through the air, I thought of how I’ll miss these conversations when JIRP ends.  JIRP seems the perfect place, given its physical isolation, for fascinated students, faculty, and staff to grapple with the important questions we should be acting on when we return.  This mixing of ideas and perspective is exciting to me.  As I prepare to leave this giant Alaskan glacier, I’m thankful for the slower parts of the days—the parts when I get to circle around a fire with a long stick poking melting plastic.   

Things Go Awry

THINGS GO AWRY

by Elizabeth Perera, DePaul University

2 August 2015

Being a part of JIRP has taught me many skills, including mountaineering and crevasse safety, and how to be part of an expedition, working for the good of the group. We have also been learning about what makes science, “science.” Perhaps one of the most important things, for me, is that especially in a sub-polar environment, science isn’t predictable or may not lead you to where you originally thought it would.

I learned this first through my research question for this program. I am usually a qualitative thinker, but with science I tend to start with a hypothesis, as many do. I had often heard of experiments gone wrong or accidental discoveries throughout history, but never personally experienced this in any of my classes. My original project focus was going to be focusing on snow grain size and seeing if the Juneau Icefield had a higher liquid water content than my reference study, where the authors found that the liquid content of new Sierra Nevada snow was quite low and did not affect the albedo. My plan was to find out whether or not that higher liquid water content would affect the reflectance and albedo of our samples. However, it turns out that with the high levels of precipitation we have here on the Taku, the snow is mostly homogenous. This means I can’t make many inferences about how different snow grain size affects the overall albedo of snow samples. Additionally, measuring liquid water content is difficult to do because we are not adequately equipped with the right tools. Shad O’Neel, one of the faculty at Camp 10, described to me both ways of measuring liquid water content, neither of which are geared towards the specific temperate glacier environment we occupy.

As much as I realized that good science can be done even if it’s not an answer to my original question, this was a frustrating realization. It is, as Shad suggested, a question I will keep in mind to continue trying to tackle in the future, instead. Around this time, I also came to the complete understanding that as much as JIRP focuses on academics, we were now in the expedition and fieldwork pieces of the program, and this means continuing to be adaptable and flexible with my plans.

This realization came again today, when Katherine and I went out to take more albedo measurements. In the last blog post about albedo, there was a general description of our projects. Katherine and I went out to find samples of dirty snow for Adrian, red algae-covered snow for Katherine, clean snow for myself, and blue ice and firn for Lara.

Our instrument wasn’t working properly—for some reason it wouldn’t give us the control measurements we needed. We got about three good snow samples before the computer stopped showing us anything. This did not deter us—we tried changing angles, waiting for different cloud cover, and changing who was taking measurements. When it definitely wasn’t working, we instead decided to take what measurements we could, and note them down for a later analysis. After that, Katherine also went out and gathered more samples for ground-truth data, so we would still have some more data to analyze, even if it has to be done differently.

In the end, neither of us was too frustrated. We felt that we could still move forward, just in a different way. This albedo project is new as we are learning, is all about contingency plans. In the midst of an expedition, an important part is the experience we gain, and learning from this journey. It is amazing to have the privilege of studying these glaciers; and even having these problems and needing to deal with them is something most people are unable to do, so we are quite lucky.

Katherine with her new snow samples! Photo by author.

Katherine with her new snow samples! Photo by author.

The Cozy Camp 9

The Cozy Camp 9

Jeff Gunderson, College of Wooster

Sharing an entire camp out here on the icefield with roughly 50 other people breeds a certain type of claustrophobia. That isn’t to say that being surrounded by that many people is undesirable, it just amounts to a stressful living environment. Imagine 50 individual people telling each other how much better the coffee could be if they had made it, that lectures are too long, that the weather is a drag or that their projects aren’t going the way they had hoped. The list goes on. And on. And on. Truly, everyone is a critic in camp whether they realize it or not. Room for reflection and personal space in general are constrained by everyone’s self-declared expertise in literally everything. But in spite of all the pettiness, I found a solution in digging large pits in the snow.

As such, on the 29th of July 2015, a crew consisting of 6 spritely JIRPers and 2 solid staffers embarked on a journey to a small, teeny weeny, little cabin smack dab in the middle of nowhere. Before I continue I must interject to say that, if that ain’t irony then I don’t know what to tell you. Sure, I mean the blatant, most obvious cure for cabin fever clearly is going to an even smaller camp and living in even closer quarters with everyone. Alright there you go; I acknowledged my blunder. You can stop yelling at your computer screens and waving your hands in the air. Besides, you’ll hurt your lower backs and wrists if you keep that up. No, seriously, carpal tunnel is a real thing. Anyways, to those of you keeping track at home this cabin was the lovely Camp 9. Our goal, as a mass balance crew of divas, a hustler, a dental hygienist, a shovel wrecker and a mass imbalancer stood as the lumbering task of digging 4 pits in 3 days in and around the area. 

The dinky Camp 9 perched atop a lonely nunatak. Photo by author.

The dinky Camp 9 perched atop a lonely nunatak. Photo by author.

Though slighted by the lack of visibility and incessant falling of this water stuff uncommon to the Juneau Icefield called rain, spirits were high among the crew on our traverse. Gliding, sliding, slipping and tripping— all one in the same when it comes to skiing, really— we made our ways to the first pit site before arriving at Camp 9. Dug, measured and sampled within an hour we moseyed up to set up our living arrangements at Camp 9. Upon arrival, it dawned on me how closely I would physically be to everyone in our crew. My mind tip toed its way back to the can of sardines staff member Tristan had eaten the day before. There would be an astounding likeness to those forsaken fish delicacies at Camp 9. I gulped. What had I done?

Beautiful nunataks surrounding the pit dug during the second day. Photo by author.

Beautiful nunataks surrounding the pit dug during the second day. Photo by author.

In actuality, I quickly found the proximity with a much smaller group to be incredibly refreshing. This trip opened up a space for intimacy and sincerity, allowing everyone to forget their woes and tribulations, which is ultimately unattainable with large numbers of people. With the comradery coupled with the labor of digging deep into the snow, JIRP culture flourished. Faces were painted, music jammed and pit dancing was at its classiest. By the time measurements to the annual layer were taken, the sun had even managed to poke its rays through the clouds and blue sky illuminated the gorgeous encompassing nunataks. 

Annika paints Allie’s face while Sydney and Olivia (also with painted faces) record mass balance data. Photo by author.

Annika paints Allie’s face while Sydney and Olivia (also with painted faces) record mass balance data. Photo by author.

Adrian displays his war paint indicating his reign as king during the 2015 “Year of the Diva” mass balance Camp 9 trip. Photo by author.

Adrian displays his war paint indicating his reign as king during the 2015 “Year of the Diva” mass balance Camp 9 trip. Photo by author.

In the evening, the food was scrumptious despite its resemblance to something you would see in a Dr. Suess book. And in case you were wondering, no I do not like green eggs and ham. Or was it green eggs and spam? I forget. After gobbling down the gloppity glop or what have you, it was time to sleep. The arrangements in the upstairs loft were rather cozy so no one was cold. It was like bumper to bumper rush hour traffic. The nails poking out from the wall boards were a nice touch in my opinion, but I’m no interior designer. For all I know, they probably clashed with the color of the plywood.

In all seriousness, the trip to Camp 9 remains as a standout memory of time thus far in JIRP. In regard to the other students on this little excursion, the closeness to them was not at all a deterrent; rather it was what made the trip so memorable. So, if you are ever diagnosed with claustrophobia I ask you to reconsider the prognosis, for in my experience fighting fire with fire has worked remarkably well.

"Sciencing" Lake Linda...

Sciencing Lake Linda, or, “We’re Not English Majors Here”

July 31, 2015

Jolon Timms, Reed College

The Popemobile (Ph.D. in glaciology, currently working on a post-doc at University of Washington and CU Boulder, and JIRP faculty, Allen Pope) looked nervous. His bowtie was slightly crooked like Owen Wilson’s smile, minus the luxurious hair. Kiya Riverman, Allen’s discussion partner, (opponent on the opposite side of the ring) a Ph.D. student studying glacial hydrology at Penn State University, and JIRP faculty, was keeping her cool. The two, standing at one end of the Camp 17 cook-shack, were about to challenge each other’s hypotheses regarding the discharge of water from Lake Linda.

Lake Linda on the Lemon Creek glacier, mid-drainage. Photo by Joel Wilner.

Lake Linda on the Lemon Creek glacier, mid-drainage. Photo by Joel Wilner.

The lake, a dear one to JIRPers, sits nestled against a large mound of sediment deposited many years ago by the Lemon Creek glacier (technically called a “terminal moraine”) in the region on the glacier where snow cover exists perennially (called the “accumulation zone”). Last century, Lake Linda was two smaller lakes every summer: Lake Linda and its smaller cousin, Lake Lynn, which sat a short distance above Lake Linda. Before Lynn merged with Linda, daring JIRPers crawled through the empty ice tunnels which allowed Lynn to drain into Linda every year.  Now Linda drains within the timespan of a few days in the middle of every summer, often while bright-eyed and not-quite-yet-burnt-to-a-crisp JIRPers inhabit C-17. However, this year Linda started draining while the group was at C-17—and then stopped after two days of draining (see above photo), thus sparking intense debate among faculty and students as to why Linda stopped discharging water mid-drainage. 

Sketched profile of the Lemon Creek glacier. Question marks indicate unknown directional flow of lake drainage (blue lines) and possible bedrock topographies (dashed red and green lines).

Sketched profile of the Lemon Creek glacier. Question marks indicate unknown directional flow of lake drainage (blue lines) and possible bedrock topographies (dashed red and green lines).

The discussion in the cook-shack commenced with level-headed Kiya explaining that she thinks Linda stopped draining mid-drainage this year because the lake was actually draining through the terminal moraine against which its south side lay, not through or along the glacier bed as most supraglacial lakes drain. (Note: none of the following quotes are exact).

“A supraglacial lake will start to drain when it overflows its icy embankments, fractures the ice beneath the lake due to the immense pressure exerted by the water, or finds or creates an englacial stream through which water may flow. The more water that flows over ice, the quicker the ice will melt, creating a larger channel or tunnel through which more water can flow, melting the ice quicker and so on until the lake has drained completely,” Kiya said confidently.

Lake Linda close-up, with terminal moraine on right and Lemon Creek Glacier on left. Photo by J. Wilner.

Lake Linda close-up, with terminal moraine on right and Lemon Creek Glacier on left. Photo by J. Wilner.

“However, because Linda stopped draining after only two days, I hypothesize that Linda is in fact draining southward through the moraine and not through ice. Were Linda draining through ice, it would drain increasingly faster until Linda was no more. Because Linda’s drainage has been slow and halted, I believe Linda has been draining through the moraine, where a sediment channel could have collapsed or otherwise blocked the flow of water and thus stopped the drainage of the lake.”

Suddenly Allen Pope jumped in, attempting to save his reputation “Just wait one fancy second. It is indeed possible that the lake is draining through the moraine. However, it is more likely that the lake is draining through or underneath the glacier. We don’t know the bedrock topography below the glacier. It could very well be the case that Linda stopped draining because the bedrock topography restricted the flow of water below the glacier.

The Popesicle continued to spout excellence. “Moreover, it could be the case that the hole through which the lake is draining has been blocked by one of those large seracs (large chunks of ice floating in the lake). Sure, the blocks of ice are floating on the top of the lake, but they are large enough to reach a hole in the lake bottom.”

Allen Pope in bowtie and top hat and Kiya Riverman in purple. Photo by Blaire Slavin.

Allen Pope in bowtie and top hat and Kiya Riverman in purple. Photo by Blaire Slavin.

Alf Pinchak, longtime JIRPer and expert glaciologist, jutted in at this point. “Years ago, the perimeter of the lake was covered in snow and ice and you could ski to the top of the moraine, straddle it, and hear water flowing on both sides.” Kiya threw a smirk towards Allen and he gulped it down reluctantly. His hypothesis was under pressure.

“To be fair, there are many crucial details that we simply don’t know,” Allen protested. “In order to answer the question of Linda’s drainage, we would want to measure drainage rates during the summer in the outlet streams below the Lemon Creek and the terminal moraine. Additionally, we could call up Seth “I will GPR the entire Earth” Campbell to run a ground penetrating radar (GPR) over the Lemon Creek to get a better sense of the glacier’s bedrock topography. These tests, in combination, would allow us to get much closer to answering the present question.”

“Great scientific suggestions, Allen.” Kiya was trying boost Allen’s morale. “We might also add some dye to the lake to see clearly where the water goes when it drains. And in addition to GPR, we could use seismics, the results of which we could compare to those of the GPR survey. If only we had two weeks and tens of thousands of dollars.”

Lake Linda was thoroughly “scienced”. Not only did everyone in the cook-shack learn a fair amount about Lake Linda, the discussion also reflected the best of the scientific process in real time as performed by real scientists. What could have been an intimidating intellectual brawl turned out to be a deeply important demonstration of what the scientific community does best. As Allen left the cook shack, I noticed that somehow, perhaps by the magical force of good science, Allen’s bowtie was perfectly level on his scrawny neck .

 

 

 

 

 




GPS Surveys to Monitor Glacier Health

Using GPS Surveys to Monitor Glacier Health

Ella Keenan, University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire

Lara Hughes-Allen, University of Southern California

Mickey MacKie, Harvard University

GPS is an important tool for documenting the locations of data collected on the Juneau Icefield, and helps us get a better understanding of how the Taku Glacier works. Traditionally, mass balance pits have been the primary method for tracking the long term growth and retreat of glaciers. However, mass balance pits are dug only in certain locations, making it difficult to determine trends in other areas. High resolution GPS are used to collect elevation and velocity data, which augments mass balance data and tells us more about glacier dynamics.  

Ella using the Trimble GPS to survey the Lemon Creek Glacier. Photo by Mickey MacKie.

Ella using the Trimble GPS to survey the Lemon Creek Glacier. Photo by Mickey MacKie.

Across the entire Taku Glacier system, elevation and location data are collected using a Trimble GPS. We ride to different measurement points on snow machines (my favorite is named “Thor”). GPS measurements are taken in profiles going up and down the glacier, as well as across. Based on these elevation data, we can determine whether the Taku Glacier system is losing or gaining mass in any areas and the magnitude of these changes.

We can also find the velocity of the glacier by putting flags in the ice, measuring their positions, and re-measuring their positions a week later.  

Mickey and Thor. Photo by Ella Keenan

Mickey and Thor. Photo by Ella Keenan

We measure the same exact locations each year. This makes it easy to compare data between years all the way back to 1993 when digital collection began. Locational data are also taken by the student groups studying Ground Penetrating Radar, albedo and reflectance, and water isotopes.  These different data sets complement one another and make it possible to monitor a suite of changes that are occurring on the Icefield.  

Bjorn setting up a benchmark, which is used to correct for error given by satellites.  Photo by Lara Hughes-Allen.

Bjorn setting up a benchmark, which is used to correct for error given by satellites.  Photo by Lara Hughes-Allen.

Any changes in ice thickness and glacier velocity that are documented by the yearly GPS survey can be used to understand overall glacier health.  As man-made climate change continues to escalate, the data collected at the Juneau Icefield Research Program will help to inform predictions about future glacier response to temperature and precipitation changes.

Sleeping on Rocks

Sleeping on Rocks

By: Olivia Eads

 University of Cincinnati

Sleeping outside is not for all personalities, but I believe anyone participating in JIRP should try it at least once. For me, there is no better pleasure in life than to be exposed to the elements, breathe fresh oxygen, and have wind brush past my cheeks as I fall asleep. It is a humbling feeling to wake up feeling small, totally surrounded by the vastness of the clear night.  There is no better scenery to wake up to than starry skies illuminating clouds moving across the horizon or early morning light gleaming off the glacier and reflecting onto exposed peaks. On such nights and mornings a tarp is not necessary to keep the body confined and the exposed sky allows the mind to be open and to contemplate life and existence. Unfortunately, those nights are few and far between as shifting weather patterns are a reality faced hourly on the Juneau Icefield.  With that being said, there are many things to consider, many of which are learned through trial and error in order to have a comfortable night sleep on the nunataks poking out of the sea of ice.

                The first order of business to set up a tarp city is finding a relatively flat rock. These can be rare especially at camps 17 and 10, due to the highly fractured nature of the nunatak rocks. If a flat platform is found that has a slight slope and there are concerns about waking up to a falling sensation as you slide down a cliff, no worries. This can be avoided, along with waking up at 4:00 AM meters away from the sleeping pad and tarp. Find a large rectangular rock that is about two inches in height and place it beneath your desired foot planting location. This ‘foot rock’ is really effective at keeping the body in place as you sleep. Plus the process of slinking across cold, wet, abrasive, rigid rock after rolling away from the slumber party and snoring comrades, is quite exhausting to say the least.  Best to play it safe on inclined planes and use a foot rock.

                When dealing with the effects of precipitation, look for drainage patterns around the prospected location. If fractures in the rocks look like they could channel rain during a storm event, a stream will surely commence and you can expect drenched gear. On the bright side, one must not stray beyond the boundaries of camp, so it the elements become too much, it is only a few minute walk to infrastructure and relatively warm, wind free buildings. 

Tarp tent trial 1: Tarp fitting 6 people. Not a very successful structure. Eventually it rained that night and there was a wind storm. The open floor plan caused heads and feet to get WET, however the wind later that morning dried everything… Photo credit: Jeffy Gunderson

Tarp tent trial 1: Tarp fitting 6 people. Not a very successful structure. Eventually it rained that night and there was a wind storm. The open floor plan caused heads and feet to get WET, however the wind later that morning dried everything… Photo credit: Jeffy Gunderson

The necessities for sleeping outside include: a warm sleeping bag, pad, headlamp, a tarp, and maybe a bottle of water. When sleeping outside it is important to take into account the tricky weather patterns, as they are ever changing. Some people choose to simply burrito themselves into a tarp, creating a bivy to evade rain. That method is not very effective if the goal is to stay dry. Especially if an opening is left for air flow. Others may decide to build a rock fort and or use existing nunatak infrastructure in order to stay dry. Rock forts are awesome when dressed with a tarp roof. Tarps with little to no holes are preferred for donning roofs considering they allow less precipitation to seep through. The more extravagant the rock fort, the more time consuming and laborious it is to build. Precision stacking is imperative; no one wants a rock to crush them while they are trying to sleep.  Expect about four to six thirty minute sessions of collecting and finagling about a ton of rocks into place to create a sturdy rock fortress. It is important to make sure that the rocks can withstand pressure coming from both sides, otherwise the structure is not terribly safe to slumber within. 

Tarp tent trial 4: The rock fort at camp 10 took many nights and attempts to perfect. By connecting some cord to rocks with a bowline knot and creating tension, a tarp that repelled precipitation was fashioned. People from left to right: James O’Neil, Olivia Eads, and Tadhg Moore. Photo credit: Jeffy Gunderson.

Tarp tent trial 4: The rock fort at camp 10 took many nights and attempts to perfect. By connecting some cord to rocks with a bowline knot and creating tension, a tarp that repelled precipitation was fashioned. People from left to right: James O’Neil, Olivia Eads, and Tadhg Moore. Photo credit: Jeffy Gunderson.

The Juneau Icefield is constantly evolving and there are not many things better in life than existing upon a nunatak. I implore those who have not considered sleeping outside to do so even if rain is imminent. The pitter-pats created on the tarp are one of the most beautiful lullabies sung by the rain. By creating a sound structure and keeping in mind where the water will go during a storming event one can stay dry, warm, and relatively happy.  Insects, birds, and rodents are another reality of sleeping outside and should be respected as we are merely guests in their territory. Just a heads up: there is no morning wake up when camping out. That means that either your internal clock must be on point, or an alarm is necessary, especially when staying by yourself. If sleeping alone, make sure that at least one person knows where your camp is located, for if you happen to snooze through breakfast, a personalized wake up from a friend across camp is much appreciated. .

These are the many aspects to consider when sleeping on the rocks. The next rock fortress to come at camp 18 should be more impressive than camp 10. Stay tuned.

Taku Terminus

Taku Terminus

Mickey Mackie, Harvard University

Isabel Suhr, Lewis and Clark College

Mickey:

The rotors picked up speed with a deafening roar. I felt a wobble, and the helicopter was lifted into the air. Isabel and I were on our way to the Taku Terminus to assist a research team with field work. I was in the front seat. The window stretched to the floor and I could see the Taku Glacier beneath my feet. Camp 10 disappeared in the distance.

We flew low to the ground and crossed over the section we skied across to get to Camp 10. It was now streaked with ice and crevasses.

Crevasses on the Taku Glacier. Photo: Isabel Suhr

Crevasses on the Taku Glacier. Photo: Isabel Suhr

A wondrous sight appeared on the horizon: trees, thousands of them. I basked in the magnificence of the first greenery I’d seen in weeks. I was still in shock when we touched down in camp, our home for the next week.

Isabel:

Camp life at the Taku Terminus field camp was very different from life on JIRP. Instead of a permanent camp, we each had a small tent to sleep in, plus a large communal tent for cooking and one for gear storage. We camped just past the terminus of the glacier, on flat exposed sediment between Taku Inlet and the outlet streams from the Taku Glacier. It was very strange to be among plants again! 

Camp at the Taku terminus. Photo: Mickey MacKie

Camp at the Taku terminus. Photo: Mickey MacKie

There were thirteen people at camp including Mickey and I, and we worked on a variety of different projects on the Taku terminus. Jason Amundson, from University of Alaska Southeast, was in charge of the camp, and the other scientists were all from UAS or University of Alaska Fairbanks. In addition to the scientists, Jason’s wife and four-year-old-daughter were at camp, which made our mornings and evenings really fun.

Mickey:

15,000 lbs of gear, a glacier, and three crazy scientists are what you need to drill a borehole in the ice. Martin Truffer from University of Alaska Fairbanks led the operation. The boreholes were made using pressurized steam. Water was heated in a container called the hot tub and was fed through a tube into the hole.

Lowering a camera down the borehole. Photo: Mickey MacKie

Lowering a camera down the borehole. Photo: Mickey MacKie

These holes can be used to get sediment samples, do dye tests, or study glacier deformation. Martin put a camera in the hole, and we were able to see a subglacial stream. It was exciting to see how technology is used to learn more about glaciers.

Isabel:

The project Mickey and I did the most work for was a seismic survey. Jenna, a grad student from UAF, was the lead on the project and Mickey and I, and another undergrad from UAF, were field assistants.

Seismics are a good way to get information about the bottom of a glacier and what is below it. To do a seismic survey you need seismic waves to measure, whether they are from an earthquake or from a manmade explosion. We used a Betsy gun, which fires blank shotgun shells. To create the seismic waves, we bored a hole a half a meter or so into the ice, then placed the Betsy gun in the hole. To fire it, we hit the top of the gun with a sledgehammer, which then fired the blank at the bottom of the hole, creating seismic waves. It was quite the explosion!

To get information from the Betsy gun explosions, we used two types of instruments to measure the seismic waves we created—geophones and geopebbles. Both are seismometers: they measure vibrations in the ground. The geophones are single-component seismometers, which means they have one sensor to measure seismic waves. The geophones then all connect to a cable, which relays their information back to a computer. The geopebbles are a little different: they are three-component seismometers, so with their three sensors they can track the direction of movement of the seismic waves. They also have a built-in GPS and can transfer information wirelessly. We used a combination of geophones, for dense sampling over the point of interest, and geopebbles, for measurements farther from the shot locations.

Mickey placing the geophones. Photo: Isabel Suhr

Mickey placing the geophones. Photo: Isabel Suhr

Over the three days Mickey and I helped with the project, we started by checking out the seismic line we planned to use, then placed the geophones and geopebbles in the ice, then finally fired shots from the Betsy gun at intervals along the line. It was pretty cold and wet work, but we really enjoyed getting a chance to see what conducting a seismic survey was like!

 

Mickey:

Through mud, over moraine, to the ice we strode.

We went in a line – I was at the end of the row.

I walked across what seemed like solid ground

And found myself shifted several feet down.

I felt the ooze seep into my pants

And realized that I was stuck in quicksand.

As I stood immobilized in that murky pool,

All I could think was, “This is so cool!”

Strong arms grabbed me, and with many a tug

I was finally lifted out of that mud.

Dear reader: if in quicksand you ever should fall,

I hope that unlike mine, your pants don’t have a hole.

Post-quicksand. Photo: Isabel Suhr

Post-quicksand. Photo: Isabel Suhr

Isabel:

Getting back to JIRP from the terminus turned into quite an adventure. After a day of weather delays, we changed plans to go through Juneau on the way back to Camp 10 rather than straight to Camp 18. To get to Juneau, we got a lift from Brian, a very kind airboat operator, across the inlet to his airboat base, where he had a helicopter of tourists coming in from Juneau. The airboat ride was amazing—since it has a giant fan instead of an outboard motor, we could go into very shallow water without risking running aground. On the way back to the airboat base, we took a look up the Norris River to the Norris Glacier, which had a calving front. It was very cool to see the icebergs and hanging blocks of ice that were about to fall! We took another look at the calving front from the air on the helicopter ride back to Juneau too.

Isabel in the airboat. Photo: Mickey MacKie

Isabel in the airboat. Photo: Mickey MacKie

The calving front from the air. Photo: Isabel Suhr

The calving front from the air. Photo: Isabel Suhr

Being in Juneau was strange—we had gotten so used to life on the icefield that being in civilization again was a shock. Luckily, after a few hours we could get on a helicopter to Camp 10 to rejoin our friends!

Serendipitous Disconnect

Serendipitous Disconnect

Ella Keenan – University of Wisconsin- Eau Claire

Rachel Medaugh – University of Miami

Joel Wilner – Middlebury College

 

“There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after”- The Hobbit

Looking out from Camp 8 (Photo Credit: Scott Braddock)

Looking out from Camp 8 (Photo Credit: Scott Braddock)

An important part of our search was the time we spent at Camp 8. There’s something special about that single roomed building in the middle of nowhere. It’s not the fact that four JIRPers were sent up Mt. Moore for the seemingly useless purpose of radioing between camps that can’t actually hear each other, nor the white mold growing near your head while you sleep, nor the creepy voodoo doll of “Lucifer” hanging above the identically named furnace. And it’s certainly not the 70mph winds knocking you off your feet if you ever feel the need to venture outside. Although all of those things do add a certain uniqueness to the experience, there is something more profound that makes Camp 8 special.

Camp 8 is riddled with the reflections of years of JIRPers who had nothing but time to sit and think. Here is the place where you lose and find yourself, where you break from your usual existence to put on the cloak of another. Whether it be breaking from your inhibitions and sitting on the roof in 60 plus mph winds, drinking hot Tang in an age-old JIRP tradition, or basking in the glory of the view from Mt. Moore, not worried about how you’ll get down in those 60mph winds or other worldly obscurities. You can be happy for a few breaths because you just feel free, there in the moment.

An important part of our search was the time we spent at Camp 8. There’s something special about that single roomed building in the middle of nowhere. It’s not the fact that four JIRPers were sent up Mt. Moore for the seemingly useless purpose of radioing between camps that can’t actually hear each other, nor the white mold growing near your head while you sleep, nor the creepy voodoo doll of “Lucifer” hanging above the identically named furnace. And it’s certainly not the 70mph winds knocking you off your feet if you ever feel the need to venture outside. Although all of those things do add a certain uniqueness to the experience, there is something more profound that makes Camp 8 special.

Camp 8 is riddled with the reflections of years of JIRPers who had nothing but time to sit and think. Here is the place where you lose and find yourself, where you break from your usual existence to put on the cloak of another. Whether it be breaking from your inhibitions and sitting on the roof in 60 plus mph winds, drinking hot Tang in an age-old JIRP tradition, or basking in the glory of the view from Mt. Moore, not worried about how you’ll get down in those 60mph winds or other worldly obscurities. You can be happy for a few breaths because you just feel free, there in the moment.

Ella and Rachel at the top of Mt. Moore (Photo Credit: Scott Braddock)

Ella and Rachel at the top of Mt. Moore (Photo Credit: Scott Braddock)

On the moon, the Apollo astronauts had only each other and the distant view of their home. All of human experience lay before their eyes, and from a heavenly post they calmly observed. But they were not isolated from humankind; rather, they achieved fuller human experience in their shared serendipitous disconnect.

Camp 8 crew enjoying the sunset from the roof.  (Photo Credit: Scott Braddock)

Camp 8 crew enjoying the sunset from the roof.  (Photo Credit: Scott Braddock)

Here too, at Camp 8, we leave behind our society: the friends we’ve made and have grown close to on the Icefield. We may simply gaze upon the land where we’ve grown close to one another, separated by a ferocious void of wind and space. As we few at Camp 8 support each other in our isolation, we grow closer as human beings. When we return to the rest of JIRP from Camp 8, itself a microcosm of how JIRP relates to the rest of the world, we will return with the knowledge that splendid remoteness is as essential to survival as food, water, or air.

  Last night at Camp 8 (Photo Credit: Ella Keenan)

 

Last night at Camp 8 (Photo Credit: Ella Keenan)