Staff at the Lemon Creek trailhead, ready to hike up to Camp 17 for safety training and mountaineering skills review. Students arrive June 23rd, less than a week away!
Director of Academics and Research
Today is a special day on the JIRP calendar. As you read this, the 2017 JIRP staff team – with excitement for the new field season despite the weather – is hiking to Camp 17 for “Staff Week”. These 12 days of opening JIRP’s first main camp, wilderness first aid training, glacier travel/rescue training, and (let’s be honest) at least a few runs on the Ptarmigan Glacier to test skis and snow conditions, kicks off the field season. It establishes more than physical goals and hard skills, however. The culture, community and camaraderie of JIRP 2017 begin to form today. While each season is unique, there are threads of commonality that span the many generations of JIRP field seasons and individual JIRPers. One of the most powerful threads in each field season is that of mentorship.
We’ve done quite a number of short pieces on JIRP history in recent years (see some of them here, here and here), but a component of JIRP that hasn’t been communicated in particular is the long history of mentorship. Post-JIRP, students regularly comment on the value of having tremendous access to inspiring staff members and faculty. The often cheek-by-jowl conditions of a JIRP camp, skiing for hours in a driving rain, discussion of ideas, problems and dreams allow for JIRP students to get to know one another well. These moments, however, are also shared with faculty and staff, moments that have been shared on the Juneau Icefield for decades. The JIRP story begins in the 1940s, but a chain of mentorship can be traced back in time even further.
John Muir first ventured to Alaska in 1879 for the first of his fabled canoe journeys through southeast Alaska. He wasn’t the first to journey here, as western sailors had been poking into the bays and fjords of southeast Alaska since Chirikov’s voyage of 1741, and the Tlingit people had called this part of the world home for many thousands of years prior. Muir’s 1879 voyage, however, did initiate a western investigation of the glaciers of southeast Alaska, enabled by his Tlingit guides.
On a subsequent trip to southeast Alaska in 1890, Muir spent time in Glacier Bay with Harry Fielding Reid and a team of scientists investigating the dynamics of Muir Glacier. Reid’s subsequent Variations of Glaciers work would be a foundational effort for the World Glacier Monitoring Service of today. One of the individuals that Reid mentored and inspired was William O. (Bill) Field, known as one of the founders of modern glaciological study in North America. For his 1941 expedition to southeast Alaska, Field inquired with Bradford and Barbara Washburn in looking for a capable field assistant.The Washburns pointed him to Maynard Miller, a Harvard undergraduate who had been on their expedition to Mount Bertha the previous year. Field and Miller’s shared field experiences in 1941 and subsequent years gave rise to this important new direction to explain glacier behavior:
After a few years of aerial reconnaissance and further investigation of the termini of glaciers of southeast Alaska, followed by a first exploration of the “high ice” of the Juneau Icefield in 1948, JIRP the annual field expedition began in 1949. It has continued ever since, and this chain of mentorship has been ongoing, from Field and Miller, to individuals such as Ed LaChapelle, Austin Post, Kurt Cuffey, Christina Hulbe, Steven Squyres, Kate Harris, Alison Criscitiello and many hundreds more. From this annual traverse of the Juneau Icefield, dreams, careers, adventures are launched.
It is challenging to keep track of the inspiring work that recent JIRP alumni are taking on, let alone the many hundreds who have come before them. A part of this inspiration has come from interactions with JIRP mentors: the long ski traverses filled with academic discussions, songs, and stories; the hardships and smiles shared in the field and back at camp; the guidance during the season and in the years that follow. With this view back at the long chain of mentorship through many decades of exploration of the icy corners of southeast Alaska, it is exciting to think of the JIRP staff of 2017. Slowly making their way to Camp 17 today, hiking in the literal and figurative footsteps of the many hundreds before, they are setting in motion the foundational community of JIRP 2017 - the community of staff, faculty and students that will continue this chain.
Note: Thanks to Bruce Molnia for being a JIRP mentor of mine and for pointing out the linkages back in time from Mal Miller, to Bill Field, to Harry Reid, and to John Muir.
Senior Staff and Faculty
Next up in our staff spotlights, Nigel Krumdieck. By way of introduction, Nigel is our mechanic. He hails from Averill Park, NY (just east of Albany) and this summer will be his second on the icefield. Nigel is the younger brother of longtime JIRPer Newt Krumdieck; he came to us last summer to fill a vacancy on the maintenance staff. Much of icefield life was new to Nigel but he jumped into the expedition with great enthusiasm. After a few less coordinated attempts on borrowed skis, including one day when he skied over his own hand, telemark skiing especially grabbed his attention.
Nigel exploring the inside of a crevasse on the Juneau Icefield in 2016 during a rare moment when there was no work to be done on the snow machines. Photo credit: Annie Zaccarin.
Telemark skis, with an unattached heel like cross country skis, allow JIRPers to cover flat, downhill, and uphill terrain on the same set of equipment. Though everyone uses telemark skis, time constraints during JIRP ski training prohibit many first-time skiers from learning the true telemark turn. The telemark turn is easily recognized because it relies on raising the inside heel and dropping the inside knee to bring the skis around. It is somewhat more difficult to master than the more mainstream alpine turn, where the heels are attached.
Matty Miller (student, 2016) skis across flat terrain with the aid of his free heel. Most of the topography on the icefield traverse, out in the middle of the glaciers, is flat. Telemark skis allow us to easily transition between field work out on the glacier and the inevitable climb up to our camps on the nunataks and hills above the ice. Photo credit: Tristan Amaral.
Upon his return to New York and full-time work as a car mechanic, and with winter approaching, Nigel set himself to the task of “shredding” the mountain. He built up quite the quiver of skis between his JIRP contacts, some work on craigslist, and teaching himself to mount ski bindings in the garage. To learn to execute smooth telemark turns, Nigel consulted other JIRPers, a telemark ski book, a couple chairlift companions, and several YouTube videos. Telemark skiing involves weighting the skis properly, timing the forward movement of the outside ski, and getting the hang of keeping the upper body pointed downhill while the lower body twists into the turn. Nigel reports that the key is to get the inside knee “much lower” than one would first guess, as this makes it “practically impossible to not carve”.
Nigel gets his inside, right knee almost as low as possible. His dropped knee is the telltale sign of the telemark turn. Photo credit: Newt Krumdieck.
Thankfully, this winter the northeast had periods of ample snow. After work and on weekends, Nigel has been able to ski frequently in the Berkshires, southern Vermont, and the Catskills. He reports that the very best day of backcountry skiing was during the Valentine’s Day storm when the Berkshires got a couple feet of snow. Nigel’s hard work, natural athleticism, and extensive research have allowed him to get the hang of telemarking relatively quickly. He began learning to telemark ski in December; now, in March, he often skis off trail through the trees and is working on perfecting his 360 on the his telemark trick skis.
While the winter ski season has wrapped up, Nigel has a lot to look forward to. He has his eye on a more aggressive pair of boots for next winter, but in the near future he is excited to head back to the icefield. With his own skis and a better idea of the terrain to be explored on the icefield, Nigel is excited for the 2017 JIRP season to get started. As both new and returning members of the JIRP tribe turn their attention to the approaching traverse, we can all look forward to spending our days shredding the glaciers of Alaska, or at least learning to not ski over our own hands.
The JIRP staff go for a sunset ski after a full day of safety training and field work at Camp 17. Video credit: Chris Miele.
Evan Koncewicz, Junior Staff
The purpose of the pre-season blog entries is to give readers an idea of what goes on behind the scenes to make the field season happen, as well as what the incoming students can expect in the upcoming months. The JIRP staff are critical components of both pieces- they spend significant time getting everything up and running before the students arrive; once the students arrive, they work day in and day out as guides for every aspect of the traverse. We at JIRP hope the program continues to affect the lives of our participants after everyone goes home in August. This entry, and some of those that will follow, are meant to illustrate that hope with examples from the 2017 staff. I solicited blog entries about trips and projects staffers have undertaken over the winter. These “staff spotlights” show just a few ways JIRP has inspired people to seek out new skills and adventures, and how these experiences then inform their work when they return to the Icefield.
There is a feeling I get when I am outside. It goes beyond the subjectivity of my mental state. Yes, I feel healthy, athletic, exhilarated, peaceful, and confident when I am outside. Beyond that, however, I am more focused on different sensations than I am on what I perceive in my mind. What I really feel are the things around me. The temperature, wind, humidity, smell, sunshine, precipitation. I get a feeling of the world around me.
Overlooking Punta Union, 4750m (15584 ft.). Clouds clear to give us some brief warmth from the sun. Moments later sharp winds carry cold rain from the resurging clouds. Photo credit: Evan Koncewicz
Last fall, I did something I’ve never done before; I traveled outside the United States. I did this without the comfort of my family, my culture, or my language. I left to backpack with a couple JIRP friends for three weeks in Peru. I had a lot of backpacking experience, especially recently coming off a six-week period on an icefield in a temperate rain forest. I have spent a good amount of time in the mountains and even took Spanish throughout high school. I did my research and, with some logistical and vaccine help from mom, was soon boarding a plane to Lima.
Even within the relative familiarity of camping, Peru presents some new experiences. Photo credit: Tanner Pelletier
Peru is very different from the lands I am used to - the Northeastern U.S., Wyoming, and Southeast Alaska. Parts of Peruvian culture and geography are completely foreign to me. The coast is super dry. Weather almost never comes from the Pacific like it does on the west coast of the US. Lima is pretty hazy and polluted, causing us to breathe heavily. Streets are scattered with colectivos, oversized minivans that transport locals who are packed shoulder to shoulder and sitting on top of each other in order to cheaply get across the city. However, when you get away from the cultural epicenters created by man and out into the backcountry, Peru feels familiar.
The drier climate of the Peruvian Andes reminds me of Wyoming in the summer. Hiking trails zig-zag up mountain sides that lead to summits. As clouds roll in, so do humidity and thunder, which sounds the same as it always does at home. Rain pitter patters against the rain fly of my tent as I fall asleep. Glaciers are scattered across the higher peaks, leaving cold glacially-fed lakes below them. The water is a familiar shock to the body when you jump in, and the sun’s radiation is a relieving warmth. Traveling on glaciers is the same: ice crunches under our crampons as we manage the rope to get around crevasses. Sunsets are breathtaking and unforgettable, as are the summit views on the top of peaks.
Former JIRP staffers Tristan Amaral and Kirsten Arnell (2014-2016) and current staffer Evan celebrate on the summit of Vallunaraju in the Cordillera Blanca. Photo: Evan Koncewicz
I tell friends and family that the most memorable experience of the trip was not the cool backcountry exploring I did, but trying to negotiate the streets in Peru. It was the things that I was unfamiliar with that made the trip, the experiences I had never an opportunity to feel before. The ability to see and live in a culture so different from my own was eye opening, humbling, and special. The backcountry I have felt before. Those proper practices and techniques are transferable and I can adjust them to any environment. Those skills allow me to explore, play, learn, and most importantly to be safe.
The rugged terrain and intense isolation make it surprising to find small town likes this one. Many JIRPers feel the same way when they finish the hike to our icefield first camp! A friend admires the colectivo that brought us over the mountain pass in Vaqueria, Peru. Photo: Evan Koncewicz
As a field staffer at JIRP, my job is to facilitate exposure to experiences unfamiliar to many of our students: icefield life and glacier travel. We always hope JIRP students enjoy the process of stepping outside their comfort zones. I hope I can use my memories of traveling through Peru to make the newness of the icefield as exciting and enjoyable as possible.
The hardships of heavy packs and persistent rain do have their benefits. Camping below Punta Union on the Santa Cruz Trek as the sun sets behind the clouds. Photo: Evan Koncewicz
By Annie Boucher and the student alumni of 2015 and 2016
Students usually come to JIRP for either the science education or the promise of adventure (or both). With 16-hour days and seven day weeks spent pursuing both, we hope most leave with a good taste of whatever they sought. At the end of August, however, when students talk about what they’re most going to miss about JIRP, they tend to look to the people. While we all have more science and more adventure in our futures, saying goodbye to the expedition team is difficult. JIRPers are extraordinary people, and every summer they seem to form a community that is unusual in its acceptance, its support, and its ability to challenge its members to be their best selves.
While every season brings its particular quirks and inside jokes, the program is run along lines of decades-old traditions and surprisingly durable culture. These traditions and culture bind together the JIRP family across years - certainly at any Earth Science conference one will find a group of JIRPers, but they tend to come out of the woodwork on buses, in foreign countries, and, once, the father of a friend whose house I happened to visit for dinner.
This year’s students are taking their first steps towards joining the JIRP family. Soon enough we’ll be steeping them in the well worn adages that provide structure to every icefield traverse: Nature is screaming at you! - Always ski in the snow machine track. - No coupling. - Our priorities, in order, are: look good; look good; go big; look good; safety; and (last) personal hygiene! - Beware the center of the Llewellyn Glacier! - Whatever happens on your traverse, it’s not as bad as the crew that bivvied on the ridge for three days in a white out! - Always carry your ten essentials! - Tape your feet as soon as you feel a hot spot!
As a first step towards welcoming the 2017 crew into the wide open, often smelly, and usually sunburnt arms of the JIRP family, the students of 2015 and 2016 offer up the following advice for preparing and packing for JIRP.
Warning: A few things on this list are contradictory, and many come down to personal preference. Perhaps the first lesson of the Icefield is that there isn’t always one good or right answer, and the only way to figure out what works for you is to jump in and be ready to learn by experience.
Are you a previous JIRPer or an intrepid adventurer with advice for the JIRP 2017 cohort? Please chime in on JIRP's social channels with your suggestions for those things that a JIRPer should be sure to have along for the expedition.
The individuals that comprise JIRP's field staff are in many ways the heart and soul of each summer. This talented crew is the team that is present throughout the eight-week season, lead safety and logistical training for the students and faculty, lead trail parties and research teams as they traverse the Juneau Icefield, and perhaps most importantly they model what it means to be a JIRPer. In short, they enable everything that happens on the Icefield, and do so in a manner that fosters the incredible community of JIRP. We are fortunate to have such a phenomenal staff team for JIRP 2017!
Newt Krumdieck (Operations Manager):
First a JIRP student in 2008, I immediately felt a deep and unquestioning connection to the people and places that JIRP brought together. Since then I have been returning as a member of the field staff most years since 2010, playing roles ranging from safety staff to carpenter to operations manager. I graduated from Colby College with a degree in Geology, and worked for several years in the sciences, doing research and field work for the NY state geological survey, and then teaching earth science to middle schoolers. Currently I work as a carpenter/woodworker, and spend as much time as I can in the outdoors hiking, biking, skiing, motorcycling, and travelling. JIRP to me is about the ultimate combination of learning, the environment, and most importantly the community. Getting a chance to share these aspects with folks each summer is a privilege I do not take lightly, and continue to enjoy immensely.
Ibai Rico (Safety Manager):
I have been the safety lead and mountain guide at JIRP since 2015. I've been a climber and skier from a young age and now have several new ice climbing routes in Patagonia and the Himalayas. When I am not at JIRP I work as a mountain guide in the Pyrenees, Alps, Norway and the Greater Caucasus. I also deliver snow/avalanche, expedition logistics and risk management courses. I combine my mountain guide activity with carrying out glaciology research in the glaciers of the Pyrenees and Tierra del Fuego (Glacier Change, Glacial Geomorphology, Permafrost and Geo-Hazards). My last expedition to the Chilean Patagonia was focused on exploring the Cloue Icefield; understanding glacier change and ascending the unclimbed summits in an expedition sponsored by the National Geographic Society.
Guiding JIRP has been one of the most fulfilling experiences; the combination of Nature, Books and Action makes it a completely unique and unforgettable experience for every person in the program.
Annie Boucher (Assistant Operations Manager):
My name is Annie Boucher, and I first came to JIRP as a student in 2012. I grew up in Brooklyn, NY, got my B.A. in Geology at Carleton College in 2011, and I'm finishing up my M.Sc. at the University of Maine modeling Alaskan tectonics and glacial erosion. This will be my sixth season on the icefield; in the past I've worked as field staff, taught science communication, and collected field data for my master's research. This season I'll be assisting with logistics and operations management, helping the new staff jump into the swing of things, and filling a couple part-time roles on the faculty. I've been leading trips and working in outdoor education for fourteen years, and I keep coming back to it for the same reasons I return to JIRP: few things in this world give me as much joy as working with a group of motivated and passionate people bent on exploring the big wide world.
Sarah Gotwals (Juneau Logistics Manager):
I am very excited to be returning to Jueanu for summer 2017 for the second time. I was a JIRP student in 2015, and spent last summer working as a logistics coordinator at the Colorado Outward Bound School. Originally from Massachusetts, I graduated from Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota this past May (2016). I am interested in everything that "makes science happen" and can't wait to be on the ground with Mary ensuring a safe, productive, and (most importantly) fun summer.
Lara Hughes-Allen (Senior Staff):
In the summer of 2015, I participated in JIRP as a student and returned in the summer of 2016 as field safety staff and helped lead the GPS survey effort. In the winter, I coach the Alpine race team at Northstar California Ski Resort in Lake Tahoe, CA. I enjoy backcountry skiing, hiking, and backpacking with my dog Boomer.
I graduated from the University of Southern California in 2016 with a Master’s degree in Geographic Information Science. My thesis focused on using remote sensing analysis to quantify changes in the Taku Glacier, specifically equilibrium line altitude, accumulation area ratio, and total glacier surface area from 1973-2015. The goal of this research was to look at how in situ monitoring might be underestimating total glacier loss resulting from anthropogenic climate change. I graduated from Pitzer College in 2011 with a double major in Environmental Biology and Geology.
Annika Ord (Senior Staff):
I grew up floating between Juneau and my family's remote cabin on the Chilkat peninsula. Exploring and learning from wild places and the people who make their homes there is what I love most. JIRP is a beautiful blend of this -- full of deep belly laughter, immense snowscapes, and inspired learning.
I am super stoked to return for my third season as staff and am particularly excited to continue helping the botany and mass balance research groups and to lead field sketching expeditions!
When not romping around the icefield with JIRP, you can find me commercial fishing with my dad, sketching a tree, snorkeling in kelp, or trekking around the mountains of Southeast Alaska. To check out (or submit to!) the environmental feminist Selkie Zine I co-created, visit: cargocollective.com/selkiezine
Allie Strel (Senior Staff):
My name is Allie Strel and I hail from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. These days I am living in Munich, Germany where I am completing my master’s degree in Cartography with a side interest in cryospheric sciences. My student experience at JIRP in 2015 had me certain that I wanted to come back to the icefield and I am excited to be joining the team again this year for my second season as safety staff. I can’t wait to see some familiar JIRP faces and to meet all of this year’s new students. When I’m not at JIRP (and not being a thesis-hermit) you might find me telemarking somewhere in the Alps, flying my kite on a mountain peak, cooking up a mad curry, or inflicting my terrible German on the locals.
Danielle Beaty (Field Staff):
I grew up in the rainy city where hipsters roam (Portland, OR), then made my way to the University of Colorado Boulder where I received degrees in geography and ecology/evolutionary biology. After doing JIRP as a student in 2014, I returned to school to complete an honors thesis on mass balance of glaciers on the Juneau Icefield. I also decided I had had enough of Colorado lift lines and ski traffic so I moved to Juneau, Alaska where I became a glacier/kayak guide. I am thrilled to return to the icefield as staff this summer, and I am excited to have the opportunity to make as great an experience as I had on JIRP for the students this year. I most look forward to seeing all the creative ways students make the otherwise abysmal pilot bread an enjoyable snack with various toppings, and am equally excited for pit talks in the bottom of several meter deep mass balance pits. When I am not JIRPing you’ll most likely find me backcountry skiing the AK pow, ski patrolling, climbing, or wishing there was some way I could own my spirit animal - an orca whale - as a pet.
Evan Koncewicz (Field Staff):
Hello! My name is Evan and I am originally from Upstate New York, right down the street from Newt. I was a JIRP student last year in 2016 and loved it so much I came back as staff! JIRP is a truly unique experience, and personally reminded me of the power of place-based education. I graduated from St Lawrence University in 2015 receiving a BS in Geology. Since graduating I have taught environmental education and skiing in Jackson WY, done JIRP, traveled to Peru, and substitute taught. I enjoy being outside, skiing, exploring the Tetons, following current events, learning, and telling lame jokes. I am super excited to meet you all and share an amazing summer on the ice!
Mo Michels (Field Staff):
My name is Mo. I’m 22 years young. Last year I participated in JIRP as a student and am beyond thrilled to have the opportunity to come back as part of the 2017 staff team. I grew up in the small town of Talkeetna, AK (a town that truly believed in the maxim, it takes a village to raise a child) where I first learned the value of community. What has drawn me back to JIRP is a similar sense of community – it takes every JIRPer for a mass balance survey – if you don’t know what I mean by this yet you will at the end of the summer.
Over the past five years Juneau, AK has become home. Working winters as a downhill and cross-country ski instructor and getting a bachelors degree in geography and environmental resources. In past summers, I have zipline guided, worked extensively in tourism, and counted salmon for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. I enjoy long treks through the woods, up mountains, and on the water. I am inspired by the look in peoples eyes when they achieve that ‘ah-ha’ moment after they were willing to struggle, to practice, to recognize their strengths and weaknesses, to adapt, and to grow, all just to learn something new.
I look forward to meeting, working and growing with all of you who will create the JIRP community this coming field season!
Mike Staron (Field Staff):
My name is Mike Staron currently from Bend, Oregon. I was a student on JIRP in 2014 and fell in love with the icefield. While not JIRPing I enjoy traveling around the world with other JIRPers in beautiful places in South America. Since participating in JIRP the first time I have developed an obsession with skiing so I converted a van and have been living in it on and off for the past year or so, skiing and climbing around the country (#notanothervan). I’m spending the spring before JIRP attempting to climb/ski all the Cascade volcanoes. I have a B.S. in geology from Keene State College in New Hampshire. For the past two years I have been working on Mount St. Helens as a guide/educator leading people on backpacking trips and to the top of the mountain while teaching them the local geology/ecology. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for JIRP. I can’t wait to help make this the best JIRP season yet!
JIRP Senior Staff and Faculty Member
Welcome to the Juneau Icefield Research Program blog! We’re gearing up for the new season: students will soon be connecting with staff mentors to navigate expedition preparation, staff are making plans for staff training week in June, and faculty are sketching out plans for student research projects.
At this time of year, when our new students are preparing for the field season, we know there are a lot of people getting to know JIRP (pronounced “jerp”) for the first time. In the coming weeks, we will use this blog to give you a taste of who will be involved in the expedition this summer, what all goes into expedition prep, and some background on a few of the returning JIRPers who make everything happen. Over the course of the field season - June through August - we will use the blog to post daily updates from the field about what we’re up to. Students will post photos, essays, drawings, and video clips covering both the science research and the day-to-day mechanics of moving more than 50 people across the Icefield.
We have a lot to look forward to! To start, though, here’s a quick and dirty overview of what’s about to happen.
What is JIRP?
JIRP is an expedition-based field science education program. Over two months, we traverse the Juneau Icefield in southeast Alaska and northwest British Columbia, moving between permanent camps while we teach a variety of field research and glacier science topics. Because we are living right on the glacier, JIRP students are immersed in their studies. They don’t just learn about glacier ice flow from a textbook, they go out onto the glacier and explore the real-life markers of flow dynamics from the ice surface, from inside crevasses, from under the ice in sub-glacial caves, and from the bird’s eye view atop nearby mountains. JIRP students spend every waking minute soaking up their surroundings; this leads to a deeper understanding of the environment than any student could get inside the classroom.
Who makes up the JIRP team?
There are three groups of people at JIRP: students, staff, and faculty. At any given time, there are 50-60 people participating in the expedition. Our students are mostly undergraduates, although we often have high schoolers, graduate students, and in-between-schools students as well. Our students come from schools across the U.S. and around the world. Everything that happens at JIRP revolves around student education. This summer we expect to have 32 students, all of whom will be part of the program for the whole field season.
Our staff facilitate field safety and expedition logistics. The Icefield-based field staff spend the first two weeks of the program teaching the students and new faculty required glacier safety skills. For the rest of the season they manage our camps and accompany every group that goes out onto the ice to oversee technical mountaineering challenges and take care of any first aid needs. The Juneau-based staff organize personnel, equipment, and groceries for our helicopters, as well as maintaining daily radio communication with the expedition. This summer JIRP has 12 staff members on the Icefield and two in Juneau, all of whom will work for the whole season.
Our faculty are researchers, professors, graduate students, journalists, medical doctors, and other professionals. While their backgrounds vary, they share a deep commitment to education and expertise in a field relevant to the Juneau Icefield. They are on the program primarily to teach and while they’re with the expedition all their work includes JIRP students. Faculty rotate throughout the summer; most weeks there are between 5 and 10 faculty members on the icefield.
When does JIRP happen?
JIRP is a summer program. Our team is in the field from mid-June through mid-August. The program has been running on this schedule every year since 1949. For more on the history of JIRP, check out our history page and stayed tuned for some JIRP legends to be posted to the blog this spring and throughout the summer.
Where are we working?
The Juneau Icefield is one of the largest icefields in North America at 3,700 square kilometers, covering an area a bit larger than the state of Rhode Island. An icefield is a collection of several contiguous glaciers that flow more or less outward from an area of high snow accumulation. The ice surface of an icefield is low enough that the glaciers flow around, not over, the highest mountains (distinguishing it from an ice cap). The Juneau Icefield straddles the border between southeast Alaska and northwest British Columbia. The western side of the Juneau Icefield abuts the city of Juneau, AK - our students begin their traverse hiking just beyond the Home Depot parking lot. In contrast to many icefields of a similar size, proximity to Juneau makes the logistics of JIRP relatively easy.
JIRP maintains several permanent camps across the Icefield; we are based out of these for most of the summer. Our large camps include bunk room housing for all 50-60 members of the expedition, cooking facilities, outhouses, generators, and lecture space. All permanent structures are built on the bare rocky hilltops above the flowing glaciers. The buildings are modest and space is sometimes tight, but it makes all the difference for us to be able to get out of the weather at the end of the day.
Why study the Juneau Icefield?
People study the Juneau Icefield for a host of reasons. Geologists seek information about the complicated tectonic and geologic history of Alaska. Biologists examine the flora and fauna of the rocky mountain islands isolated by the flowing ice. Physicists use seismic data to look into the ice itself to understand how the glaciers flow.
Glaciers are also a “hot topic” right now because of climate change. Glaciers form and flow in areas where annual snow accumulation is high enough that substantial snowpack survives the summer. Because they rely on the snowpack, glaciers are sensitive to two central pieces of climate: temperature and precipitation. Measuring and observing different aspects of glaciers can tell us about past and present trends in temperature and precipitation. Climate research is a central component of the JIRP curriculum, but it is far from the only topic we cover.
That’s all we’ve got for now. Blog posts will be published periodically this spring and almost daily during the summer on every aspect of working and living on the Juneau Icefield. In the meantime, we hope this gives new students, their friends and family a basic idea of what to expect in the coming months.
Kellie Schaefer, Michigan Technological University
One of the best ways to document a specific person, place, or thing is to compose a field sketch. Field sketches are extremely useful on the icefield for a number of reasons. They help to create a record for future analysis. For example, a field sketch of a specific icefall or cirque glacier can be compared with another field sketch or photograph from a different time to see how much change has occurred. In addition to providing an image, field sketches include a set of notes describing who did the sketch, where they were, what the weather conditions were, when they composed the sketch, and why they decided to sketch a particular subject. Unlike a photograph, these specific details can be included for future reference. Field sketches also help the composer to record their memories of the subject that they are sketching. Much more time, effort, and observation are put into a field sketch than into a photograph. Little details must be taken into account. The scale of the sketch must be proportionate to the actual object. This forces the composer of the sketch to deeply analyze the “big picture”.
This aspect of analyzing the “big picture” is why I enjoyed field sketching on the icefield so much. Most of the time, I would ski or hike past the most amazing sights I’ve ever seen, and I didn’t take the time to really look at these sights. I would snap a photograph, pause a moment to take in the scenery, and continue on with what I was doing. When I decided to sketch something, it really made me analyze what exactly I was drawing. Where did this rock slope meet the glacier? How was this peak situated with respect to its surroundings? How many cracks were there on the right face of a particular Taku Tower? Little details that I would most likely have overlooked were suddenly seen. I can still go back to my memories of the places I sketched and remember them as if I’d only seen them yesterday. I can still see the bush planes that flew past us on Vesper Peak as a group of students sat on top, quietly contemplating the layout of Camp 17. I can still feel the intense sun that beat down on Camp 10 as I sketched the Taku Towers. Sketching put me into a near meditative state. I would become so fixated on what I was sketching that I couldn’t think about anything else.
While field sketching provides us with a way to compile scientific observations, it also enables us to get a good look at our surroundings and observe the little details that would normally be overlooked. Some people may be thinking that they need to be an artist in order to make a good field sketch. Being an artist is not necessary, because the purpose of a field sketch is not to create a masterpiece, but to record with pencil and paper your experiences and how you are interpreting them.
Sketching a JIRP Field Season
Annika Ord, JIRP Senior Staff Member
Field Sketching and JIRP
Matt Beedle, Director of Academic and Research
At the outset of the eight weeks of JIRP, many participants begrudge the leaving behind of screens and digital connectivity. Strangely, this forced "isolation" feels foreign. But upon emerging in Atlin, it may well be one of the things that we JIRP participants miss most.
Dr. Maynard Miller (JIRP co-founder and long-time director) is famed for saying, and guiding JIRP based on this maxim:
JIRP, however, does a bit more than "bring students into Nature" - it fully immerses students in the wilderness of the northern Coast Mountains. This immersion, I feel, is crucial to the power of JIRP, and the power of wilderness experience in general. Even while immersed in such an experience, however, it's easy to gloss over your surroundings. To take a picture and make a promise to revisit the landscape at a later date (a promise unlikely to come true). In many years with JIRP, and on my travels with family and friends, my only regret is that I didn't slow down even more. Field sketching affords this slowing down, an opportunity to study, admire and learn from the landscape, and also to cache the memory in our internal hard drives for later recollection. Quoting Locke (1989) in their seminal review of "Learning in the Field", Mogk and Goodwin (2012) write:
This slowing down, taking time, and having time is central to the JIRP experience. JIRP has benefited greatly from having artists play an integral role, artists such as Dee Molenaar, Maria Coryell-Martin, Annika Ord, Kellie Shaefer and more. We are excited that field sketching has grown in prominence in recent years under the guidance of Annika, and to announce that the role of art and science communication is set to expand for JIRP 2017 (more on this soon). In the mean time, know that JIRP and its participants aren't the only beneficiaries. Sitting down, breathing, looking, seeing, sketching are available to all. Grab a pen and paper. Slow down. Breathe. Sketch.
Left to Right: The toes and sketches of JIRPers after a pause for observation and reflection at Mendenhall Glacier (Photo: M. Beedle). Annika Ord sketches Camp 18 and Vaughan Lewis Glacier (Photo: A. Pope). The sketches completed by JIRPers during the 2016 "JIRP Olympics" at Camp 17 (Photo: M. Beedle).
Mogk, D. W. and Goodwin, C. 2012. Learning in the field: Synthesis of research on thinking and learning in the geosciences, in Kastens, K. A., and Manduca, C.A., eds., Earth and Mind II: A Synthesis of Research on Thinking and Learning in the Geosciences: Geological Society of America Special Paper 486, p. 131-163, doi:10.1130/2012.2486(24).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Meet Chuck – Our Field Spectroradiometer
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.
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.
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.