So, you want pizza for dinner?

By Sarah Bouckoms
Inspired by Salvador G. Candela

So you want pizza for dinner? So do we at Camp 10, but it's not as easy as calling up your favorite local pizza joint and handing over $20. There is a lot more love that goes into making pizza on the Juneau Icefield. Let my pictures explain.....

[NOTE:  Click on any of the images below to open a slideshow with all photos and captions.] 

This meal was made for 32 people, since 10 were out on an overnight trip. All total we made six pizzas with 15 pieces each, and the quinoa salad to ensure everyone was full. Brownies are always a welcome addition to any meal on the Juneau Icefield. If that seemed like fun, imagine what it's like cooking for the full camp of 42!  Bon Appetite from the 2013 JIRPers!

Tour de Alf

By Stanley Pinchak

For many years, JIRP has maintained year-round digital temperature measurement at several camps located across the Juneau Icefield.  Starting in 1986 with the first installation in the Camp 17 Metshelter, the program expanded in subsequent years to include six camps which range from the most coastal, Camp 17; the most mainland, Camp 26; the mildest, Camp 10; and the highest and coldest, Camps 8 and 25.  These camps string out along the route that the Program follows each summer, although not all students spend time at Camp 25 or Camp 8.

The original temperature loggers were graciously provided by long time JIRPer Robert Asher.  These Ryan Instruments TempMentor (RTM) devices provide the ability to collect temperature readings every other hour for over a year.  The RTM devices are sealed inside of hard plastic lunch boxes and after 1987 were modified with a sealed port for the external temperature probe.  These recording devices have been installed in the Stevenson Meteorologic Shelters (Metshelters) at the various camps alongside other meteorological instruments.

Robert Asher performing routine maintenance on RTM at Camp 8 in 1987.  Photographer unknown.

A newer series of temperature loggers from Pace Scientific have been donated by Robert Asher and Analytical Research Associates.  The standard Pocket Logger provides the ability to capture two years of hourly temperature recordings.  This provides the possibility of capturing usable data even if logistics or computer issues prevent data recovery the year following deployment.  Other benefits of the Pocket Logger include finer temperature resolution, the ability for pre-set deployment, a report format that  includes date/time information corresponding to a particular measurement, and the ability to interrogate the device to check status while in operation.

Camp 8 Metshelter housing temperature sensors.  Photo by Alf Pinchak

While many JIRPers have been involved in the installation, maintenance, and collection of data from the temperature loggers, Alfred Pinchak has been involved since the beginning and remains the primary force in making sure that the JIRP Temperature Project (JTP) continues to collect data.  He is instrumental in training JIRP students and staff who have accompanied him while he makes the tour of the camps each year.

Alf Pinchak at Camp 10 alongside one of his beloved Metshelters.  Photo by Sarah Bouckoms

Due to time constraints in recent years, Alf will often travel by snowmobile ahead of the main JIRP program to reach the more distant Camps 8, 25, and 26.  The blitzkrieg of the farther camps is a rather exhausting task.  Not only must last year’s data be downloaded and the loggers be deployed for the upcoming year, there are calibrations which must be performed and recorded, maintenance of the Metshelters, and preliminary camp opening tasks are also performed at this time.

Camp 17 Metshelter under repair.  Photo by Alf Pinchak

This year Alf was able to collect the data from Camps 17 and 10 while he traveled with the main Program.  He elected to send Scott McGee and Stanley Pinchak on to the remaining camps.  Scott and Jeff Kavanaugh had reported earlier in the summer that the Metshelter at Camp 18 had gone missing, and in order to ensure adequate time to locate or replace it, a two day trip was planned.  Weather permitting, Scott and Stanley would leave and perform their tasks at Camp 18, 8, and 25, sleeping at Camp 18 and then travel to Camp 26 the following morning.

On the day of departure, the weather was excellent for snowmobile travel and the plan was slightly altered.  After departing Camp 10, Scott and Stanley headed immediately to Camp 8 and had a rather uneventful time after Scott found safe passage across the crevasse that extends down the southern slope of Mt. Moore.  Machining off under a reddish late morning sun, the result of recent forest fires in the region around the Juneau Icefield, the two headed to Camp 18 to pick up additional gas and to make an initial survey of the area around the missing Metshelter, uninhibited by the whiteout which had made this impossible for Jeff and Scott just a week earlier.  While the legs of the Metshelter were thrown off their moorings, only a few splinters of the Metshelter could be located in this initial survey.

The Metshelter at Camp 8 with Mt.  Moore in the background.  Photo by Stanley Pinchak

With the gas having been procured, Scott directed the snowmobile past the 8-18 junction and the Blob on towards Mt. Nesslerode and Camp 25.  The initial Eastern approach was complicated by crevasses and blue ice which limited access to the base of the camp.  A wide swing around the crevasse field allowed an alternate approach from the Southwest.  The steep climb over rock that looked like fractured shale was complicated by soft sand, the result of weathering and erosion.  Each footstep was seemingly more treacherous than the last, every weight transfer the opportunity for the underlying media to give way a little or a lot.  From initial appearances, the Metshelter appeared to be in pretty good shape, despite still needing a good coat of flat white paint.  Upon opening, it was apparent that something was amiss.  There were two data loggers in the Metshelter, but only one probe was secured inside, the other sensor was missing.  Further investigation indicated that the plastic probe holder fatigued, failed, and fell, allowing the probe to slip through the ventilation holes in the bottom of the shelter, leaving it hanging, exposed to daytime solar radiation.

After the initial disappointment caused by this hardware failure that has possibly biased some unknown portion of the daytime data, the task of recovering, calibrating, and redeploying the Pocket Logger commenced.  All was going smoothly until it came time to change the batteries on this newer model Pocket Logger.  For reasons still unknown, the device would not communicate for redeployment and after a period of time spent in troubleshooting and testing with a backup device, it was decided to install the backup for the upcoming year.  Unfortunately, this would limit recording to every hour as compared to the newer device which was capable of recording every 15 minutes.  Additionally, deploying the backup recorder would leave Camp 18 without a logger in the event that the Metshelter or its contents could not be found.  Some small maintenance was performed on the Metshelter, including the installation of barrel latches to secure the door and re-installation of the temperature probe.

When they had completed their work at Camp 25, Scott and Stanley headed back toward the main branch of the Llewellyn Glacier and then Northward to Camp 26.  The mid-afternoon approach to Camp 26 was complicated by the swamp of super-glacial streams, blue ice, small patches of snow, and moraine material that dominate the glacier for the kilometer between the C-26 Ski Hill and Toby's Rock.  Scott managed to plot a course through this quagmire that brought the snowmobile to the base  of Toby's Rock.  The hike up and around to picturesque Camp 26 was punctuated by the songs of the marmots and accompanied by the burbling of mountain streams and occasional drone of flying insects.

Author Stanley Pinchak takes temperature readings from the swamp in super-glacial streams  en route to Camp 26.  Photo by Scott McGee

It was soon discovered  that all was not well with the Camp 26 Metshelter.  The door stood open, a securing bungie cord hanging loosely, longing for its missing companion, the data recorder.  In disbelief, Stanley and Scott wondered aloud what might have caused such a situation.  Was it vandals or thieves, or something more sinister like marmots?  No those did not make sense since there remained the second recorder unmolested.  It could only be the wind.  That cold, cruel force that seemed to be wreaking havoc across the Icefield this past year must be to blame.  Fortunately, the data logger was discovered about 10 meters down slope, protectively encased in its plastic lunchbox, merrily recording “LO” for who knows how long.  Its temperature probe was located nearby, severed and lacerated in a dozen places, the result of the fall on the rocks or of marmot teeth could not be ascertained.

The Metshelter at Camp 26 was left exposed to the beautiful views. Photo by Stanley Pinchak

After a hard day’s work the RTM is going nowhere in its home at the Metshelter of Camp 26.  Photo by Stanley Pinchak

After the RTM data was recovered, the probe replaced and the device calibrated and redeployed, work commenced on creating a more secure solution than the single bungie which had long since seen more elastic days.  A couple of new bungies were employed, securing the RTM to newly installed anchors.  The door to the Metshelter was also secured with some wire to prevent future wind related mishaps.

While at Camp 26 it was discovered that the newer Pocket Logger had decided to begin talking to the computer again.  With this welcome news, the plans for the next day changed slightly.  Before heading to Camp 18, another stop at Camp 25 was scheduled to recover the spare logger and install the device that regularly monitors that camp.  A warm night was followed by a sunny but again slightly hazy morning.  The marmots again performed as Scott and Stanley cleaned up the plywood explosion, handiwork of wind and marmot, before heading to the snowmobile.  On the way up and out of the glacial marsh, temperature data was collected at two small super-glacial streams in the hopes of gaining further insight into the characteristics of the water systems that permeate the temperate glaciers of the Juneau Icefield.

A long drive from the upper reaches of the Llewellyn ablation zone to Mt. Nesselrode was followed by a quick stop at Camp 25.  Swapping out the recorders allowed for another opportunity to play “don't drop the equipment” as Scott and Stanley negotiated the increasingly longer hike from the top of the glacier to the kitchen and Metshelter of Camp 25, a byproduct of years of negative mass balance since the creation of the camp.  The weather remained clear and the views from Camp 25 to Camp 18 were breathtaking.

Upon arrival at Camp 18, the search for the missing Metshelter began in earnest.  Initially the edges of the snowfield immediately South of the Metshelter were combed, then a larger sweep began when this proved unsuccessful.  Outhouses and other sheltered locations were checked in the event that researchers from the USGS had discovered the Metshelter and moved the equipment earlier in the season.  This too proved unfruitful.  As Scott worked the Western reaches of the Camp 18 outcropping, Stanley headed South.  Finally, it was heard from the South, “SCOTT, I've found it!”

Scott McGee searching for missing instruments at Camp 18.  Photo by Stanley Pinchak

The remains at Camp 18 after the wind had its way with the Metstation.  Photo by Stanley Pinchak

There they were, the splinters and pieces of a large Stevenson Metshelter, spread out vertically along perhaps 15 meters of stair stepping cliffs, which start with an initial four meter drop, and located Southward about 75 meters from the original location of the Metshelter.  Among these shattered remains were some of the instrument contents of the Metshelter and hints at the fate of the others.  Holders for the high/low thermometers were found along with cracked pieces of a blue pelican case, evidence of massive trauma with bare rock written on its surface, a bag of desiccant placed alongside the Pocket Logger in its case was found among the wooden splinters.  While the hopes for the Pocket Logger and its data were dashed, there was still hope for Scott's instrument.  Unfortunately, the search was called off after a thorough investigation of the rocks near the remains of the Metshelter and the edges of the snow field which extends below these rocks proved unsuccessful.

The temporary Metshelter at Camp 18 all rocked in to support it against harsh winds and marmots.  Photo by Stanley Pinchak

With the mystery of the missing Metshelter having been discovered, work began to install a new temporary Metshelter in preparation for a new recording year.  A new site was located and legs were rocked in, a temporary anchor until the Program arrives at Camp 18 and more permanent cable ties can be installed.  A smaller, more aerodynamic Metshelter was attached to these legs and readied for the upcoming year.  The only problem was that the Camp 18 Pocket Logger was missing, assumed destroyed in the catastrophic events of the previous year.  Worse, the weather resistant case was also missing and in any event, damaged heavily in the fall.  How could the JTP continue at Camp 18?

The spare Pocket Logger and a super-glacial stream temperature probe were the answer to the question posed by the first problem.  All that remained was the weather proof case.  A plastic peanut butter jar procured from the generator shed provided the weather proof case, the damaged probe taken from Camp 26 provided the sealed port for the new probe.  A little silicone here and there and the JTP was ready for another year at Camp 18.  After using the tired old bungie from Camp 26 to secure the door to the Metshelter, Scott and Stanley headed back to the Nunatak Chalet arriving just in time for dinner.  A tale of highs and lows, of beauty and exhilaration, of despair and hope completed.  Another Tour de Alf for the record books.

A new protective housing was FGERed out of a peanut butter jar to ensure the science continues!  Photo by Stanley Pinchak

Glaciers 101

By Grayson Carlile

Since our arrival at Camp 10 we have shifted gears from safety and expedition training to science . Our time has been spent developing our individual research projects and receiving lectures from an exceptional group of faculty. We are beginning to delve into the details of how the icefield functions.

So before we begin filling the blog with our research and theirs, we thought it appropriate to give a brief explanation of what a glacier is - how snow is transformed into the spectacular rivers of ice that we are wandering among this summer.

The rivers of ice we know as glaciers form from the accumulation of enormous quantities of snow.  Mendenhall Glacier, Alaska.  Photo by Adam Taylor

It all starts with the same snow you might have falling in your backyard during the winter. Most of us, however, do not have glaciers in our backyards, so there must be a few other criteria. Here is where snow quantity and local climate come into play. There has to be enough snowfall that summer temperatures will not melt it all away before the snow returns. Some of the snow that has accumulated has to persist through the entire year.

Then the process has to repeat itself...over, and over, and over again. As time goes on, individual snowflakes begin to metamorphose – their delicate, spindly structures gradually breaking down through a combination of melting, refreezing, and pressure from overlying snow. The resulting products are rounded ice granules called

firn. In the final step on the journey to becoming glacial ice, these firn granules meld into larger ice crystals that fit together like pieces in a three dimensional jigsaw puzzle.

The transformation of snow to glacial ice can take decades to centuries depending on the consistency (wet or dry) and quantity of snow that falls. Once the ice has formed, it can begin to take on the properties of a glacier. As mentioned above, glaciers are rivers of ice. By definition they are moving - pulled downhill by the force of gravity. So in order for the ice to become a glacier, something has to change within the ice in order for it to flow.

Once the ice is a few tens of meters thick, there is enough stress on the underlying ice that it begins to behave viscously - that is, similar to a fluid - and can finally deform and flow. To understand how this works, imagine a ball of silly putty. If you work it in your hands, applying pressure, you can get it to start stretching and slowly flowing. This is essentially what happens to the underlying ice in the 70 meters of accumulation. The pressure of the overlying ice brings it to a consistency that allows it to flow. Once it has reached this point, it begins to succumb to the force of gravity and flow down a valley or across a continent. In addition to this viscous flow, some glaciers such as those that exist in warmer climates, may also flow over the bedrock or sediments at their bases.

So while a reference to glaciers may conjure images of the Arctic or Antarctica in the minds of many, with the right conditions glaciers can form almost anywhere – from the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa, to the South Island of New Zealand, to the Cascade volcanoes of Washington State. However, glaciers can and do behave differently in these various locations. Some places, such as Southeast Alaska, where precipitation and cool temperatures are widespread and rampant, cater to more than just a single glacier, producing complex networks of glaciers such as the Juneau Icefield. Here the Coast Mountains receive more snow than almost any other place on Earth. The vast distribution of enormous quantities of snow has created nearly 1500 square miles of glaciated terrain that drains the rugged mountains – flowing east into British Columbia and west into the salty waters of Alaska’s Inside Passage.

The Z-Pulley Crevasse Rescue System

By Mary Gianotti

[NOTE:  Pictures will be added to this post when they are available.]

One of the main safety hazards in crossing the Juneau Icefield is that posed by snow-covered crevasses.  Crevasses are cracks in the surface of a glacier caused by stress from moving ice, and vary in depths up to many tens of meters.   They often occur at the edges and lower extents of glacier, at the outside of bends, and areas where the glacier surface steepens.  Given that even the safest route takes us through some crevassed regions, JIRP field parties rope up into groups of four or five team members and move in unison.  In the event that a team member falls into a crevasse (which has rarely happened on the icefield!), JIRP trains students to implement the Z-pulley system. This system uses a simple set of tools: a climbing rope, a few loops of cord or webbing (called slings), sit harnesses, and a small number of carabiners.  Additionally, skis and ice axes are used to build a safe anchor, which can be used to haul the team member to safety.  The system is efficient and lightweight.

To simulate a rope-team member falling through the snow into a crevasse, we took turns dropping off of the moat’s lip.  Immediately, all other group members dropped into the self arrest position, securing themselves to the snow with their ice axes and bodies to stop the fall. The first order of business is to communicate with the victim: Are they alright? Do they need medical attention? Can they climb out by themselves, or should we build a Z-pulley system?

After establishing the physical state of the victim and determining that they need assistance, the next task for those up on the surface is to build an anchor.  A couple members hold the weight of the victim; this frees another member or two to begin digging an anchor. Fortunately, Alaskan snow is almost always wet, thanks to the wonderful rainforest climate of the region.  It therefore provides a secure hold for the anchor: usually a pair of skis, clove hitched together by a sling and buried.

Once the anchor is completed, the rope is connected to the anchor using a sling, into which a special, friction-generating knot known as the “prussik” is tied.  This sling is then clipped into the anchor with a carabiner.  After this is accomplished, the weight of the victim can be safely shifted to the anchor.  Other  team members can also clip into this anchor, either directly or by securing themselves to the climbing rope via another prussik.  This allows the rescuers freedom to safely move about, check on the victim, and, if possible, prepare the lip of the crevasse (by knocking off snow, if safe, or putting an object under the rope so that it doesn’t cut deeply into the snow). Ideally, a team member stays at the crevasse’s lip to monitor the victim.

Now it is time for the rest of the members to set up the Z-pulley. The system is named this because the rope is folded back onto itself like the letter “Z” using additional prussiks and carabiners.  This arrangement provides a 3:1 multiplier in force – thus making rescue of the victim possible.

We first built the Z-pulley in one of the biuldings, then outside in the sunshine, and then in an icy rainfall that was blowing sideways. Students practiced being at all positions of the rope line.  We all lead the team at one point or another. We worked through nearly every possible  scenario until we came up with a solution. “Mr. Backpack” and other inanimate objects were great at being non-responsive dead weights.  Sometimes, unknown to the pull team above, the weight of one person in the moat secretly became that of three, as others joined in to challenge the haulers and test the system.

So as of now, we feel ready to conquer any crevasse that dares to cross our path.  I know now that crevasse rescue is an important tool for glacier travel. On our traverse from C-17 to C-10, there were times when we had to travel in rope teams over crevassed terrain and we crossed the areas with confidence and security.  While there were lighter moments in our training, I trust my fellow expedition members to realize the gravity and weight of the situation if I fall into a crevasse and that they will pull me to safety.

Interview with Gabrielle Gascon

By Leah Nelson

Gabrielle Gascon is currently finishing her PhD in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Alberta, Edmonton Canada. Her work focuses on ice-climate interactions on the Devon Ice Cap, Canada, where she has participated in several field seasons. In her spare time, she enjoys swimming, camping and canning fruits and vegetables.

Gabrielle Gascon at sunny Camp 10.  Photo by Sarah Bouckoms

Leah Nelson: Is this your first time on the Juneau Icefield?
Gabrielle Gascon: Yes, I’ll be here lecturing and helping students with their projects that are based on ice-climate interactions.

LN: What research are you working on?
GG: My work is based in the Canadian Arctic, where I focus on ice-climate interactions using a variety of field observations combined with numerical modeling.  Using data gathered from weather stations, net radiometers, and ground penetrating radar we can investigate melt season characteristic changes.

LN: How did you get interested in studying ice-climate interactions?
GG: While working on my masters degree at McGill University, I was studying winter storms from Iqaluit in the Canadian Arctic.  We used many ground base instruments but we also collected data using an aircraft to fly into storms.  While flying over the Penny Ice Cap, I was struck by the many interactions that are possible between glaciers and climate.  Both of the systems depend on many variables which makes the possible interactions so interesting to study.

LN: What is the greatest adventure that your research has taken you on?
GG: While doing research on Devon Island, I spent five weeks in an eight by eight meter tent.  The experience of exploring the largest uninhabited island in the world was rewarding.

LN: If you could bring any person on an expedition, who would it be?
GG: Peter, my boyfriend.  He does similar field work and was with me during those five weeks in the tiny tent on Devon Island.  Otherwise, I’d bring any one of my family members to show them what I’m working on for my research.

LN: Why is glaciology research important for non-scientists?
GG: Glaciology is important for everyone to understand because glaciers act as freshwater reservoirs and impact sea level.  For example, in the Rocky Mountains, glaciers are the main source of fresh water for many cities.  The melting of larger glaciers, such as the icecaps, could greatly influence sea level, which in turn has a profound effect on people that inhabit coastal areas.  The cryosphere is a key component of the earth system; changes within in it are significant to all of us.

LN: What advice would you give to aspiring young scientists?
GG: I would tell young scientists to decide your career and area of study based on your interests and not on potential salary.  If you find that you don’t like what you’re doing, change it.  And don’t put your career above your personal life -- be happy. 

Glacier Games

By Adam Taylor

Molly Blakowski proudly sports her gold metal spam can top.  Photo by Mira Dutschke

Day 24 of JIRP and the pace is picking up. Since arriving at Camp 10 – situated near the Taku Towers – weather has been a pleasant surprise. With two beautiful sunsets behind us and a few students choosing to sleep out under the stars, spirits are high. However, the weather isn’t the only thing creating excitement: science is in the air and students are beginning to refine their student projects.   But even with all the excitement of a new camp, beautiful weather, and student projects, it seems like just yesterday we were participating in the inaugural JIRP Glacier Games at Camp 17.

Chrissy McCabe looking good on her run of the slalom ski course.  Photo by Mira Dutschke

The games were led by Kate Baustain and Sarah Bouckoms – two of the five Field Safety Staff members – and were just what the students needed to counteract the several days of continuously inhospitable weather.  These games were a whirlwind of excitement and consisted of ten events. The winners of these events not only took home bragging rights, but also a gold medal (made from the tops of Spam cans).  The events included snowball throwing for accuracy and distance, javelin (ski-pole) throw, 100-meter sprint on skis, downhill-slalom, and two eating contests (Spam and Pilot Bread).

Raw spam anyone?  Photo by Mira Dutschke

Christian Hein took home gold in the snowball distance competition, Uwe Hofmann had the most accurate snowball throw, Sarah Cooley placed first in the 100-meter ski sprint, Molly Blakowski won her gold by eating Pilot Bread the fastest, and William Jenkins came from the back to take home gold in the javelin.

Christian Hein looking good during the Javelin throw.  Photo by Adam Taylor

I understand the games may come across a bit silly, but they were more than just a way for students to showcase their talents. When traversing the icefield, you could be roped up with any four of the 23 JIRP students. When roped up, a certain amount of trust is needed to safely navigate the icefield. And although there are several ways to build this trust, these games helped to instill confidence in each other and acted as a team-building event. The skills and bonds created will have a lasting impact on our group.

Sarah Cooley maintains the lead from the start of the cross country ski race.  Photo by Adam Taylor.

When your loved ones return to you, they may not remember the elevation at Camp 17 or even the nicknames of the buildings at Camp 10 (e.g., the Nunatak Chalet).  But I guarantee that they will remember throwing snowballs at “Spam-Man”, the eating contests, and skiing the slalom course – all integral parts of the 2013 JIRP Glacier Games. 

Kamil Chadirji-Martinez comes down the hill while Kate Baustian times.  Photo by Adam Taylor

Jay's Hiatus

By P. Jay Fleisher, JIRP Director emeritus

Dr. Jay Fleisher (in red jacket) leads a geology field trip near Camp 10.  Photo by J. L. Kavanaugh

JIRP’s influence on me goes back to 1968 when I first traversed the icefield with Dr. Maynard Miller (founder and father of JIRP) and a group of post-doctoral students.  During many years of return visits, I am back now as faculty and member of the staff.   It is gratifying indeed to work with such a highly motivated group of 23 students, each with their own background and each receptive to individual mentoring on field projects of their choice.  Ongoing field research coordinated with an emphasis on academics, all closely linked to expeditionary priorities, constitute a highly effective training experience, which is recognized far and wide to have launched so many professional careers, my own included.   It is invigorating to be back in this unique and pristine environment, perfectly situated on temperate glaciers sensitive to subtle annual changes in climate.

PS – Hi Judy: miss you, love you.

The Traverse from C-17 to C-10

By Kamil Chadirji-Martinez and William Jenkins

Last night the students and staff members of JIRP 2013 were all reunited after several days of travel. This year 31 people completed the traverse from our first camp, Camp 17, to Camp 10 on the edge of the massive Taku Glacier – a total distance of 36 kilometers.

Members of Trail Party Two wave goodbye to Trail Party One.  Photo by Adam Taylor.

The first 10-person trail party (with co-author William) left at 9:00am, under beautiful sunny skies, and descended the Lemon Creek Glacier in 45 minutes. A day later, the second 21 person trail party (with co-author Kamil),  left at 5:45am, in thick fog. The fog created a treadmill sensation, as white-out conditions in all directions created the illusion of skiing in place. Under these  conditions it took us 3 hours to descend the Lemon. Some skis were very slick, and allowed one  to easily shoot down the glacier. Other ski types and comfort levels forced people to shuffle down the glacier, so we could only start moving until the person behind us was visible. As we approached the margin of the Lemon Creek Glacier, rocks, patches of red algae-stained snow, and areas of grooved blue ice emerged from the fog.

Looking back up towards Camp-17 from the lower Lemon Creek Glacier, as seen by Trail Party One.  Trail Party Two reached this point in fog.  Photo by Adam Taylor.

From the base of the Lemon Creek Glacier the trail parties ascended several steep slopes, gaining approximately 1,000 vertical feet in elevation, in order to arrive at an area known as “Lunch Rocks”. The outcrop served as a nice resting spot and offered an outstanding view of Devil’s Paw, the tallest peak on the Juneau Icefield and a popular destination for alpine climbers. This peak lies on the Canadian border, and stands as a staunch reminder of the long distance that we have yet to travel. From this point,  we traversed the upper Thomas Glacier to the base of Nugget Ridge. We climbed up the steep and rocky ridge with skis on our packs, until we could gain a safe access point to the upper Norris Glacier.

Nugget Ridge was a pleasant ski-break for some of us. Photo by Sarah Bouckoms.

As the second trail party tied into their rope teams, the wind started to blow and moved the fog in and out, providing short glimpses of the mountains around us. It began to rain lightly, but horizontally. Some of us tied parachute cords around our skies as brakes, while others used climbing skins. We carefully wound our way down through crevasses, crossing snow bridges over large crevasses. Looking outward, the snow dipped away at a sharp angle all around us, revealing mountains below. Nearing the end of this descent, the wind ripped Jai Beeman’s rain fly from his bag. Because we were roped up, we had to watch it fly into the distance. At the end of this slow descent the weather finally cleared up.  Our group descended to Death Valley with ease, listening to  music on Adam Toolanen’s speakers while enjoying the blue skies.

The teachings of Camp 17 come into play as we skied roped up down from Nugget Ridge toward Death Valley.  Photo by Sarah Bouckoms.

Sarah Cooley skis by a crevasse during the descent from Nugget Ridge.  Photo by Adam Taylor.

The name “Death Valley” implies a far more ominous scene than the seemingly flat  and expansive glacier which laid before us; however, we rapidly came to the conclusion that the sun cups were enough to kill at least one’s forward momentum. After a several-hour traverse across the valley, we encountered the final obstacle before the cache camp, the Norris Icefall. The ascent up the icefall involved hours of negotiating a maze of crevasses while divided into rope teams. Once on top of the icefall we followed the fresh snowmobile tracks left by Scott McGee. He had established the nearby Norris Cache, where we would spend the night in tents set up on the snow.

Skiers approach the Norris Icefall, which looms above Death Valley.  Photo by Adam Taylor.

Skiers make their way up to the Norris Icefall.  Photo by Sarah Bouckoms.

Sarah Bouckoms smiles at the sight of the Norris Cache after a long day.  Photo by Jamie Bradshaw.

After  dinner we hit the sack. The snow’s cold presence was felt even through a tarp, sleeping pad, and sleeping bag. The next morning we slept in and woke up, feeling a little sore and packed up our gear at a leisurely pace. From the cache we made a final steep (if short) climb. Most of the rest of the day was spent gradually skiing down the gradual slope of the Taku’s Southwest Branch towards the main trunk of the Taku Glacier. On this final 18 kilometer stretch of our traverse to Camp 10, we became familiar with the phenomenon known by some in our group as the “Alaska Factor”, which describes the extreme scale of things here on the Icefield. From the beginning of the second day, we could practically see Camp 10, and spent the major part of the day skiing towards it.

When we reached Juncture Peak (at the juncture of the Southwest Branch and main trunk of Taku Glacier), we knew that we were approaching our goal, and that we only had to cross the main Taku Glacier to reach Camp-10.  Given its size, this took an additional two hours.  Both groups traversed the glacier in the sun, a welcome change from the conditions at C-17.  Both parties also experienced the katabatic winds that commonly flow down the Taku, resulting from the densification of air cooled by contact with the snow.  A couple large clouds hovered around the camp, about a hundred meters from the glacier surface. Upon emerging from this strange scenery, we were met with familiar faces and a warm dinner.

A humorous sign informs the trail party of the next day’s travel distance.  Photo by Sarah Bouckoms.

Taku Terminus Survey

By Sarah Mellies, Brooke Stamper, and Salvatore G. Candela

Six members of the Juneau Icefield Research Program set out to take the annual GPS (global positioning system) measurements of one of the few glaciers advancing in the Northern Hemisphere.  

Group shot, left to right: Salvatore G. Candela, Brooke Stamper, Scott McGee, Sarah Mellies, Patrick Englehardt, and Uwe Hofmann, ready to board the plane and excited to leave. Photo credit: Brooke Stamper

The movement of Taku Glacier has gone through many changes in history. Currently, the Taku Glacier is acting as a land-terminating glacier because it is pushing into land known as Oozy Flats. About 120 years ago it was a tidewater glacier, since its tongue was flowing into the inlet as opposed to land. Since Oozy Flats is only a small patch of land, Taku Glacier could end up being a tidewater glacier again. The lower reaches of the glacier can be considered a “piedmont lobe”, resulting from the fact that it flows out of its constraining valley into a broader, less constricted area where it spreads out to fill the broad mudflat (much the way molasses would flow across a plate).

A panoramic view from our campsite of mountains with lupine in the foreground. Photo: Brooke Stamper

To track the movement of glaciers, scientists rely on data taken from satellites, airplanes, and people on the ground. What's the reason for three different data sets? To triple check! Six JIRPers participated in tracking the Taku Glacier on the ground this year. Our goal was to use survey-quality GPS to map the position of the glacier’s extent to see if the tongue is still moving forward into the land and, if so, at what speed.

Stranded ice in the tidal zone. Photo: Brooke Stamper

To speed up the survey work, the team divided into two groups. The first was lead by Scott McGee, JIRP’s field logistics manager, the second by Uwe Hofmann, a staff representative from Beuth University of Applied Sciences in Berlin. For several years, Beuth University has supported JIRP with surveying equipment and provided opportunities for German students to travel to Alaska – a great cultural exchange opportunity. Each leader took two students, to form the Taku West and the Taku East surveying teams. Scott, Brooke and Salvatore headed to the west, while Uwe, Pat and Sarah took the east path. Both groups walked along the terminus (the furthest extent of the glacier ice) taking GPS coordinates at regular intervals.

Scott McGee and Salvatore G. Candela surveying a point. Photo: Brooke Stamper

Brooke Stamper being a GPS hero. As usual. Photo: Brooke Stamper

With the approximate center of the glacier as our starting point, we headed out into the Martian-like landscape of the Taku Glacier terminus. Fighting knee deep mud, frigid glacier streams and bushwhacking that would make a grizzly bear cry, we worked our way around approximately 60% of the 9.2km total perimeter distance of the glacier's broad terminus. In previous years, wide meandering streams stopped teams from covering more ground, a problem we hoped to solve by bringing a small inflatable boat. When we reached the banks of the marginal rivers, our progress ground to a halt as we looked out across large, very fast turbid rivers – far too fast for our Gilligan-sized ship. So much for our dingy. To get around this obstacle, we had to improvise, as is often the case with field work. In order to bypass these inconveniently placed streams, we had to climb nearly 1000 feet up glacier, navigating several crevasse fields before descending back down to the glacier’s edge to continue our survey.

The west side of the Taku terminus as viewed from the flight. Photo: Salvatore G. Candela

Uwe Hofmann, route finding through crevasses. Photo: Brooke Stamper

The results of our survey are shown in the figure below, with 2012’s results also shown for comparison. In the figure, the terminus position (the furthest extent of visible ice) in 2012 is shown as black lines, and the 2013 extent as red lines. Right off the bat, we see that the glacier has advanced about ¼ kilometer (800 feet) since the aerial photographs of the base map were taken in 1998. Second, we can see that the glacier terminus has advanced a further 10 to 30 meters (35–100 feet) over most of its perimeter during the past year. This advance isn’t uniform, as is demonstrated by the seven insets in the figure, described in the figure caption.

Taku Glacier Map, with details shown as insets. In all images, North is upward. Over the central portion of the glacier terminus (Insets 2 – 6), the glacier advanced 10—30 meters (35—100 feet) between the 2012 and 2013 observations. Nearer the margins (Insets 1 and 7), the advance is less pronounced. At Inset 1 near the western edge, little to no advance was seen. In the location of Inset 7, the ice margin retreated approximately 20 meters (65 feet). A new meltwater stream established itself here between 2012 and 2013; this water flow seems to have contributed to greater ice erosion.  Figure by Scott McGee

Lupine with the Taku Glacier terminus. Photo: Salvatore G. Candela

The terminus shows no sign of stopping its advance, much to the dismay of the trees, shrubs and wildlife that call Oozy Flats home. It is likely that if this glacier continues to advance, it will someday again be a tidewater glacier as it continues to advance towards the Taku River.

Airplane docking at Taku Lodge with Hole-in-the-Wall Glacier in the background. Photo: Salvatore G. Candela

The Camp-17 to Camp-10 Traverse is Underway

By Jeff Kavanaugh

Trail Party One skis across the Taku Glacier – as seen from Camp-10, their destination.  Photo by J.L. Kavanaugh

As I type this, the first trail party of 11 students and staff is skiing across the Taku Glacier, having just finished a refueling break at the base of Juncture Peak (which is located at the confluence of the Southwest Branch and the main trunk of Taku Glacier).  They’ll thus arrive at Camp-10 in less than an hour. The second trail party – containing the remaining 21 students and staff – recently radioed in to say that they were making the descent from Nugget Ridge into Death Valley.  They will reach the Norris Cache (from where Trail Party One departed this morning) later this evening, and tomorrow morning will follow in the ski tracks of their fellow JIRPers to join us at Camp-10.  Once all of the students and staff are reunited, the glacier monitoring surveys and academic lectures will kick into high gear.

Taking a break from towing.  Photo by S. McGee

In support of the myriad research activities that will take place at Camp-10, this morning Scott McGee (JIRP’s Field Logistics Manager) and I took “Thor”, JIRP’s venerable Alpine II snowmachine, to Camp-18.  There we pulled three additional Skandik snow machines out of cold storage.  The two of us brought the four machines back to Camp-10 by loading two of the machines onto sleds – an unusual sight, given that each of the towed machines was also towing a sled.  Although much of the landscape was shrouded in clouds, the single building of Camp-9 (located at the half-way point between Camps 10 and 18) stood proud during both the outbound and return legs of the trip – and both times appeared to be hovering in cloud above the glacier.  The students will get their own view of Camp-9 several weeks from now, during the next camp move.

Camp 9 appears to float within the clouds.  Photo by J.L. Kavanaugh