GPS Surveying at the Oozy Flats

GPS Surveying at the Oozy Flats

Adrian Peter, University of Berne; Allie Strel, Technical University of Munich; Lara Hughes-Allen, University of Southern California

                  On Saturday, June 27, the Taku Crew (Adrian Peters, Allie Strel, Björn Dulleck, James Headen and Lara Hughes-Allen) left Juneau for a short excursion to the terminus of the Taku Glacier.  Headed up by long-time JIRPer, Scott McGee, the purpose of the trip was to collect GPS points along the front edge of the glacier to compare to surveys from previous years.  Unlike the majority of the glaciers in Southeast Alaska, the Taku has been advancing in recent decades.  Tracking changes in the position of the terminus is a part of understanding the behavior of this glacier.


                  To get to the base of the glacier we travelled by float plane to the Taku Lodge and were taken by boat down to a grassy area near the terminus.  Our campsite was a beautiful spot by the river, with lupines all around and the Taku rising behind the meadows.

Björn with our floatplane before departing from Juneau. Photo by Allie Strel

Björn with our floatplane before departing from Juneau. Photo by Allie Strel

The Taku Glacier terminus from the float plane.Photo by Allie Strel

The Taku Glacier terminus from the float plane.Photo by Allie Strel

One of the boats got stuck in a shallow section of the river.  With such a high sediment load, navigating the river channels can be a challenge. Photo by James Headen.

One of the boats got stuck in a shallow section of the river.  With such a high sediment load, navigating the river channels can be a challenge. Photo by James Headen.

Our campsite near the terminus. Photo by Lara Hughes-Allen.

Our campsite near the terminus. Photo by Lara Hughes-Allen.

We spent two days collecting data along the terminus using survey grade GPSs.  The environment at the edge of the glacier seemed surreal and the landscape looked absolutely foreign and barren, especially when it was foggy.   At times the place looked like a TV set straight out of a Star Trek episode.  Most notable though was the mud.  An abundance of mud.  Lakes of mud.  Sinky, mucky, liquidy mud.   Trying to navigate through the mud between our GPS points led to both frustration and hilarity.  On the map the area is labelled “oozy flats” and after two days of first-hand experience with the ooziest places, we can all agree it is a fitting name.

 

                  Lara with the survey equipment near the ice terminus. Photo by Allie Strel.

                  Lara with the survey equipment near the ice terminus. Photo by Allie Strel.

Life at the Oozy Flats. Photo by Lara Hughes-Allen.

Life at the Oozy Flats. Photo by Lara Hughes-Allen.

With good weather we were able to finish the survey in two days and therefore had time on our last day to explore the glacier for some crampon practice and a great view.  In the evening we were picked up and boated back up river.  The great staff at the Taku Lodge fed us cookies and coffee and even set us up with a place to stay so that we didn’t have to camp for the night.  Many thanks to the Taku Lodge for their friendly hospitality.

                         Scott and James on the Taku Glacier. Photo by Allie Strel

                         Scott and James on the Taku Glacier. Photo by Allie Strel

A preliminary look at the GPS data we collected shows that there has been no significant advance of the terminus since measurements taken in 2013 and 2014.  It isn’t known if this is indicative of the end of the advance phase for this glacier or just a temporary stagnation.  Future surveys may help to answer this question.

                  On the morning of July 1, we flew back to Juneau and spent the day dealing with logistics.  The next day we made the hike up to Camp 17 to meet up with the rest of the JIRPers.  It was a cold, windy, rainy day but we arrived at “Cloud 17” in good spirits.  Thanks to Scott for navigating us up the Ptarmigan Glacier in low visibility.

                  Overall, it was a great side trip and we were grateful to have had the opportunity.  To sum it all up:  the cheese was mac.

The Taku Crew and the Oozy Flats. Photo by Scott McGee.

The Taku Crew and the Oozy Flats. Photo by Scott McGee.