JIRP: Filling in the Blanks Since 1946

Dear Friends:

The 2013 Juneau Icefield Research Program has come to a close. The students have successfully and safely completed the traverse from Juneau to Atlin, and each has rightfully inscribed their name on the storied rafters of Camps 17, 10, 18, 26, and 30. I suspect that each is now excitedly recounting their own stories to family and friends, while also seeking quiet moments to reflect on their summer (as is necessary following such a long seclusion on the icefield). Many of these stories will share similarities with those told by past years’ JIRPers, while others will be shared just among the students of JIRP 2013. Odds are that these stories will be retold for many years.

JIRP 2013 participants at Camp 30 in Atlin, BC.  Photo by J.L. Kavanaugh.

Aldo Leopold wrote, “To those devoid of imagination a blank place on a map is a useless waste; to others, the most valuable part.” The Juneau Icefield can perhaps be considered the type locality for these blank places, appearing so even in many of today’s satellite images.  As has been the case every year since JIRP’s inception, each student spent their summer on the icefield working to fill in its vast blank space with learning, discoveries, memories, and friendships. In doing so, they created individual value and meaning for the place; furthermore, they added immeasurably to the value and meaning of JIRP.  As in the past, they performed the annual mass balance and glacier geometry surveys (including surveys both at the Taku Glacier terminus and in the Gilkey Trench) and completed individual projects, this year spanning topics in glaciology, snow science, hydrology, geology, atmospheric science, botany, and entomology.  While doing so, they also forged an extraordinary bond of friendship and mutual support that was truly incredible to witness.  I would like to thank each and every student for their outstanding contributions to the field expedition, to camp life, and to the academic and research lifeblood of the program.  It is because of students like you that I am certain that JIRP’s future is secure.

I would also like to thank the members of the teaching, research, and medical faculty, including first-time JIRPers Jason Amundson, Anthony Arendt, Gabrielle Gascon, Uwe Hofmann, Eran Hood, Lindsey Nicholson, Bill Peterson, and Stanley Pinchak, plus JIRP stalwarts Polly Bass, Cathy Connor, Jack Ellis, Christian Hein, Paul Illsley, Bill Isherwood, and Alf Pinchak.  The effort each of you put into developing and delivering the academic program and supervising student projects made JIRP 2013 the success that it was.  Special thanks go to Jay Fleisher, whose wisdom and insight continually surprise and inform, and to Jeff Barbee and Mira Dutschke, whose tireless efforts added immeasurably to the summer – and measurably, too, in the form of incredible photography and video footage that we will enjoy for years to come.

There is no way for me to sufficiently thank the logistics and safety team. Your efforts ensured that the season ran far more smoothly and safely than could be expected of any program involving 50+ people in a remote field setting.  This team included Field Logistics Manager Scott McGee, Juneau Logistics Manager Zach Miller, Carpenter/mechanic Ben Partan, and field safety staff members Kate Baustian (Camp 18 Manager), Annie Boucher (Camp 17 Manager), Sarah Bouckoms (Blog Coordinator and Camp 30 Manager), Matt Pickart (Camp 10 Manager), and Adam Toolanen (Safety Training Manager).  I also include in this list Matt Beedle, who ensured that our blog posts from the field were uploaded in a timely manner.

Finally, I would like to thank all of those who followed the blog this summer.  I hope that it provided a portal into the daily lives of the JIRP students, faculty, and staff – while showing that the icefield is both nowhere as blank as it seems and extremely valuable to those fortunate enough to traverse it.  May the students of JIRP 2013 continue to seek out blank spots on the map, and to fill them with value and meaning.

With best regards,

Dr. Jeffrey L. Kavanaugh


By Sarah Bouckoms

“The boat is here” were the words I wrote in my diary as we watched the calm waters being broken by the bow of a small silver boat. In it contained the first person in two months we saw who was not a JIRPer. But it held so much more meaning than the weight of our Captain. It was a passageway to Atlin, BC. The final call that we were off the Icefield. The summer adventures were over. But there was still more work to be done. In Atlin we would be busy doing things like showering, laundry and eating ice cream. After those necessities were taken care of the students needed to busy themselves finalizing their presentations for the citizens of Atlin.  The students were divided into groups based on topic area to each talk about their work. Each student found it hard to pack a summer of research in 3 minutes, but with a bit of practice we pulled it off.  After the talks we enjoyed a cookie and a hot drink with the community. Earlier in the day, Mary Gianotti, Stephanie Streich and Christiane McCabe busied themselves in the kitchen making cookies. 400 of them. There were chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, shortbread and peanut butter with chocolate Hershey kisses. 

Yum Yum! Lots of cookie eating after the talks. Photo by Stephanie Streich.

Giving presentations in Atlin after completing the traverse has been a long-standing JIRP tradition. It gives the students a chance to work on their public speaking, but more importantly it is a social event in Atlin not to be missed. We were overwhelmed with the enthusiasm shown as we entered the shops or laundromat. No one cared that we were stinky since we had not showered yet. Everyone was just excited to hear how our summer went. 

The local shops were a novelty after waiting on helicopter deliveries all summer. Photo by Sarah Bouckoms.

Atlin was a great transition back into civilization. It was quite bizarre to see things such as cars and telephone poles, cute little shops and animals. Luckily for us, the streets were not so busy so it was not a problem that we treated the roads like a trail and took to walking down the center of the street. Atlin gave us a great welcome with its sunny days, warm water for swimming and clear nights for Aurora gazing. We joked that if we had been plopped down in New York City there would have been casualties in minutes.  Thank you citizens of Atlin for the warm welcome and hospitality you offered, we are all grateful for the easy transition.

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

The Traverse from Camp 26 to Atlin

By Sarah Cooley

The final traverse from Camp 26 to Atlin Lake was definitely an epic and exciting way to end our trip across the Juneau Icefield. With the constantly changing scenery and gradual descent into greenery, it is a favorite of many of the returning staff and faculty. Though we were all sad to leave the Icefield, there was definitely excitement in the air when we set off in the morning. We did the traverse in three groups: two the first day followed by one final group the next day. I was in the second group, so we set off at 9 am, two hours after the first group’s 7 am departure. After seeing them off and eating a quick breakfast of instant oatmeal and pilot bread, we packed up, attached our skis to our packs and headed down the nunatak to the ablation zone of the Llewellyn Glacier. Once we hit the glacier, we began an easy few hours down the ice on the side of the medial moraine. After weeks in the accumulation zone, it was amazing yet very strange to be on bare ice, walking amongst melt channels, crevasses and the occasional moulin. We were all fascinated with these ablation zone features, and many pictures were taken as we reminisced about our summer while hiking across the ice. As the crevasses grew deeper and larger, we needed to put on crampons so we all could have a little bit more stability. Traversing the crevasses was slow, and we all worked together to get ourselves through the toughest parts, cutting steps and providing support to each other as we maneuvered through each ice bridge. A few hours later, we all were extremely relieved to be able to take off the crampons and return to flatter ice.

JIRPers hike down the lower Llewellyn Glacier. Photo by J.L. Kavanaugh.

By mid-afternoon we had reached the toe of Red Mountain.  After scouting a route, we left the ice for a quick climb to the top of the ridge followed by a long and difficult descent through scree and alders. The combination of tired legs, heavy packs and unwieldy skis added a significant challenge to the hike down, and again we all pitched in to help each other down the steep and slippery sections. When we had finally reached the bottom of the hill, we were somewhat tired, scraped, bruised and covered in mud, but all in good spirits, telling lots of jokes and stories as we waited for our trail party leaders Jeff and Kate to scout a route onto the ice. Once we had successfully gotten back onto the Llewellyn Glacier, slippery ice meant crampons became quite necessary, so we spent one last hour in our crampons before finally exiting the glacier for the last time. Leaving the icefield after seven weeks of amazing experience was quite emotional for everyone, and we took a few last pictures, filled up our water bottles with one last gulp of pure glacial water and put our feet onto dry land. I think we all are still struggling to process leaving the glacier, but in the moment we had no choice but to keep our goodbyes quick and continue the long hike to the inlet.

Approaching the Red Mountain Ridge on the lower Llewellyn Glacier. Photo by J.L. Kavanaugh.

The next part of our hike included a beautiful segment known as the Ball-Bearing Highway. With the sun setting over the Llewellyn Glacier behind us, we followed the lake at the terminus until we hit the trail exactly as we lost daylight. After a quick break to get out our headlamps, we continued our hike around the lake in darkness. The surrounding trees and greenery were a welcome change after two months without large plants, and the smells of the flora overwhelmed us. Above us were some of the most beautiful stars I had ever seen, and our journey through the unfamiliar woods in darkness was almost magical. After two hours without much rest, we took one final break at midnight, exhausted but still in good spirits and excited to reach Llewellyn Inlet. As we all sat on our packs, contemplating attacking the remaining few miles after such a long day, the sky suddenly lit up with a fantastic display of aurora borealis. We all sat in silence for a few minutes, turning our headlamps off, all amazed at the wondrous timing of the first aurora of the summer. After searching all summer (and in summers past), it was the first northern lights I had ever seen, and combined with the emotion of leaving the amazing icefield, it was a really poignant and unforgettable moment. With the northern lights in front of us and shooting stars sweeping across the sky above us, we all felt prepared and excited to tackle the final few miles.

The final stretch of the trail includes multiple swamp crossings and some bush-whacking. Bush-whacking with skis on is, well, interesting, and for many of the parts we all assumed what we called ‘narwhal position’ which entailed squatting and bending over so that your skis come to a point a few feet in front of your head. It was tiring, but it was quite successful. With sore backs and our legs and feet wet up to our knees, we all sang and talked up the final hill towards camp, screaming and laughing at 1:30 am when we finally reached the inlet. Given the lateness of our arrival and the presence of another tired trail party who had arrived a few hours before us and were already asleep, we opted not to jump in the lake as is JIRP tradition, unlike the two other trail parties. However, despite the exhaustion, we all began to process the fact that we had completed the entire traverse of the Juneau Icefield, and our sense of personal accomplishment was palpable. We quickly pulled out our sleeping bags and all laid down right on the beach, just a few feet from the water. As we laid there in silence, the aurora reappeared, even more magnificent than before. The green lights curled with columns shooting upwards towards the stars, and with one last glimpse at the incredible sky, we all quickly fell asleep.

Awaiting the early-morning boat shuttle across Atlin Lake from Llewellyn Inlet to Atlin, BC. Photo by J.L. Kavanaugh.

After barely three hours of sleep, we were awakened the next morning by the arrival of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who checked each of our passports and allowed us to officially enter Canada, despite the fact that we had crossed the border days before. The first trail party then promptly left for Atlin via boat. We returned to our sleeping bags for an hour or so, then cooked ourselves a breakfast of beans and Spam over the fire as we waited for the second boat to come pick us up. When it finally arrived, we quickly loaded up and headed for Atlin. The boat ride was fantastically beautiful but also quite emotional as we watched the high ice of our beloved Juneau Icefield slowly slip out of view. The excitement of trees, waterfalls and islands kept our attention as we moved closer to Atlin. After such a long journey, we were so excited to finally reach the small town on such a beautiful sunny day. 

The Pirates of Glacier Mass Balance

By Jon Doty

Mass balance is in many ways piratical by nature. There is a reason why a JIRPer often stumbles across pirate flags with the words "Mass Balance 2012" scrawled onto the walls of camp. We have our map, shovels to dig for treasure, and X marks the spot. However, our modern day plundering involves a somewhat different set of tools, and an altogether different goal. In lieu of a pirate ship, we ride our skis into the horizon, following a GPS in search of science. 

The mass-balance crew on the morning before skiing to the Demorest Glacier pit. Photo by Mary Gianotti.

Although I have lost touch with the outside world, I am told that the day we left C-10 was July the 26th, bound for C-9, tasked with digging mass-balance pits on the Matthes and Demorest glaciers. For all you glacial neophytes out there mass balance is the bread and butter of JIRP science. By digging a pit into the winter snowfall and comparing to the summer ablation (mass lost through melt, sublimation, calving, etc.) we can determine whether the glacier has gained or lost mass over the year, and learn about the variability of the glacier on an annual basis. JIRP holds one of the longest records of glacial mass balance data - having measured Taku Glacier mass balance every year since 1946.  Storglacieren in Sweden is the only glacier with a similarly long data set.

Our itinerary was a nine-mile ski to C-9, pausing to dig a pit just short of camp on the Matthes Glacier. We would spend the night in camp, and then ski down onto the upper Demorest Glacier to dig another test pit before returning to C-9 for the night. On our final day we were bound for C-18 and the wonders of the Vaughn Lewis Icefall and Gilkey Trench.

We waved our final goodbyes to C-10, made a final pit-stop into Dreamland, and then took off down the ski hill onto the vast expanses of the Taku. We skied up-glacier on snowmobile tracks laid down by Scott McGee and the survey team, taking a few short snack breaks along the way, eventually hanging a right up the Matthes Glacier towards C-9. The turn onto the Matthes meant that we were officially on ground that none of us – save for our friendly field staff members Annie Boucher and Matt Pickart – had ever tread upon before - uncharted territory. As we set a course for discovery, I couldn’t help but smile. The interface between the Taku and the Matthes is quite noticeable; as the Matthes spills out into the Taku the flow rates vary greatly, producing a crevasse ridden terrain. These are mostly ankle-biters and nothing to really worry about, mostly affecting scientific curiosity instead of trepidation or thoughts of roping up.

Mary Giannotti and Jon Doty relaxing while Matt Pickart and Chrissy McCabe dig. Photo by Annie Cantrell.

After about four or five hours of skiing through marginal weather, we reached the pit location, and began digging. We dig our mass balance pits in four steps, each reaching progressively deeper down through the snowpack.  The north facing wall is a clean wall, where we make measurements of density, and is never stepped upon as it would affect the snow density below.

At first everyone is at work shoveling out the initial meter of depth, but once the first step becomes defined, only one person can safely fit on each step. At that point, those inside of the pit begin to shovel from their step onto step one, from where it is a shorter shovel throw to remove the snow from the pit. Those who are not within the mass-balance pit take a break and refuel for their next shift inside, or tend the rim of the pit to prevent snow buildup. This year our pits have averaged 3.5 to 4 meters deep, which takes about 4 hours to dig – in the past, however, pits have ranged up to 8 meters in depth, requiring feats of strength that even the Dread Pirate Roberts would shy away from.

The treasure at the bottom of the pit? The annual layer. This line marks the boundary between this year and last year’s snowfall. It can be represented by a variety of features within the snowpack: an undulating ice layer - evidence of suncups from the previous year; a dirty layer – dust and debris upon the snowpack deposited throughout the summer and buried during the accumulation season; or depth hoar – large unconsolidated sugary snow crystals which sits upon the far more dense firn (year-old snow). Once we have found the annual layer we begin to take our data from the pit. We prep the wall of step four (the deepest) into a clean vertical face, and sample the snow at 10 cm (~4”) intervals using a coring device of known volume. Measuring the mass of these snow samples (and the thickness of all ice lenses that cut across our sampling section) gives us a density profile of the snowpack. With this knowledge, we can determine the water equivalent of the accumulated snow at this location on the glacier.  By digging pits at varying elevations and distances along the central profile of the glacier, we can estimate the total accumulation received by the glacier for the past year.

Our pit on the Matthes ended up being 4 meters deep. The depth of our pits creates an interesting logistical problem: how to sample snow cores and ice lenses at fifteen plus feet off the ground. We JIRPers take this as an opportunity to cross the disciplines of science and mountaineering, and so we build a snow anchor and collect data on rappel. In this metaphorical crow’s nest (I know, this likeness is a bit of a stretch) we have a bird’s eye view of the pit we have dug, and can sample the layers safely and precisely.

View of Camp 9, with Matthes Glacier in the background.  Photo by Annie Cantrell

Hungry from a full day’s work, we chugged on up the hill to C-9 through a whiteout, gaining the first views of our home for the next few days only once we were within thirty feet. We all piled inside, leaving our backpacks covered up outside on the nunatak as there was no room indoors for anything more than people. C-9 consists of a single two story building with exactly enough space for about two fewer people than we had in our crew. We managed to squeeze in, and bided our time reading graffiti on the wall and cracking jokes while we waited for the pasta water to boil. After dinner there was only one option: bed.

Interior of Camp 9 with Matt Pickart.  Photo by Annie Cantrell.

Dawn broke with a cloudless sky, and an absolutely beautiful view. After finishing off leftovers from last night we were treated to fresh oatmeal! Our ski down to the pit on the Demorest Glacier was an absolute treat – views of Devil's Paw, the Dipyramid, the Citadel, hanging glaciers, bergshrunds, and so much more. The first half of the ski was a long downhill, and so I sat back and paid zero attention to the track ahead of me as I soaked in the alpine panorama. Once we hit the Demorest Glacier we skied a few more miles of flats to reach the test pit. The sun was hot and bright, and so we blasted some music and got to work. The day was pleasant and the pit went quickly, and as manpower became less necessary within the pit we dug couches into the snow, and laid our socks on our ski poles to dry. Our pit ended up 4.5 meters deep, and so we cored it, and set sail back to C-9, treated to an absolutely incredible sunset just as we topped the camp ridge. Our rations for the night consisted of spaghetti with a mixture of tomato sauce, leftover broccoli cheddar soup, and roast beef for toppings. As we tucked in to bed, strong winds buffeted our home, but thoughts of the coming day’s traverse to C-18 and adding new points to my life’s map lulled me to sleep.

Matt Pickart, Lindsey Nicholson and Jon Doty watching the sunset with Devil’s Paw in the background. Photo by Salvador G. Candella.

The Secret Natives of the Juneau Icefield

By Ben Slavin

Many students and faculty take part in JIRP each summer with the central goal of using the Juneau Icefield as a living and breathing classroom of Earth system science. As a high school JIRPer in 2011, I imagined that I too would take part in the numerous exciting glaciological projects that have been ongoing since 1946. But as I began exploring the mountaintop landscapes, known as “nunataks”, of JIRP’s field camps, I realized that there was a whole other world waiting to be delved into. With the help of dedicated JIRP faculty member and geobotanist, Polly Bass, I gained my first experience in the field of glacial entomology by conducting a general survey of glacier flea (H. nivicola) population characteristics on the Taku Glacier in front of Camp 10.

After completing my project and closing the proverbial book on JIRP 2011, I returned to my senior year of high school assuming that I would only ever return to the Icefield in my countless wonderful memories. A year later, I watched my sister Lindsey complete the program as a high school student and, like so many of the individuals that make JIRP the juggernaut of a program it continues to be, I found myself longing to return to the High Ice. “But how?” I wondered. As I was sitting  in a biology class at the University of Miami (FL), where I am pursuing a degree in Neuroscience with the ultimate dream of becoming a medical physician, I remembered the fascinating glacier insects that I had studied two years prior through the lenses of a high school student. Now that I had a college level understanding of the field of biology, I was very hopeful that I might be able to apply this knowledge to the Icefield. After corresponding with Polly, JIRP Director Jeff Kavanaugh, as well as Dr. Sean Schoville at the University of Wisconsin Madison, I was thrilled to be informed that I would have the opportunity to return to JIRP to study insects once again.

Ben Slavin night-collecting N. lituyae.  Photo by Jeffrey Kavanaugh.

Instead of glacier fleas, the research project I am taking part in this summer focuses on a species of beetle known as Nebria lituyae. This species is very near and dear to the Kavanaugh family given that Jeff’s father, Dr. Dave Kavanaugh, discovered and named the species and Jeff himself has been collecting it for his father from a young age. The central goal of the project is to determine the amount of microevolution, also known as evolutionary diversification within a species, that is occurring between populations of Nebria lituyae on various nunataks located all over the Icefield. When my friends and family, many of whom are Florida natives, who are much more familiar with sandy beaches than they are with snow and mountains, asked how we were expecting to go about determining microevolution amongst beetles, I cited Darwin’s classic expedition to the Galapagos Islands.
Darwin observed with finches in the Galapagos that being reproductively isolated from their mainland conspecifics caused the island finches to have different physical appearances from finches on the nearby South American continent. Darwin wrote that he believed that the Galapagos finches’ separate gene pool favored individuals who were best suited to surviving the Galapagos’ unique environment over many generations, thus explaining the difference in physical appearance. Essentially, it helps to think of each mountaintop nunatak as its own island, surrounded by a sea of snow and ice instead of water, the target of our collection trips to each of these “Icefield Islands” is not finches but N. lituyae beetles, with the hypothesis that there has been a level of microevolution that has occurred amongst the isolated populations.

In order to be able to study and compare N. lituyae beetle populations, Jeff, Polly, and I (as well as Staff Member Scott McGee, faculty member Gabrielle Gascon, fellow student Pat Englehardt, and Field Safety manager Adam Toolanen), have ventured out on numerous collection trips to strategically-spaced nunataks in which we gather the beetles and humanely preserve them in alcohol-filled collection vials. The biggest challenge of these daytime collection trips thus far has been finding the beetles, which are most active at night when they venture onto the snow bank to feed on other insects that may have died during the day.  Given the beetles’ penchant for darkness, daytime collection trips mean that we must turn over (and then carefully replace so as not to disturb the ecosystem) many rocks at each nunatak site we visit. Further adding to the challenge is that we must find a minimum of ten beetles at each nunatak in order to be able to compare them to other nunataks. Some days, we are unable to meet the minimum requirement of ten beetles collected and must don our headlamps for a collecting session after nightfall, when the N. lituyae are much easier to spot. Though the “ten beetle rule”, can lead to some longer days in the field, I personally have been relishing the opportunities to explore cool spots, like the base of "Taku B" behind Camp 10, after dark. 

Ben Slavin collecting at Shoehorn Mountain, across the main branch of Taku Glacier from Camp 10.  Photo by Jeffrey Kavanaugh. 

The reasoning behind a minimum of ten beetles from each nunatak is that we must allow for a certain degree of variability amongst individual beetles that come from the same nunatak. For example, my sisters, Lindsey and Blaire, came from the same parents and grew up in the same environmental conditions I did, but our DNA sequences are not the same as is evidenced by our many physiological differences, such as height. 

After explaining the mechanism behind microevolution as well as the collection protocol, my Floridian friends and family are usually eager to learn exactly how we intend to go about determining if microevolution is indeed occurring amongst the N. lituyae populations of the Juneau Icefield. Once we have collected all of our samples for the field season, the beetles will be sent to the lab of Dr. Sean Schoville at the University of Wisconsin Madison. In his lab, Sean will use a specialized technique to surgically remove a part of each of the beetles we collect. Sean will then be able to extract a specific DNA sequence from each beetle which will be compared to the other beetles found on the same nunatak, as well as different nunataks.

We hypothesize that given the beetle populations’ isolation from each other,  these DNA sequences will be somewhat different from one another. We are also taking global positioning system (GPS) readings at each of the nunataks where we collect so that we will be able to see if differences in DNA sequence between N. lituyae populations correspond with the distances between the nunataks from which they are collected. Of course, there is also a chance that the DNA sequences of all of the N. lituyae populations will be the same. This would also provide an interesting result as it would suggest that the N. lituyae populations are able to move from nunatak to nunatak in spite of the extremely harsh conditions of the Juneau Icefield.

Regardless of the findings of this riveting project, I have been having the time of my life rediscovering what made the Juneau Icefield Research Program something special for my father, Andrew Slavin (JIRP ’73), who raised me with whimsical stories of this magical place in Alaska. Aside from the amazing landscapes and mostly beautiful weather, I’d have to say that my favorite thing about this program continues to be the people. When I first joined the group, I was equally excited to be reunited with old friends as well as make many new ones, and I most certainly have. I have definitely appreciated how enthusiastic everyone has been about my project - I don’t think a single insect, let alone beetle, has walked through camp without someone letting me know of its whereabouts.  The group of students, staff, and faculty who choose to truly take the time to enjoy each others’ presence while doing great research on the Icefield is truly what has made JIRP one of the most special times of my life now not once, but twice!

Notes from the Ferry

By Molly Blakowski

I see Cantrell sort of beat me to the obligatory, sappy goodbye post, but, as Uwe would say… this is my one.

The kind of scene that brought me back to Southeast Alaska for seconds. Photo: M. Blakowski

A hundred miles up the coast from Juneau, Alaska, a mainline vessel for the Alaska Marine Highway System carries us down the Inside Passage, a thousand mile stretch of ocean protected by a chain of archipelagos west of the continent’s edge. For me, it is the final day of the JIRP season; tomorrow, I will be leaving for Anchorage to prepare my poster for the annual geochemistry conference in Florence, Italy. Funny to think this day has finally come.

The adjacent terrain is town-less and teeming with life; the fecund estuaries of the great grizzly bear and wolf. At the stern, I sip lukewarm tea from a styrofoam cup and watch the sea as it breaks against beaches littered with blue-ish white and pale-gray stones, delicately laced together by soft, green mosses. Tiny pools of rainwater accumulate amongst the till, beyond which grow virgin, old-growth spruce that cling to scalloped granite walls, and white-capped mountains draped with stringy curtains of clouds that seem to peel apart like pages in a pop-up book. It’s windy now, and the late afternoon sun is low in the sky, glowing the same dirty yellow as an old seaman’s slicker. The ship rolls atop the gentle waves, and as my friends sprawl out on their loungechairs back up on the deck, glacier goggles sliding down their sunburnt cheeks, I remind myself of a quote written in one of the outhouses back on the icefield:

“I feel more like I do now than when I came in!” – The prototype “Fugger”

[NOTE:  'Fugger' is a term (used endearingly) for a JIRPer, stemming from the name of the non-profit parent organization of JIRP - Foundation for Glacier and Environmental Research (FGER)]

Just think. Combined, we have traversed thousands of miles of beautiful, untouched snow, walked from ice to gravelly streambeds that billions of people will never, ever see; we’ve thrown rocks at other rocks that nobody else will ever know exist. Our burns, callouses, and minefields of blisters are signs that time does not pass gently by in climates harsh as these, a sentiment to which the jagged landscape before us can attest, and yet, what a splendor it has been to wake up at dawn and see the moon low in the sky, glowing pink, the Taku Towers to our backs. To feel so free and easy and full of light.

Does it happen in other people's lives, I wonder, that a single event influences all subsequent time? Because after this second summer in Alaska, I know that things have changed for me—and although I am unable to pinpoint some exact moment when the transition took place, I couldn’t be more serious when I say I am leaving the icefield a different person than when I arrived. My life has been forever changed; I can tell from this familiar feeling as I gaze out across the water, a feeling that I hope I will never forget. Of course, I can try to explain, but those of you who are with me right now, and will be reading this as it is posted, I know you will understand. And likewise, those of you who have seen it before, I have no doubt that you too will recollect the very sensation overcoming me right now as I watch the distant lights of Juneau slowly rolling in, how it all looks so new, so different from anything I have seen before.

I believe that for each of us, the pattern of our lives have and will continue to form around memories like these—whether they be of the early-morning smell of Spam grease and Kirkland-brand coffee, the sound of crampons crunching into crisp, blue ice, or the comfortable stillness of a sun setting over the Gilkey Trench. I don't know how many places, or times, or chances like this one person is allowed to have in one lifetime. I don't know if I’ll ever see some of these people, or some of these places ever again. Nevertheless, they will remain dear in my heart as we all part ways and return to school and jobs worldwide.

Like the hundreds or thousands before me, I have fallen in love with this icefield, this program, these people. How could I not? Here, I have found the scholars who have rejuvenated my curiosity and encouraged me to continue pursuing a career in the earth sciences. The strong women who have inspired me to seek leadership roles in expeditionary settings. The friends who have taught me to consider each day a blessing, who have lent me a hand and brushed snow off my pack after a tumble down the ski hill, who have schemed and laughed with me in front of gas stoves spattered with Spam grease and oozing pancake batter, who have smoothed over my anxieties with cups of tea and quiet conversation, who have read to me aloud under setting suns and waxing moons, who have guided me across scree slopes, vertical swamps and crevasse fields with ease, who have lain awake with me until two hunting for shooting stars and talking just to talk, even when they had to get up early for cook duty the next morning.

Now, I sip from my cup and lock my elbows against the railing, craning my neck for a better view. Juneau is coming, closer and closer; I swear it looks so bizarre glowing there in the dark, like a little figurine town, or like it all could be made of crepe paper, carefully folded and taped in place. Surrounded by little candles, just flickering there, waiting for us. Knowing where we’ve been. Occasionally during my time on the Icefield I have woken up in the middle of the night in a little panic, wondering where I am, and the idea of packing up my bags, leaving my JIRP family and flying to Anchorage tomorrow makes me feel eerily similar. Well, here goes.

To the friends I have made this summer, and to those of you who I’ve yet to meet, I thank you for giving me the time to explain that this place and the memories we have of it will cling hardily to these talus slopes for years and years to come, certainly for the rest of my life—and I hope for yours as well. To the FGERs I’ll never forget, may the roots we have firmed here withstand the tests of weather and time, and may this forever be our refuge, through and through. I can feel it in the light sea breeze, could hear it earlier in the promising calls of sea birds, and again now in the laughter of all you freaks and geeks as you gather and wait for the ship to port. I can see it in this skyline of crepe paper castles and candles.

Because while it’s true that for this summer, the icefield is behind us, in a few moments, we will be leaving this ship feeling more like we do now than when we came in.

A bittersweet view from “The Hilton” at Camp 10. Photo: B. Stamper

The Hidden Messages of JIRP

By Annie Cantrell

When I headed to Juneau I did not know where I would be living.  I assumed  it would not  be in tents for most of the time. I had everything on the packing list and I knew I was physically and emotionally capable. All that had propelled me into JIRP was curiosity. I was curious about myself and who I would be when surrounded by white. Another thing I did not know, was how many years of great people before me have been curious about themselves in the same way. The legacy of JIRP was completely unknown to me.

Back in January my dad told me about how a close family friend of ours had done this thing on the Juneau Icefield where he stayed on the ice for two months and helped students with research. I decided I wanted to go almost immediately after our phone conversation. I was accepted, but our friend died a bit after, so I hardly heard about it from him.

Upon entering the world of JIRP on the van from the airport I got my first glimpse into the legacy when I was told that the founder and long-term director of JIRP lives in my hometown (Moscow, Idaho). I knew nothing about Maynard M. Miller at the time, just as I knew nothing about the spirit of what I was getting myself into. A couple of days later, while we were in lecture in Juneau, Dr. Alf Pinchak comes in looking like someone out of another era, and he listened to the lecture with us. Simply seeing him filled me with this strange sense of awe. I was thrilled to learn that he would be coming with us to the Icefield.

I started to get little hints of what I was a part of.  These camps we were living in were built in the 40’s, largely through military funding and have been in use since then.  The first part I saw of Camp 17 were stone structures that had been built for a  temporary shelter while these men built the formal camp.  In the C17 cook shack, the first JIRP building I entered, the walls were  covered in Sharpie writing going back to the 70’s.

I did not quite know how to take it all in. Every building is covered in writing. Some of it is really funny.  Reading the walls is a common past time. Sometimes I search for names I recognize. To know you are staying in a place where past JIRPers have also been tired, had cabin fever, waited anxiously for mail, and made games out of nothing, brings that place to life.

Right before I left Camp 17,  I signed by my bed, 15 years before someone from the town where I go to school also slept. I commented enthusiastically in Sharpie on the coincidence and dated it. There was also writing above the staircase where I slept, to be careful not to slip as the author had done (and I almost did many times during my stay). 

At Camp 10, signatures in the girl’s cabin ranged all the way back to the 60’s. These past inhabitants wrote some funny stuff. They also wrote some dumb stuff. We wrote some responses to these things. There was writing about being tired and sore after the very same traverse we had just completed. The very same older man I talked about seeing in Juneau at the lecture signed my bed in 1963. As did one of this year's safety staff members, in 2011.

All these things on top of one another slowly made me feel like maybe I was also a part of the legacy. I will not forget when I came to Camp 9, a tiny shack, where a small group of JIRPers stayed for two nights to dig Mass Balance pits, and I saw the name of the man from my hometown who told me to come here. He scrawled it inconspicuously on the ladder. I had found him. I signed beside it and felt I belonged.

Miller, who seems like a legend of a man to me, has been written about everywhere. In the cook shack the words “Miller Rocks” are scrawled messily up high on the wall. There is a tiny loft in the girls’ cabin where the words “FIRE ESCAPE/M3 (meaning Maynard M. Miller) AVOIDANCE DEVICE” are written. Apparently he did not like going in there since he would hit his head on the ceiling. I hear he would often say “Mighty fine, Mighty fine.” These words are written all over the buildings.

I stayed at Camp 18, the favorite camp of my family's friend. With the Gilkey Trench below and the sound of chunks breaking off the icefall, the Icefield really feels alive. I feel so close to the past when I read and connect to the wonderful and ridiculous things written. I was feeling bittersweet, with the beauty of this camp and the ending of JIRP, when I saw this quote written on the wall of the Camp 18 cookshack:   

“Such a long long time to be gone, and a short time to be there.” 

Aurora Hunters

By Sarah Bouckoms

For the first seven nights at Camp 18 I did not sleep under a roof. We were blessed with fabulous weather that left most of us retreating inside a building only for an hour or two during our daily lectures.  As the sun set, we all wandered around the rocks, looking for the best sleeping site we could find. Armed with bed rolls or sleeping pads, we knew we could tolerate a few bumps and rolls of rocks but the flatter the spot, the better. This of course could all be compromised for the view or proximity to the icefalls. Yes, we were lulled to sleep by the sounds of the calving Vaughan Lewis Icefall under the clear night skies of Alaska. It sounds so wild and remote that sometimes I feel as if I am dreaming before I have even fallen asleep. 

Armed with a book for a pillow the Vaughan-Lewis Icefall can lull anyone to sleep. Photo by Sarah Bouckoms.

We do our best to avoid sleeping and spend time finding constellations and hunting for aurora. I am familiar with the constellations of the Northern Hemisphere so it is a joy to see some old friends that have gone missing with the extended daylight hours this close to the Arctic Circle. An even greater joy comes when I am able to point out the constellations to the students. I have to explain the first fundamental rule to be an astronomer -  having an overactive imagination. That, yes, this square over here is completely different from that square over there. Clearly one is Hercules, the brave warrior, the other is Pegasus, proudly soaring through the sky. The Summer Triangle also greets us shinning forth from the stars Vega, Altair and Deneb. Not to be forgotten is the slightly dimmer star Polaris which is near the North Celestial Pole, the special point that marks the axis around which the stars appear to rotate.  It can easily be found by extending the distance between the last two stars in the Big Dipper. Surely every good Alaskan must know this group of stars since it is represented on the state flag. But did you know that it is not actually a constellation? Yes it is true. As Pluto is not a planet, nor is the Big Dipper a constellation. Have no fear though, for the group of stars that we know well as the Big Dipper resides in another constellation, Ursa Major. The Latin name translates to Big Bear.  Another key ingredient to being a good astronomer is imagination. For the handle of the Big Dipper is actually the elongated tail of a bear and the four stars of the cup are the rear end and back of the bear. Further stars contribute to the face along with stars in groups of three to make up the paws. It is much easier to see the constellations when there is less light pollution, such as we are lucky to avoid on the Juneau Icefield. It seems a shame that the light from the stars should travel light years through outer space only to be dimmed out by the man-made light in the lower parts of the atmosphere just before it reaches our eyes. Thus is life in a world where we are no longer ruled by the solar cycle but a 9 – 5 workday. If you can manage to escape out to the country or turn the lights off in your house, you will be amazed at the glory of the stars and the white band that is the Milky Way.

A group sleeping outside wakes to morning views of the Gilkey Trench. Photo by Sarah Bouckoms.

While stars are pretty, that is not what we outside slumberers dream to see. What we really want to see are the solar particles colliding above Earth’s atmosphere attracted by the magnetic field. This fantastic display of collisions is responsible for the light that we call the Aurora Borealis in the Northern Hemisphere and the Aurora Australis in the Southern Hemisphere.  The different colors are dependent on the type of particles interacting and the altitude. The sun emits electrons which interact with either Nitrogen or Oxygen. The collisions (and hence the aurora) are most prominent closer to the poles as this is where the magnetic fields converge, creating the greatest pull for the electrically charged particles emitted from the Sun.

So if you are a good aurora hunter, what do you have to look for? The probability of the collisions happening in the winter is no greater than in the summer. The largest difference is that during the winter you have 12 + hours of darkness, which gives you a greater chance of observing the light show. We are only just creeping into true darkness as we enter August, so the Sun, which is ironically the source of the particles, is also producing light which is brighter than the light of the aurora.  The Sun has decided to help us out though! The Sun is climbing out of its 11 year cycle from a solar minimum – or minimum amount of solar activity. As the Sun becomes more active, it will send more particles into the Solar System, increasing the chance of an interaction in Earth’s atmosphere. So if the stars alight for us and we get a clear night, with high solar activity, we may be lucky enough to see this dazzling display of lights. Keep your fingers crossed readers and you two will get to vicariously live through the wonder of the aurora in another blog post full of aurora pictures or videos.

While I have watched with enthusiasm as the faces of my students light up when I show them YouTube videos of aurora, I hope that I may be lucky enough to record my own video or describe the lights personally back in the classroom. I love teaching physics, as I find that knowing the science behind the phenomena of the natural world only makes it more beautiful.

Taken straight from the sleeping bag. The beautiful sunrise over Atlin Lake welcomes us to the day when we return to civilization. Photo by Sarah Bouckoms.

While the Sun wakes me up earlier than I would like at times, watching it lighting up the glaciers as they drip off the jagged mountain peeks from the comfort of my toasty sleeping bag, I have a quiet moment in the morning to myself thinking I must have done something right to wake up to this view. Then the hustle and bustle of the day on the Juneau Icefield begins and we wait for nightfall when the aurora hunters emerge again.

Blisters and Band-Aids on the Juneau Icefield

By Sarah Bouckoms
With the change over of faculty we are excited to welcome long time FGER, Jack Ellis. He is an ER doctor in Burlington, VT with wilderness medicine experience.  We are glad to have him on board to expand upon the first aid we learned earlier in the summer.  The past few nights’ lectures have been filled with fun hands-on scenarios.

First we discussed the best practices for splinting ankles, knees, elbows and shoulders.  With the loose rocks found around camp, it is a real possibility to roll an ankle so we have to take care while walking. The triangle bandages and Sam Splints were very handy but we also learned how to be resourceful with bandanas, pieces of wood or rolled up jackets.

Kamil Chadirji-Martinez being lifted on  a backboard with the help of 6 fellow JIRPers, including Jai Beeman on the left with Jack Ellis and  William Jenkins to the right. Photo by Sarah Bouckoms.

We then moved on to heavier topics dealing with broken legs and spinal injuries. In most cases on the Juneau Icefield, if the weather is good, one can be in the hospital in less than an hour. However, we were rehearsing the possible scenario that help was not accessible, and a patient had to be evacuated by foot. After splinting the patient, we needed to package the patient up. This was easily done with a backboard. We tested our skills by inclining our nervous ‘patient’ Kamil Chadirji-Martinez at all angles of inclination. To his relief he did not slide around on the backboard.

Kamil Chadirji-Martinez is well secured. Don’t worry Mom, this is only practice! Photo by Sarah Bouckoms.

In the field, it is not common practice to carry around a backboard strapped to your pack. But you often have materials in which to make a very suitable carrying rig known as a litter.  Using a combination of skis, poles, tarps and ropes, we made hypothermic body wraps or carriages to transport victims out of the wilderness. Communication is key when lifting and traveling with a patient, but thanks to our good leadership skills and teamwork, the system worked well. 

Christiane McCabe is wrapped up like a tortilla by Jack Ellis. Photo by Sarah Bouckoms.

Despite all the stress that we felt playing out scenarios involving an ‘injured’ JIRPer, the most likely first aid we will have to practice will be easily managed by the supplies in our personal first aid kits. An extensive first aid kit is part of our 10 Essentials and is brought with us whenever we leave camp. Blisters, sunburn, hypothermia and dehydration are the most likely medical issues we will have to treat on JIRP. Also lucky for us, many of the JIRPers this year already have their Wilderness First Responders or Wilderness First Aid Certifications.  Ironically, the more training you have in first aid, the more aware you are of the dangers and less likely you will have to use it. No matter the level of training you have, it is important to remember the first rule of first aid – always making sure that the scene is safe before you rush into help the victim. Here on JIRP, we look after each other, and ourselves, as we function as a group all affected by each member's well being. 

Interview with Polly Bass

By Mary Gianotti

Polly Bass is a Faculty Member for the JIRP 2013 season. She came here first as a student herself in 1992 and has returned many times since then. She is a valuable member to the summer program with her knowledge in geobotany. Her enthusiasm is contagious and her dedication to the program a benchmark for all.

Dr. Polly Bass talking with JIRP students, Patrick Englehardt, William Jenkins and Mary Gianotti, about the geobotany of the "Taku B" nunatak on the Taku Glacier in Southeast Alaska. Photo by Mira Dutschke

Mary Gianotti: What is your current field of study or interest?
Polly Bass: I am a physical geographer specializing in alpine and high latitude vegetation, Quaternary environments and glacial geomorphology. I study the biogeography of periglacial areas and the vegetation of nunataks, in particular vascular plants and their distribution.

MG: What was your educational path to becoming a scientist?
PB: I was inspired first by my 7th grade science teacher, Mr. Anderson. He and his family were incredibly enthusiastic and lived their work. 

In my high school library I came across a booklet on National Science Foundation sponsored summer programs. That is how I found out about the Juneau Icefield Research Program. I wrote Dr. Miller and he replied with a detailed letter. My work in various jobs including a paper route and work at the Pastry Palace on the weekends allowed me to purchase my first plane ticket to Alaska.

Once I got up to the Icefield, I was taken by not only the passion everyone had for their work, but also by how Dr. Miller and the academic and safety staff really cared about the students and wanted them to succeed. They made sure we had a sense of responsibility and accountability to others and ourselves. Dr. Miller emphasized, s=xy^2. Your success in life (s) is equal to your God given ability (x) multiplied by your motivation (y) squared. In other words, your work ethic is much more important than your natural talent. The program also taught me about expedition mentality. If you hurt your toe, it is not just your toe, it is the expedition’s toe. It is important to take care of yourself and recognize you are one of several integral pieces of a well oiled machine. All are important and without one of the parts, the rest will not function as efficiently.

I attended the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee for my undergraduate degree and initially majored in geology.   An interest in the plant life encountered on geology field investigations led me to add a biology major. I knew I wanted to return to the Icefield. I earned my EMT certification and took NOLS and Outward Bond courses in winter camping and ski mountaineering and extra technical mountaineering in order to increase my value to JIRP. In 1994, I came back to the Icefield and worked on a senior thesis project while serving as a junior staff member. This research project was on the investigation of the presence of Blockschollen flow at the terminus of the Taku Glacier.

Following undergraduate work, I worked with the USFWS in Homer, Alaska, at the Alaska Maritime Wildlife Refuge prior to completing a masters degree with a thesis on the distribution of gymnamoebae in subtypes of the Orangeburg Sandy Loam. My concentration was in geology and botany. My advisor, Dr. Paul Bischoff was very inspiring. During this time I completed my teaching certification and student taught as a high school science teacher.  I then continued to pursue research and entered a doctoral program in physical geography, concentrating in alpine environments and high latitude environments. I went down to Ecuador initially considering research on tropical glacier environments.  Shortly thereafter I returned to the Juneau Icefield and felt like I had come home.  My interest in vegetation and its distribution led to the observation of a lack of knowledge on the plants of the icefield region. I decided to focus on the theory of island biogeography and its application to the nunataks.

Dr. Polly Bass talking with JIRP students, Mira Dutschke, William Jenkins amongst others, about glandular tipped hairs of Phyllodoce aleuctica, ssp. glanduliflora (Yellow Mountain Heather) on the "Taku B" nunatak above Camp 10. Photo by Sarah Bouckoms

MG: What have been the worst places your work has taken you?

PB: It is a matter of perspective. Southeast Alaska receives significant rain and wind.  This can wear on a person. Even the most difficult conditions make us  better and allow us to appreciate the sunny days. The challenges are just as important as the Bluebird Days. Supporting scientific field work requires significant energy and resources. We cannot afford to waste a day in a tent or shelter because it is raining sideways. Every day in this environment is a gift…another day in paradise.

MG: What about the best places your work has taken you?

PB: Getting to work in places where it is quite likely that no one has set foot prior, is a primeval thrill.  You are one with nature. You can really see nature at work without the clutter of contemporary times. The basic processes of landscape and ecosystem evolution are in clear view.

MG: From talking with you earlier I know that you have taught in Sitka, Alaska and been a Southeast Alaskan resident for seven years. What do you love most about Southeast Alaska?

PB: It is green and lush. Even in the winter it is green. You notice that when you go to other places.  People in Southeast Alaska love to complain about the wind and rain. However, it is all of the rain that makes the landscape lush and vibrant.

MG: How many times have you been up to the Juneau Icefield?
PB: Fifteen times.

MG: Clearly this is an important place to you. What do you love most about the Juneau Icefield?

PB: I like the feeling of being close to the Earth.  Without the complications of the modern world, one can focus on the basics.  When you remove these distractions you have a better chance of understanding what nature has to share. It allows for a new perspective on the world and life.

MG: What advice would you give to young scientists?

PB: Don’t box yourself in. Be open minded. Design your own skill set based on personal strengths. Change is the only constant in life. Having a background that is diverse and interdisciplinary will give you the ability to have unconventional insight in the areas where disciplines overlap. This is frequently where breakthroughs occur.  Do not be afraid to take the difficult route.  It will pay off in the long run. Don’t protect yourself by taking easy courses to protect your GPA. Let go of the ‘success ethos’ and other societal baggage and do what you are interested in and passionate about, even if it is not what you are best at, right now. Most importantly, be thankful for the people who care enough to tell you things that you may not want to hear  but need to hear; who point out your true potential, which you may not be living up to;  and who teach you how you can be a better scientist and person.

MG: Thank you Polly. It was nice talking with you.

Dr. Polly Bass talking with JIRP students about the cushion plants and lichens on the "Taku B" nunatak along the Taku Glacier in Southeast Alaska. Photo by Sarah Bouckoms.