A Basic Introduction to the Juneau Icefield Research Program

Annie Boucher

JIRP Senior Staff and Faculty Member

Welcome to the Juneau Icefield Research Program blog! We’re gearing up for the new season: students will soon be connecting with staff mentors to navigate expedition preparation, staff are making plans for staff training week in June, and faculty are sketching out plans for student research projects.

At this time of year, when our new students are preparing for the field season, we know there are a lot of people getting to know JIRP (pronounced “jerp”) for the first time. In the coming weeks, we will use this blog to give you a taste of who will be involved in the expedition this summer, what all goes into expedition prep, and some background on a few of the returning JIRPers who make everything happen. Over the course of the field season - June through August - we will use the blog to post daily updates from the field about what we’re up to. Students will post photos, essays, drawings, and video clips covering both the science research and the day-to-day mechanics of moving more than 50 people across the Icefield.

We have a lot to look forward to! To start, though, here’s a quick and dirty overview of what’s about to happen.

What is JIRP?
JIRP is an expedition-based field science education program. Over two months, we traverse the Juneau Icefield in southeast Alaska and northwest British Columbia, moving between permanent camps while we teach a variety of field research and glacier science topics. Because we are living right on the glacier, JIRP students are immersed in their studies. They don’t just learn about glacier ice flow from a textbook, they go out onto the glacier and explore the real-life markers of flow dynamics from the ice surface, from inside crevasses, from under the ice in sub-glacial caves, and from the bird’s eye view atop nearby mountains. JIRP students spend every waking minute soaking up their surroundings; this leads to a deeper understanding of the environment than any student could get inside the classroom.

Faculty member Billy Armstrong (right, red jacket) holds an evening lecture on ice flow dynamics above the Gilkey Glacier.

Faculty member Billy Armstrong (right, red jacket) holds an evening lecture on ice flow dynamics above the Gilkey Glacier.

Who makes up the JIRP team?
There are three groups of people at JIRP: students, staff, and faculty. At any given time, there are 50-60 people participating in the expedition. Our students are mostly undergraduates, although we often have high schoolers, graduate students, and in-between-schools students as well. Our students come from schools across the U.S. and around the world. Everything that happens at JIRP revolves around student education. This summer we expect to have 32 students, all of whom will be part of the program for the whole field season.

Students Matty Miller (blue jacket) and Tai Rovzar (green jacket) repel into a crevasse and observe their surroundings.

Students Matty Miller (blue jacket) and Tai Rovzar (green jacket) repel into a crevasse and observe their surroundings.

Our staff facilitate field safety and expedition logistics. The Icefield-based field staff spend the first two weeks of the program teaching the students and new faculty required glacier safety skills. For the rest of the season they manage our camps and accompany every group that goes out onto the ice to oversee technical mountaineering challenges and take care of any first aid needs. The Juneau-based staff organize personnel, equipment, and groceries for our helicopters, as well as maintaining daily radio communication with the expedition. This summer JIRP has 12 staff members on the Icefield and two in Juneau, all of whom will work for the whole season.

Field staffer Kirsten Arnell (center, blue jacket) discusses setting routes for rope team travel on the Norris Icefall. The field staff works closely with the students every step of the traverse, teaching them the skills to travel safely through the terrain. Photo credit: Ibai Rico.

Field staffer Kirsten Arnell (center, blue jacket) discusses setting routes for rope team travel on the Norris Icefall. The field staff works closely with the students every step of the traverse, teaching them the skills to travel safely through the terrain. Photo credit: Ibai Rico.

Our faculty are researchers, professors, graduate students, journalists, medical doctors, and other professionals. While their backgrounds vary, they share a deep commitment to education and expertise in a field relevant to the Juneau Icefield. They are on the program primarily to teach and while they’re with the expedition all their work includes JIRP students. Faculty rotate throughout the summer; most weeks there are between 5 and 10 faculty members on the icefield.

Student Joel Gonzales-Santiago and faculty member Lindsey Nicholson download meteorological data from a weather station. Photo credit: Allen Pope.

When does JIRP happen?
JIRP is a summer program. Our team is in the field from mid-June through mid-August. The program has been running on this schedule every year since 1949. For more on the history of JIRP, check out our history page and stayed tuned for some JIRP legends to be posted to the blog this spring and throughout the summer.

On clear nights toward the end of the summer JIRPers often sleep outside. Everyone falls asleep around 11:00 pm when it’s getting dark, but it’s not uncommon to wake up three hours later to shouts of “Lights! Northern lights!” Photo credit: Brad Markle.

On clear nights toward the end of the summer JIRPers often sleep outside. Everyone falls asleep around 11:00 pm when it’s getting dark, but it’s not uncommon to wake up three hours later to shouts of “Lights! Northern lights!” Photo credit: Brad Markle.

Where are we working?
The Juneau Icefield is one of the largest icefields in North America at 3,700 square kilometers, covering an area a bit larger than the state of Rhode Island. An icefield is a collection of several contiguous glaciers that flow more or less outward from an area of high snow accumulation. The ice surface of an icefield is low enough that the glaciers flow around, not over, the highest mountains (distinguishing it from an ice cap). The Juneau Icefield straddles the border between southeast Alaska and northwest British Columbia. The western side of the Juneau Icefield abuts the city of Juneau, AK - our students begin their traverse hiking just beyond the Home Depot parking lot. In contrast to many icefields of a similar size, proximity to Juneau makes the logistics of JIRP relatively easy.

The hike down to camp for dinner. At the top of the rocky hilltop in the fore ground you can pick out the buildings of our largest camp. Beyond camp, Taku Glacier flows from right to left in front of the distant Taku Towers. Photo credit: Kenzie McAdams.

The hike down to camp for dinner. At the top of the rocky hilltop in the fore ground you can pick out the buildings of our largest camp. Beyond camp, Taku Glacier flows from right to left in front of the distant Taku Towers. Photo credit: Kenzie McAdams.

JIRP maintains several permanent camps across the Icefield; we are based out of these for most of the summer. Our large camps include bunk room housing for all 50-60 members of the expedition, cooking facilities, outhouses, generators, and lecture space. All permanent structures are built on the bare rocky hilltops above the flowing glaciers. The buildings are modest and space is sometimes tight, but it makes all the difference for us to be able to get out of the weather at the end of the day.

Our last large camp, near the divide between the U.S. and Canadian side of the icefield. Photo credit: Kenzie McAdams.

Our last large camp, near the divide between the U.S. and Canadian side of the icefield. Photo credit: Kenzie McAdams.

Why study the Juneau Icefield?
People study the Juneau Icefield for a host of reasons. Geologists seek information about the complicated tectonic and geologic history of Alaska. Biologists examine the flora and fauna of the rocky mountain islands isolated by the flowing ice. Physicists use seismic data to look into the ice itself to understand how the glaciers flow.

Students DJ Jarrin and Riley Wall set up the delicate gravimeter. The gravimeter measures tiny anomalies in the local gravity, which the students use to deduce information about the bedrock buried beneath almost a mile (1500 m) of ice. Photo credit: DJ Jarrin.

Students DJ Jarrin and Riley Wall set up the delicate gravimeter. The gravimeter measures tiny anomalies in the local gravity, which the students use to deduce information about the bedrock buried beneath almost a mile (1500 m) of ice. Photo credit: DJ Jarrin.

Glaciers are also a “hot topic” right now because of climate change. Glaciers form and flow in areas where annual snow accumulation is high enough that substantial snowpack survives the summer. Because they rely on the snowpack, glaciers are sensitive to two central pieces of climate: temperature and precipitation. Measuring and observing different aspects of glaciers can tell us about past and present trends in temperature and precipitation. Climate research is a central component of the JIRP curriculum, but it is far from the only topic we cover.

Students Kate Bollen, Kristen Lyda Rees, and Louise Borthwick measure the density of the snow accumulated over the past year. Even at the end of the summer the last year’s snow accumulation is often 4-6 m/13-20 ft. deep high on the icefield. Measurements of the each year’s snowfall are compared with a continuous dataset that stretches back to the 1940s. Photo credit: Victor Cabrera.

Students Kate Bollen, Kristen Lyda Rees, and Louise Borthwick measure the density of the snow accumulated over the past year. Even at the end of the summer the last year’s snow accumulation is often 4-6 m/13-20 ft. deep high on the icefield. Measurements of the each year’s snowfall are compared with a continuous dataset that stretches back to the 1940s. Photo credit: Victor Cabrera.

That’s all we’ve got for now. Blog posts will be published periodically this spring and almost daily during the summer on every aspect of working and living on the Juneau Icefield. In the meantime, we hope this gives new students, their friends and family a basic idea of what to expect in the coming months.

 

Our Beautiful Machine

Annie Zaccarin

UC San Diego

I love embarking on expeditions: being able to discover new places, explore the wilderness, and learn more about the world around us. Yet, expeditions are a lot of work and for an expedition to be successful, a certain degree of planning and teamwork is required. As Howard Tomb says in his essay Expedition Behavior, the Finer Points, “Think of your team - the beautiful machine - first. You are merely a cog in that machine”.  Inadequate planning and cooperation often leads to chaos and poor execution of an expedition. JIRP runs for 8 weeks, with an average of 50 people, or cogs, in camp consisting of 32 students, 10 staff, and 6-8 rotating faculty and professors.  The larger the expedition, the more planning and gear required. Each individual requires personal gear (sleeping bag, clothes, skis, etc.), fuel, food, and bunk space. As the quantity of individuals increases, not only does the quantity of supplies increase, but so does the amount of people needed to support and help make the expedition run. It becomes imperative that expedition logistics and teamwork be running smoothly to prevent falling into disarray. Here’s a look into how our little community resists falling into such chaos through logistics, flexibility in the face of weather, and teamwork.

JIRP’s organization, leadership, and staff played a vital role in helping the JIRP machine run smoothly as we traversed across the Juneau Icefield. There were four main pieces that make up the bulk of the logistics concerns: food, fuel, machinery, and movements. Food and fuel were perhaps the easiest to understand. Food was of utmost importance in keeping us all fed, healthy, focused and enthusiastic. We used fuel to cook food, run the generator for lectures, and power the snowmobiles. Snowmobiles (known locally as “snow machines”), some of our most important machines, went out in the field almost every day to help the GPS Survey group complete transects of the glacier. They were also used for hauling supplies (tents, food, scientific equipment) out to temporary base camps for overnight scientific excursions. In addition to the smaller snowmobiles, a trusty old Thiokol (snow cat) towed out-of-commission snowmobiles and heavy sled loads up the steep slope back to camp. The fourth part of logistics, movements, might be the hardest component to understand for those readers who have not been up on the icefield. During our expedition, we slowly traversed 90 miles from established base camp to base camp across the Juneau Icefield from Juneau, Alaska to Atlin, British Columbia. Overall, this required movement of people, equipment, food, and fuel. When it came to organizing the traverse, the field staff had to consider: forming trail parties to go to the next camp, time needed for research, available camp space, and significant time just for opening and closing camps. Luckily, much of life on the icefield was intertwined with helicopter support. They brought us food, fuel, and mail and took away our waste metal and outgoing mail. In addition, new faculty arrived, and exiting faculty left on the helicopters. Helicopters also helped transport gear and scientific equipment from camp to camp when snowmobile transportation was limited due to crevasses and topography. 

Coastal Helicopter bringing us new supplies and personnel at Camp 17. Photo by Annie Zaccarin.

Coastal Helicopter bringing us new supplies and personnel at Camp 17. Photo by Annie Zaccarin.

 

However, a tricky part of running logistics and making all the pieces fit together was flexibility in the face of weather. So much of what we did relied on either going out in the field to conduct research or having helicopter flights arrive on time. When bad weather drifted in and camp was surrounded by a white out, research was delayed without new faculty arriving, fresh food could not be flown in, and weather-dependent field work had to be put off. While this may seem frustrating to those of you reading back home, we JIRPers are resilient folks who always found ways of making the most of any weather that came our way. The role of overseeing all of these components fell on our field staff and Juneau staff. It could very easily be argued that while everyone on the icefield were the engine and the heart and soul of the program, the expertly-run logistics, by the Juneau and field staff, was the motherboard that kept the expedition going. 

While staff kept the big picture and organization in perspective, all expedition members were key cogs in making the expedition machine run smoothly through teamwork and cooperation. Imagine having all 50 expedition members cook their own meals or clean the outhouses; not very practical. Within the camp, the camp manager assigned cook teams every day, and everyone pitched in on other camp chores and maintenance tasks every morning. Typical chores ranged from maintaining our makeshift snow-fridge, to refilling fuel barrels, or to touching up paint around camp. Although some of the chores were intimidating at first, such as figuring portion sizes for over 50 people, eventually we grew in learning not only how to complete each chore, but also each one’s importance in maintaining camp life. An important lesson I learned during cook crew was how to make and keep gallons of coffee ready for the never-ending cups needing refilling throughout the day. While these small tasks definitely helped keep camp from falling into chaos and disorder, less obvious forms of teamwork and community were similarly instrumental in helping our community come together.

We saw teamwork in the staff member that helped you tape up your blisters, in the faculty who worked in challenging conditions to impart their knowledge, in the friend that slowed down to ski with you, in the rope team that arrested your fall, and in the community that became a family. None of us would have been as successful up there on the icefield without that community around us. Every day, as I looked around, I saw our friendships deepen, our team grow stronger, and our community turn into its own 50-person family isolated up on our little nunatak. Our community came together as seen through the cooks that got excited to serve new culinary creations, everyone’s genuine interest in each other’s research projects, and our willingness to share dry clothing. It’s amazing how these all helped contribute to the positive, pleasant, and productive environment whatever the circumstances we were facing on the icefield. In the end, whether we were student, field staff, faculty, or Juneau staff, we all had a role to play in helping make the JIRP machine run smoothly and continue to be the remarkable program that it is. I am ever thankful for getting to be part of the amazing community that is JIRP, and all of the new found friends (students, staff, and faculty) that were instrumental in making the community and experience incredible.

Thank you to Newt for providing me with some of the insight needed for this blog post.

Coming together over dinner at Camp 10 to enjoy the view and each other's company. Photo by Annie Zaccarin.

Coming together over dinner at Camp 10 to enjoy the view and each other's company. Photo by Annie Zaccarin.

Earth's Heat Budget: How Lakes and Glaciers Are Connected

Kellie Schaefer,

Michigan Technological University

When I initially signed up for JIRP, I had no idea how I would be able to find a connection between my field of study and glaciers. The only correlation between the two that I could think of was the fact that about 2 billion people worldwide rely on annual snow pack and glaciers for drinking water (Griggs, 2015). On that note, it is relevant to mention the fact that approximately 90% of the city of Anchorage, AK relies on the Eklutna Glacier for drinking water, and about 15% of its electricity comes from a hydropower plant that utilizes meltwater from the glacier (Sinnott, 2013). While this idea was fascinating to me, I wanted to find other connections between Environmental Engineering and glaciers.

Now that I am back in school, I am finding that what I learned on the icefield can be found everywhere in the classes that I am currently taking. My Senior Design project involves calculating a mass balance model to find various concentrations of copper in a mining basin. Soil Science has showed me just how important glaciers are when forming landscapes and depositing till in certain areas (not to mention the fact that we get to dig pits, although digging a dirt pit is a much slower process than digging a snow pit). In Geohydrology, we discussed how the global groundwater flux, or movement of groundwater over a specific area, is almost equivalent to global glacial meltwater flux. Surface Water Engineering brought up the fact that inland freshwater lakes are being affected by a change in Earth’s climate due to an imbalance in our heat budget.

Meltwater from the Thomas and Lemon Creek glaciers pours into small lakes (green with glacier silt), and continue on to Lemon Creek and the Pacific Ocean. Photo by M. Beedle.

Meltwater from the Thomas and Lemon Creek glaciers pours into small lakes (green with glacier silt), and continue on to Lemon Creek and the Pacific Ocean. Photo by M. Beedle.

This “heat budget” concept really struck a chord with me. The sun emits shortwave radiation, which enters our atmosphere. This shortwave radiation can be reflected back into space (clouds), absorbed by Earth’s surface, or absorbed by chemical compounds in the atmosphere and re-emitted as longwave radiation back to Earth’s surface. Typically, the Earth would have a balanced heat budget, with incoming radiation equivalent to outgoing radiation. The atmospheric chemistry of the Earth has been anthropogenically altered, and now the heat budget of the Earth is imbalanced. Greenhouse gases absorb reflected shortwave radiation from the Earth’s surface, and re-emit it as longwave radiation. 

What does this imbalance in Earth’s heat budget mean? In terms of surface water, lakes are absorbing more shortwave radiation and increasing in temperature. This is especially true for Lake Superior, which has had an increase in mean lake temperature by 2.5°C since 1976. Additionally, winter ice cover has been reduced by 23% - 12% over the last 100 years (Austin and Colman, 2007). This decrease in the ice cover results in a lower albedo for the lake. More shortwave radiation is absorbed during the winter months, increasing the temperature of the lake. This positive feedback has gradually resulted in reduced ice cover and increased lake temperatures. Freshwater fish require specific temperatures in order to survive, and this increase in lake temperature results in a reduction in the ideal environment for some fish species. Similarly, glaciers provide specific temperatures required for salmon spawning. Streams fed by glacier meltwater become cooler, allowing salmon to spawn in streams that would otherwise be too warm. The decreasing mass in glaciers can sometimes lead to a reduction in the glaciers surface area. This results in a lower albedo for that particular area, since the glacier is no longer reflecting the incoming solar radiation. 

On a global scale, the reduction in glacier surface cover and the shortened ice cover period of inland lakes is resulting in an overall lower albedo. The Earth’s heat budget continues to become more and more imbalanced, with more heat being retained in Earth’s atmosphere than is being emitted back into space. Positive feedback cases such as a reduction in ice cover, both with glaciers and lakes, is resulting in more retained heat. We cannot afford to allow Earth to reach a point where it is impossible to return to a balanced heat budget.

References

Austin, J. A., and S. M. Colman (2007), Lake Superior summer water temperatures are increasing more rapidly than regional air temperatures: A positive ice-albedo feedback, Geophys. Res. Lett., 34, L06604, doi:10.1029/2006GL029021.

Griggs, M. B.. (2015), Two Billion People Rely On Snow For Drinking Water, And Supplies Are Melting." Popular Science. Environmental Research Letters, 12 Nov. 2015. Web. 27 Sept. 2016.

Sinnott, Rick (2013), As Eklutna Glacier Shrinks, Anchorage's Water and Power Will Become More Expensive. Alaska Dispatch News. N.p., 15 Dec. 2013. Web. 27 Sept. 2016.

Communication and Toads

Riley Wall

Occidental College ’17

Blogging seems quite simple.  To blog one simply needs to communicate in an informal manner with one’s audience, but to be perfectly honest with you, blogging intimidates me.

When I write a blog I have a voice.  Not to say that I don’t usually have a voice; I mean writing a blog is like putting a megaphone in front of my mouth. My words can reach an audience far larger when written than when spoken.  I am intimidated. I am intimidated not because I find the process too difficult, but because I realize that if others are taking the time to read my words to better understand JIRP, that I have a responsibility to make those words representative of the experience and its impacts.  JIRP however, for me, has been so deeply impactful that I struggle with the question of how I could best attempt to communicate the myriad of ways that I have been changed by my experiences on the icefield and the myriad of landscapes that have contributed to those changes.  

I am reminded of a quote from one of my favorite authors, Yann Martell, “words are cold, muddy toads trying to understand sprites dancing in a field–but they’re all we have, ” and I know that I cannot communicate through my cold, muddy personal observations and senses what is most vital and important about JIRP.

I can describe the visual beauty of the enormous Gilkey Trench.  I can illustrate how it plunges 2,000 vertical feet down below JIRP’s Camp 18, how the curved ogives and enormous medial moraines create an unexpected symmetry in the ice until the canyon bends and carries them out of sight, how the glacier resembles a calm laminar flowing river several kilometers wide, and how the ice seems to light on fire as orange, pink, and purple clouds reflect down upon it at sunset.  I can effectively communicate what I see on the icefield, but I wonder if I can describe how the trench makes me small and insignificant before its grandeur, or how it can instill so much joy in me when I revel in its beauty one moment and so much sadness the next when I spot the engraved lines recording hundreds of feet of rapid glacial melting in the canyon walls, signaling that this mighty force before me is dying, and still I know that I cannot communicate how what I saw on the icefield changed me.  

The Gilkey Trench as seen from Camp 18. Photo by Riley Wall.

The Gilkey Trench as seen from Camp 18. Photo by Riley Wall.

I can describe the sounds that ice blocks larger than houses make when they tumble down the Vaughan Lewis Ice Fall.  I can convey how the noise that crumbling seracs make resembles the roar of distant thunder, how the crashes are often powerful enough to wake sleeping JIRPers, how the rumble that interjects forcefully into everyday life at random intervals never loses its novelty or ceases to cause excitement, and how one can’t help but hold his or her breath until each individual ice fall event terminates with an eerie thud.  I can effectively communicate what I hear on the icefield, but I wonder if I can communicate how these sounds indicate that despite the fact that the icefield seems static day to day, it is in a constant state of dynamic transformation, very much alive and susceptible to human actions, and still I know that I cannot communicate how what I heard on the icefield changed me.

The Vaughan Lewis Icefall. Photo by Allen Pope.

The Vaughan Lewis Icefall. Photo by Allen Pope.

I can describe the unexpected scents of the forget-me-not, heather, and fireweed blooms. I can express how tiny blue forget-me-nots conceal their fragrance during the day but unleash a powerful sweet aroma when the sun drops beneath the horizon, how the white, pink, and mountain heather release an earthy, herb-like smell that is reminiscent of the holiday season, and how expansive fields of deep purple fireweed draw passersby and bees alike with their citrus-honey like scent.  I can communicate what I smell on the icefield, but I wonder if I can communicate how these smells are more prevalent now than ever, how many of these plants are markers of change in the form of primary succession, how the hillsides now full of bright colors and smells used to be permanently white and scentless, how even though I enjoy the unexpected blooms, I can’t help but to feel a tinge of bitterness when encountering their aromas, and still I know that I cannot communicate how what I smelled on the icefield changed me.

Dwarf fireweed above Llewellyn Glacier. Photo by Riley Wall.

Dwarf fireweed above Llewellyn Glacier. Photo by Riley Wall.

I can describe the sensations caused by the ice of the Orphan Ice Caves.  I can explain how hands effortlessly slide across the walls as if they were greased with oil, how the ice’s surface is flawlessly smooth yet mere millimeters deeper within, billions of trapped bubbles resembling the cosmos crack and rearrange under the minimal pressure and heat of a fingertip, how the ridges of the inverted sun cups on the ceiling are as sharp as knife blades, and how the cave, warmed by the sun above, continually drips 0° C water, soaking clothing and causing moments of shock every time a drop touches exposed skin.  I can effectively communicate the feeling of what I touch on the icefield, but I wonder if I can communicate how lucky I feel to have walked through such an ephemeral feature of the landscape that morphs, stabilizes and destabilizes annually, ever-shrinking since changes in ice flow dynamics and rising temperatures permanently detached the caves from the larger glacier, bestowing on it the name Orphan, and still I know that I cannot communicate how what I felt on the icefield changed me.

Exploring the Orphan Ice Cave. Photo by Auri Clark.

Exploring the Orphan Ice Cave. Photo by Auri Clark.

I can describe even the flavor of the snow I ski across.  I can articulate how the finer snow is best for quenching one’s thirst because it melts most easily into refreshing water, how larger grained snow that has experienced melt and refreeze numerous times is best to provide a crunch in one’s PB&J sandwiches, and how concentrated Tang and Gatorade powder make the best snow-cone flavoring when carried out onto the icefield. I can even communicate what I taste on the icefield, but I wonder if I can communicate how I am constantly daydreaming about when the snow level was, on average, 8 meters (26 feet) above where I extract my cold treats now less than two decades ago, how I am terrified by the knowledge that many scientists estimate that the massive, seemingly unconquerable icefield I have been snacking on is already conquered and likely to completely disappear before 2200 (Ziemen et al., 2016), and still I know that I cannot communicate how even what I tasted on the icefield changed me.

Icefield trails. Photo by Riley Wall.

Icefield trails. Photo by Riley Wall.

The true value of JIRP comes from the realizations, revelations, and ideas that it inspires in its participants.  No amount of communication can describe the intangible elements of personal change that manifest from the first-hand icefield immersion of JIRP.  

Thus I am left with the conclusion that while one can gain an understanding of what JIRP and the icefield look like, sound like, smell like, feel like, and even taste like, the most important aspects, the impactful aspects, remain, for me, inexplicable…

Blogging perhaps intimidates me, therefore, not because I am incapable of communicating with readers, but because I am incapable of communicating what I feel needs to be communicated.  So my only remaining recourse is a plea to those truly interested in JIRP, glaciers, climate change, and the greater natural world: to embark on your own adventures, for you learn from your own personal experiences best, to foster any feelings of inspired motivation you find on those adventures, and to be a champion of the change you want to see. It is much easier to show people how you’ve changed than it is to describe it, trust me.   

 

Jet Pack Science

Brittany Ooman

University of Alaska Southeast

The JIRP 2016 GPS Survey trusts its precious traditions of gathering data to six capable students from around the world. Can we accomplish the task? Of course we can!  I am here to tell you a bit about what we, the GPS student survey crew, were doing this summer on the Juneau Icefield.

The primary purpose of the GPS survey project is to collect data about the glaciers to determine the surface velocities and surface elevations of the ice on the Juneau Icefield. JIRP has maintained digital GPS measurements of the Juneau Icefield for the past 17 years. The Juneau Icefield alone spans some 3,176 km2, and over the course of the summer the GPS survey team collected the data profiles on many of the biggest glaciers, traveling upwards to 60+ km in a day to collect it. Surface elevation and velocity data are measured using GPS each year at exactly the same location. This consistency enables us to monitor spatial and temporal changes in the morphology of the landscape of the Juneau Icefield.

We use snowmobiles as transportation from one profile point to the next. Photo by Brittany Ooman.

We use snowmobiles as transportation from one profile point to the next. Photo by Brittany Ooman.

The survey team collects as much data as possible, aiming to cover as much of the icefield as possible, in order to understand the ice surface elevation changes that are happening on both short- and long- term bases. When collected, these data are then available to assist with other research efforts taking place on the Juneau Icefield, such as the geophysical and mass balance student projects. GPS data can also provide background information for the isotope, biogeochemistry, and botany student research teams, as well as add to the ongoing monitoring of the Juneau Icefield.

 It is truly an empowering feeling to wear the GPS rover; it feels as if I were wearing a jet pack! The rover is a backpack with a mounted antenna. The antenna can stretch upwards two meters, and connects to a monitor system atop a two-meter pole, which in turn connects to a portable handheld controller via Bluetooth.

The author with her GPS jet pack! The GPS Rover (looks like a yellow backpack) and the antenna we use to find and re-survey the profile points. With the press of a few buttons it stores the latitude, longitude, and elevation of that particular point. Photo credit Brittany Ooman.

The author with her GPS jet pack! The GPS Rover (looks like a yellow backpack) and the antenna we use to find and re-survey the profile points. With the press of a few buttons it stores the latitude, longitude, and elevation of that particular point. Photo credit Brittany Ooman.

Using the rover we take measurements along both the longitudinal profiles, or center lines, of the glaciers, and the transverse profiles, the horizontal profiles across the glaciers. At each point we collect data about the latitude, longitude, and elevation. We primarily use the longitudinal profiles to monitor annual elevation changes along the glacier. To do this we snowmobile as close as possible to the point, then walk to within 0.5 m of the exact point, manually record the distance from the snow surface to the antenna using a measuring stick, and click measure on the rover. The rover, using GPS, measures the latitude, longitude, and elevation at that particular location. Then we pack up and head to the next profile point.

On the transverse profiles we primarily record data to determine the velocity of ice flow. To do this, we first use the GPS to measure the coordinates of points in a transect perpendicular to glacier flow, and mark the points with bamboo wands. Several days later, after the ice has had to time to flow a measurable distance, we record the new locations of the bamboo wands. Later, we will compile the data and use a simple equation to determine the ice flow rate based on the distance the wands moved during our sample time.

A map of the center of the Juneau Icefield with GPS survey profiles. The longitudinal profiles are represented with the dots running down the center lines of the glaciers. The transverse profiles are the block line sections running perpendicular to the longitudinal profiles. By collecting different data along both types of transects, we can paint a picture of elevation change over the entire area.

A map of the center of the Juneau Icefield with GPS survey profiles. The longitudinal profiles are represented with the dots running down the center lines of the glaciers. The transverse profiles are the block line sections running perpendicular to the longitudinal profiles. By collecting different data along both types of transects, we can paint a picture of elevation change over the entire area.

Using all these tools, benchmarks, base stations, and the GPS rover, we spend our days taking measurements in various areas of the icefield. Sometimes we spend most of our days measuring and sometimes we spend most of our days traveling to get to a small set of measurements. Surveying data is a critical field of study on the Juneau Icefield. The data we collect shows the surface elevation and ice flow velocity for this year. By monitoring the glacier annually, we can see changes in the characteristics and behavior of the glaciers of the icefield through time.  

Links:

CrevasseZone.org: A site by long-time JIRPer Scott McGee dedicated to GPS Surveying of the Juneau Icefield.

Give me some space!

Evan Koncewicz

Tell me what you know about Wilderness! What words come to mind? Forests, the outdoors, trees, the unknown? For me, one word that comes to mind is space. I’m not talking about outer space, although that certainly is interesting and could be considered wilderness in itself. I’m talking about wide-open spaces! Places where man is a visitor and is not necessarily meant to be. Wide open sagebrush flats, high towering granite peaks, snow covered plateaus, and lush forests of pine and cedar. Places you see from a plane or from miles away, wondering why and how someone would be there. This is what I mean by space.

I grew up in what I call a ‘normal suburban town.’ Houses are roughly 10-15 meters apart, commercial areas and business plazas dominate areas outside of neighborhoods, and roads connect vast areas to make commute time to any place of necessity under 15 minutes. Here, there is no real appreciation of empty space. Space is something to be used and developed for business, growth, comfort, and convenience.

Sunset on the Southwest Branch of Taku Glacier - two days on foot from Juneau. Photo by Evan Koncewicz.

Sunset on the Southwest Branch of Taku Glacier - two days on foot from Juneau. Photo by Evan Koncewicz.

Outside of these congested areas we find the contrasting situation. Roads begin to lessen like roots converging to the stem of a plant. Smaller towns begin to consolidate in central locations rather than over vast areas of space. Vegetation, trees, mountains, and life exist and begin to increase in areas that roads and development do not touch or cross. The American West is one example, even more so Alaska, the last frontier. Here in Alaska on the Juneau Icefield, exists a place with a great amount of space, filled with snow, ice, and rock. It is wilderness.

Camp 10 is one of JIRP’s many camps across the Juneau Icefield. It is in the center of the icefield on a nunatak, an outcrop of rocks overlooking the Taku Glacier and an array of mountains that have poked through the ice. From miles away, Camp 10 is simply a bump on the horizon, disguised by the sheer distance of snow and ice.

In Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire, he rants about space and Industrial Tourism and the National Parks. To paraphrase his words, motorized vehicles, when not at rest, require a volume of space far out of proportion to their size. To illustrate; imagine a lake approximately ten miles long and one mile wide (a glacial lake!). A single motorboat could easily circumnavigate the lake; ten motorboats would begin to crowd it; twenty or thirty all in operation would dominate the lake; and fifty would create the hazards of confusion and turmoil that make pleasure impossible. Suppose we banned motorboats and allowed only canoes and rowboats; we would see at once that the lake seemed ten or perhaps a hundred times bigger. The same thing holds true, to an even greater degree, for the automobile. Distance and space are a function of time and speed.

We arrived at Camp 10 by ski, traversing across 20 miles of snow and ice. It is in isolation, where no automobiles or paved roads exist. Human impact is minimal. The only unnatural life that exists within our space is a backpack-carried succulent desert plant named Norris. To watch a group of skiers in the middle of the Taku Glacier ski for two hours, see their progress, and still be able to distinguish the group, is something surreal. We live in a barren rainforest of snow, rock, and ice. If not for helicopters that bring us fuel and food, life on the icefield would not be sustainable for more than a few days. The space between Camp 10 and the civilization of Juneau is what isolates us.

A trail party skis towards Camp 10, which is visible in the distance, but many hours away. Photo by Evan Koncewicz.

A trail party skis towards Camp 10, which is visible in the distance, but many hours away. Photo by Evan Koncewicz.

Wilderness’ leading multiplier in its made up equation is space. Untouched, undeveloped, unaltered space. Space where man and our machines are visitors, visitors that travel on skis, take pictures, learn, and share their findings with everyone around them. In a world of perpetual growth from our population, economy, and development, conservation is at direct conflict. Land conservation is one of the last hopes for preserving these wild places from ourselves. Alaska is the last frontier. One of the last states to unionize and one of the last places to protect. We as a society need to start collaborating about our space, protecting areas of ecological importance like the Pacific Coast Temperate Rainforest. Efforts like these start with an idea and live and die with action. Through actions from locals, advocates, and influential people, we can find a balance between protecting the environment, sustaining our economy, and preserving human culture.      

 

Juneau Ice Field - 1965: The Science Experience to Last a Lifetime

By Thomas A. Herbert, Ph.D., P.G.

The Story:

This is a field science story of learning to work with a small team of individuals on projects that have merit and impact. This story is told looking back through the telescope after 49 years of other professional experiences with the intent of stressing the value of that first summer in 1965.

Background:

I am a geologist and was destined to be a geologist. My father, grandfather, and great grandfather were mining engineers so my post natal education began with discussions on rocks, oil fields, ores, and coal mines from my first recollections. I was born and grew up in Rock Island, Illinois, living on the Rock River so in retrospect I could have picked a geology career track in any subcategory from petrology to geomorphology.

I was fortunate to be offered a full scholarship for track at Michigan State University (MSU) in 1962 and went off to throw the discus and shot. We won several Big Ten championships when I was an undergraduate. The coaches all wanted me to take the jock courses to keep my grades up to give me time to train. My first quarter in 1962 had me in a really dumb jock course so I started to look for courses that would be interesting. I landed in Physical Geology 201 in the winter quarter of 1963 and did well. Spring quarter of 1964 had me in Geomorphology 303 with Dr. Maynard M. Miller. I was hooked on the science and on Dr. Miller’s engaging academic style and stories of doing science on Mount Everest. I declared a major in geology and began assembling knowledge in an organized fashion.

In March 1964 the Good Friday Earthquake hit Alaska and Dr. Miller packed his several Nikon F cameras, his red Eddie Bauer parka, Lowa boots and headed to the action for an expedition to evaluate damage and changes to the coastal glaciers. By fall quarter he was back in East Lansing with many slide trays depicting coastal glaciers laden with land slide debris and discussing incipient kinematic waves. I was enrolled in his Glacial Geology 412 class and it was all action science with new information from Alaska.

My big day was when Dr. Miller asked if I wanted to go for the 1965 field season on the Juneau Ice Field as a National Science Foundation undergraduate research participant. There was no question that I wanted to go and my father jumped in with his checkbook to cover all the purchases from Eddie Bauer and REI. An interesting side note is that my REI number in 1965 was only five digits long meaning I was buying gear from the beginning of that greatly successful recreational equipment company.

Field camp is required for geology students between junior and senior year in most programs. I petitioned the MSU Geology Department to accept the Summer JIRP work for my field camp requirement and was approved with the caveat that I would need to write several papers as directed independent study (DIS) for the 12 credits I would take. I was encouraged by the department chairman to engage in as many diverse tasks as possible to give me a broad field experience (Duh, how could that not happen on the Ice Field?). In retrospect it was sort of like a “self-directed” field camp. Dad got me up to Alaska early in June by plane and I stayed late that summer since MSU didn’t start fall quarter until the third week of September. Several of the MSU JIRP team drove the Alaska Highway in the 1963 VW bus that was early JIRP transportation. I got to Juneau early, stayed late, and was able to do some extra tasks.

Before the science adventure started the MSU Track Team won the Big Ten championship on May 26 and I did well in the discus setting the MSU record. I learned later from Barry Prather that Dr. Miller really wanted me for my lifting and toting abilities to schlep equipment. Barry had worked in a toting role for Dr. Miller on both the Everest (1963) and Mount Kennedy (1965) Expeditions and I think the muscular athlete roll worked well for Dr. Miller’s plans. Barry was a Dartmouth footballer who later was my office mate in grad school at MSU. I was awed by his record of climbing to 28,000’+ on Everest staging gear for the ascent team.

The Gear:

I admit to being a gear nut. My family and colleagues know that I stand ready to give a full discourse on the merits of field equipment. This character flaw has its root in the preparation for JIRP in 1965. There have been many improvements in clothing, foot gear, packs and rainwear. But the most important and symbolic gear item is the hat (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Gurka hat in place ready for the adventure to start

Figure 1: Gurka hat in place ready for the adventure to start

Hat selection – I picked a Gurka bush hat with wide brim to keep off the sun at altitude and the occasional rain. In my professional geology career the bush hat has been retired to the field gear box and replaced by several Tilley hats. My pick for the Alaska summer season would be a narrow brim Tilley.

Camera – I went off with a 35 mm Minolta rangefinder and about 30 rolls of film and mailers to send the exposed rolls off for processing. I bought additional rolls and shot about 1600 slides of which about 600 have been scanned at this writing. As a side note more than 500 nearly identical photos of the Taku Towers have been tossed.

At Dr. Miller’s suggestion and later in 1966, I purchased a Nikon F and a couple lenses. That camera is still in the case along with a Nikon F3, 8008, underwater Nikon and presently about five Nikon digital cameras. My pick for a summer field season would be a small pocket digital with 20 megapixels and a cheaper backup camera with batteries. Small is good for field cameras and backups are handy. Digital video is a good backup too. Also, you can record field observations on the audio track of the video… just in case you forget your field notebook. As Dr. Miller told me early on, a durable and high end camera is your best choice for field work. I definitely concur. All these cameras have been used for my work recording tens of thousands of frames. What we do as geologists is observe and record and explain what we have seen to others.

Foot gear – I had two pairs of Danner leather boots that I coated in layers of Snow Seal. Bad choice on boots, because after I stepped off the Hiller 12E at Camp 10 on June 21 into deep, wet snow I had wet feet for the rest of the summer. See Figure 1 for un-soaked boots.  I screwed up on socks too with cotton. Every night was a process of socks drying in the foot of the Bauer bag. Every boot company now has sealed and water proof boots and wicking socks of wonderful fibers so that won’t be a problem for future JIPRers.

Pack – I got the biggest oversized Kelty frame, frame extension and bag that was made then. I had six extra side pockets and two big back pockets sewn on. That pack worked for soft good and loose gear and the frame took a Blazo box of two 5 gallon gas tins for many trips up to Camp 10. We lugged full-sized wet cell car batteries around on the frame for the photogrammetry work too. Other than having battery acid eat up my pants, I never had a problem with the pack frame or bag. There are many designs today and most will work but big volume is better. After I finished my Ph.D. in 1973 at MSU I gave Dr. Miller the Kelty for his gear and I know he used it for years.

Parka – I had the Everest down Eddie Bauer Karakorum in red, the standard field jacket of the day. That type of down jacket is great if you are standing around watching drilling rigs in the winter at -5 which I did later in northern Michigan. For the Icefield, however, layers of Polartec or equivalent would be better since the temperature range is wide and in the summer 35 degrees is about as low as it went. You can regulate heat/cold better with Polartec type materials and it performs when wet. Dr. Miller was the recipient of the parka and in size XL he had plenty of room for layers.

Sleeping gear – I had the extra-long extra-large Karakorum bag that worked great particularly at Camp 8. I had a closed cell foam, three quarter length pad and a rubber sheet. We were sleeping on snow for the 10 days at the Ice Fall and the pad worked great until I rolled off. Dr. Miller also got the mummy bag when I moved to Florida in 1973. Joan chided me on that gifting because the bag had never been cleaned from 1965-1973 so it still had some Icefield grunge on it.

Ice axe – Bought from REI and gifted to Bill Isherwood for his trip to the South Pole in 1966. I have a picture of the ice axe (living vicariously through an ice axe!!!!) at the pole.

Crampons – 12 point deluxe models from REI and also went to the South Pole with Isherwood.

Binoculars – I bought a 7x35 pair just in case I might need them. They were bulky and took up pack space but they were invaluable in the surveying work picking up control stations and flagging across the ice. Dr. Adam Chrzanowski took over the binoculars for his survey spotting. They now reside in my gear bag for the shooting range.

Dr. Adam Chrzanowski at Mendenhall control point … note my binocular case around his neck.

Dr. Adam Chrzanowski at Mendenhall control point … note my binocular case around his neck.

Knife – I had a Swiss Army knife with a bunch of blades, tooth pick and tweezers. The knife is still in my field kit but the can opener is worn out. Swiss knives are always a good choice.

Pants – I had cotton rip stop military surplus cargo pants in 1965. Now I wear Tactical 911 rip stop synthetic fabric cargo pants and they are the best choice. I would wear them in AK.

Shirts – I wore MSU cotton athletic tees until they were totally grubby. I recommend Under Armor of several weights to layer up if needed. The fabric wicks and packs small.

GPS – No such luck in 1965 but today one is handy with extra batteries. The cheap ones seem to be as accurate for field work as the expensive survey quality gear. Don’t leave home without one.

Summer Activities Schedule 1965:

Scoping the Project Area:

I arrived in Juneau on June 12, 1965, and soon met up with Chris Egan (then a MSU doctoral student with two ice field summers under his belt) and we began limited exploring of Juneau and the Mendenhall terminus on foot. We used the UAK Marine Lab as a base and temporary bunk room. We chartered a Cessna from Kenny Loken at Channel Flying Service (Dad came through with some extra cash for the flight) and did a flying recon of the entire area in a Cessna 185 float plane before we went in the field. This flight was a great synoptic view of the project area. Now we have Google Earth and other imagery to give us scientists the big picture but then it was topo maps and 9x9 B&W aerials. We flew south over Taku Lodge and up the Taku Glacier to C10 and C8 and over towards Atlin and then back over the Vaughn Lewis Icefall, down the Gilkey following the medial moraines down glacier back to tidewater and back to Juneau. I shot about 10 of my 30 rolls of film on that flight.

Chris Egan exploring Mendenhall terminus June 16, 1965

Chris Egan exploring Mendenhall terminus June 16, 1965

Preparing Camp 10:

We reported to Livingston Helicopters early on June 21 and loaded our gear on the floats of a Hiller 12E (Figure 1). Nancy Livingston was the pilot for this my first helicopter flight. Nancy was about 45 years old then, tall and really strong. Her flight experience made me feel very safe. Not only did she have thousands of hours in helicopters but Nancy had been a ferry pilot in WWII flying P-47s and P51s and about 50 other aircraft around England.

Dick Shaw, Chris Egan and I flew into Camp 10 to find about 8-10 feet of wet snow covering the rocks with the cook shack, generator shack and the teaching building pretty much buried. We had to dig down to get into the doors. There was a snowmobile garage that had been built late in 1964 that was unfinished and not structurally sound for snow loads. We had to dig out the snow machines from a collapsed structure then get everything running.

Arriving Camp 10 June 22, 1965

Arriving Camp 10 June 22, 1965

 The weather for the next 12 days was sunshine and hot and the snow was melting at a rate of feet per day. By the time the full team arrived on July 3 the nunatak was snow free around the camp. We began recording met data beginning on the 20th and recorded some glorious days.

Chris Egan at the met shelter, 10 PM, June 26, 1965

Chris Egan at the met shelter, 10 PM, June 26, 1965

On July 3, the Alaska Air Guard C-123J landed a mile or so out on the Taku snow pack on ski wheels. Personnel and gear was off loaded. I was the lone passenger for the flight back to Juneau that day and it was an “interesting flight.” The C-123J was about four miles above the neve line and General William Elmore, USAF (pilot and commanding general of the AK Air Guard) decided to take off down glacier (and downwind with katabatic tail wind at about 10-15 mph). The wet snow landing and taxiing had packed the ski wheels with extra weight. The two radial engines were run up as we started down glacier; the two jet engines on the wing tips were started for extra power. We ran for several miles and could not get takeoff speed to lift off, all the time we were bumping and slewing over the sun cupped surface. I was belting in next to the crew chief in the cargo bay. After a couple minutes when I’m sure General Elmore and his copilot Col. McKee, USAF, could see the crevasses in the distance he alerted the crew chief to the next move. The chief, T/Sgt. Wm. Christy USAF, yelled at me over the din something like … “son, tighten up you seat belt and hang on for a ride”. General Elmore engaged the JATO unit that rocket launched us up to several hundred feet above the snow. Now we were in the air in an empty plane with plenty of power to fly. The next problem was that the ski wheels would not retract since the three miles of takeoff run had packed the wheel wells with more snow. We flew to Juneau airport with the ski wheels down with the General cycling the gear to dislodge the snow. We circled Juneau for about an hour while the General continued to clear the ski wheels. He was able to get the wheels partially deployed but the huge skis (I estimate at 5’ by 18’ aluminum panels) would not fully retract so the skis and wheels were both down for the landing and everything was packed with snow. I bet this type of landing was not in the C-123J operating manual before this incident. Again the crew chief told me to hold on and we landed with some minor sounds of metal scraping. The loading ramp was dropped and I kissed the ground and marched off to a new task. We had landed with the crash trucks deployed; scraping the aluminum skis but all went well.

Alaska Air Guard C-123J on the Taku Plateau; July 3, 1965

Alaska Air Guard C-123J on the Taku Plateau; July 3, 1965

Loading for Juneau return: Left to Right: Dick Shaw, Barry Prather, Scott Hulse, Dennis Cowals and Bonito Colqui (orange hat)

Loading for Juneau return: Left to Right: Dick Shaw, Barry Prather, Scott Hulse, Dennis Cowals and Bonito Colqui (orange hat)

Terrestrial Photogrammetry:

My next adventure job was to be the chief gear schlepper and toter for three professors from the University of New Brunswick (UNB) Surveying Engineering Department. I had taken Dr. Miller’s photogrammetry and geology course and was very interested in that topic. I had about 14 days of intense and extremely “hands on” work with these fellows. I have used that knowledge nearly every day for the past 48 years of my geology career.

The UNB team included Dr. Godfried Konecny, Professor Gerhardt Gloss, and Dr. Adam Chrzanowski. Their project was to obtain terrestrial photo images for plotting of the ice surface near the terminus of the Mendenhall, Taku and Norris glaciers. To accomplish this we had to establish geospatial positions for known points on the peaks overlooking each terminus and ground control points. This was “back in the day” when we had distance and angles to establish control points and image stations.

The images were stereo pairs on glass photographic plates from a base line established on the mountain side. The base line was several hundred meters long with an image at each end. The plates were exposed and later taken back to UNB for stereo plotting of the contours. The scientific carry forward is that the 1965 JIRP ice volume studies were the starting point accurately tracking ice volume changes in the system as early documented data for climate studies.

The Mendenhall work started with a set up over the geodetic monument at the Juneau Airport which had a clear view direct line to the top of Mt. McGinnis. We set up a Tellurometer Micro Distancer M/RA1 (made in South Africa) which we used to measure distance. The instrument had been on the market for about two years so we were “cutting edge.” The instrument used phase shifts in the modulation of micro waves. This was a new science toy in 1965 that Dr. Konecny was eager to use. We measured the distance to a monument on Mt. McGinnis that I constructed with a clear view down to the ice. I drove a steel pin and later built a rock cairn over it.  We used a Wild T-2 to measure angles from the airport and swung to the other end of the stereo baseline. Then a Wild P-30 photo theodolite was set up on the mountain side at each end of the base centered over the control points to take the images. The logistics for this work was the 12E with Arlo Livingston flying. We also had a second vantage point from the cirque bowl (ski bowl) on the south side and established a second base line and took photos. All of the points were established with steel pins I drove in the rock and then built about 4-foot high cairns over them. We had great weather and this Mendenhall work took about five days.

Dr. Konecny and myself (in the hat) using the Tellurometer to tie back to the Juneau Airport geodetic monument

Dr. Konecny and myself (in the hat) using the Tellurometer to tie back to the Juneau Airport geodetic monument

The Taku and Norris work was conducted from a base camp at Taku Lodge where we stayed for several days. There was a geodetic monument near the lodge that we set up on with the Tellurometer and the T-2 and took control up to the peaks south of the channel and looking at both ice fronts. Arlo flew in to assist with some ground control work on the outwash in front of the ice where we had other monuments and good shots back to the peaks to the south. These were some long legs in the survey net where we had distance shots of 5-10 miles.

Dr. Konecny set up on peak above Taku Lodge to cover Taku/Norris terminus


Dr. Konecny set up on peak above Taku Lodge to cover Taku/Norris terminus

There were two notable experiences in Juneau for the few days we were billeting there for the photogrammetry work. First off was a note to me later in 1965 from Joan after the bills were paid for the summer. We had been eating at a restaurant around the corner from the Red Dog every morning and sometimes in the evening. Joan noted that I ate some expensive meals. I was just a growing boy on expense account!

The second experience came at a quiet little bar across the street from the Red Dog. I had turned 21 several months before so I went in for a beer one evening. I was nursing my one beer at the bar when two fellows in more formal dress than my field gear came in and sat down next to me and struck up a conversation. Being the naïve youngster I asked the gentlemen next to me “and what do you do?”  He replied, I’m the governor and this is my assistant and we come here for a drink after work. It was William Egan who was a friend of Dr. Miller who had requested Mal’s help on the damage assessments following the 1964 quake. Governor Egan later was a significant political player in national politics and was a key player in getting the Alaska North Slope oil resources developed.  

Seismographic Studies Below Camp 10:

I finished the work with the UNB team on July 16, 1965, and flew with Arlo in the 12E from Taku Lodge to Camp 10 just skimming the crevasses on the flight. The altitude change is about 5,000 feet over that distance and Arlo was climbing all the way. At one point he turned to me and asked how much I weighed because the Lycoming engine was starting to heat up. I told him about 260. He figured with all the supplies and my gear and weight we were probably a bit overloaded for the flight.

Upon arrival I was assigned to packing duties toting gas cans and lumber up the hill to the camp. I learned that toting heavy loads at even 5,500 feet can be hard. I came in a distant third to Scott Hulse and Richard Carlson. I was the bulky strong body type and they both were lean, mean and great climbers.

I was assigned to assist Dr. Tom Poulter, Director Emeritus of Stanford Research Institute, in conducting seismic traverses of the area of the Taku near Camp 10. We were using the Poulter Method of shooting that he had developed for reflection shooting in the Antarctic in the 1930s and 1940s. The energy sources were small portions of stick dynamite on a stainless steel pole detonated to create an air burst. Poulter would cut the sticks of dynamite with his pocket knife and affix with cap with early duct tape to the pole. The twelve or so recording geophones were placed in a line and detonated. Poulter lectured on explosives, safety, handling and the theory of seismic wave propagation. When we ran low on explosives Kenny Loken airdropped several cases of dynamite and another of detonating caps. This was an air drop where the packages were pushed to the door to free fall to the snow.

Dr. Tom Poulter (right) checking the seismic record on the Taku plateau; Barry Prather in sunglasses is also reading the printout; Poulter seismic shooting pole next to him

Dr. Tom Poulter (right) checking the seismic record on the Taku plateau; Barry Prather in sunglasses is also reading the printout; Poulter seismic shooting pole next to him

I had several life experiences with Dr. Poulter that I can relate. He was a large man at about 6’4” and 240 pounds and he was 68 at the time he was very fit. I use him as my model for fitness today since I am 71 now myself. One evening sitting at Camp 10 near the met station I had an hour one-on-one discussion with him in his mentoring role. I asked the naïve question of him … “what did you do during WWII?” He responded that his role had been classified work at Los Alamos and that he had designed the shape charges of conventional explosive to detonate the first atomic bomb. The task was to create the spherical charge to force the critical mass together. He explained that the timing through the electrical circuit was the secret to success. His solution was very practical … trial and error cutting the silver not copper wire with electrician’s pliers until it worked.  

I have assisted oil companies with seismic projects for the past 40 years. The Poulter Method is still used in various situations around the world where shot hole drilling is difficult. I even had an oil company geophysicist ask me if I knew anything about “Pouter Shooting” wherein I proudly reported that I had learned seismic prospecting from the man himself on the Ice Field.

Camp 8:

I finished seismic work in late July and one evening headed to Camp 8. We arrived after midnight and crossed the bergschrund on the snow bridge and on to the bedrock. The next morning our trail had collapsed into the “schrund.”

My Camp 8 stay was for about a week and I made some lasting friends. Dick Shaw from MSU was there and he later was an office mate in grad school. Dick spent decades with Exxon and now is a consultant in Denver. We crossed paths about a year ago in a professional capacity on oil field development. Bill Patzert was at Purdue and headed for University of Hawaii; he later became a guru on ocean dynamics at Scripps and is now with JPL. Bill Isherwood of Antarctic fame was there along with Dennis Cowles, Chris Egan and Scott Hulse. Ty Kittridge went back in the Army Special Forces in Vietnam where he was a true silver star hero.

My most notable feat at Camp 8 was eating a case of 24 chocolate Mountain bars in two days. Then we moved to the Ice Fall for several days.

Camp 8 July 25, 1965; the team lounging include Scott Hulse and Bill Patzert (sunbathing on the roof), Bill Isherwood (back to camera with pack), Chris Egan (red shirt seated behind solarimeter) Ty Kittridge (seated on rock with his Bull Mastiff “Siggy”) and Dennis Cowels (red socks)

Camp 8 July 25, 1965; the team lounging include Scott Hulse and Bill Patzert (sunbathing on the roof), Bill Isherwood (back to camera with pack), Chris Egan (red shirt seated behind solarimeter) Ty Kittridge (seated on rock with his Bull Mastiff “Siggy”) and Dennis Cowels (red socks)

Vaughn Lewis Ice Fall:

We traveled to the Ice Fall late one evening and stayed in the army squad tent on the outcrop at the top of the Ice Fall. The group included Bill Isherwood, Bill Patzert, Ty Kittridge and his dog Siggy and myself. We climbed down the snow and rock and camped on one of the wave ogives. We spent three days conducting masters thesis research on movement rates for Ty. We did a lot of walking and climbing. Siggy the Bull Mastiff at 160 pounds was eating more canned stew and hash than the entire human group so we had to climb out to resupply.

Camping on the wave ogives on the Gilkey Glacier July 29, 1965; Bill Patzert checking the tent, Siggy looking for food, Bill Isherwood checking seismic geophones, and Ty Kittridge smoking his last Picayune cigarette.

Camping on the wave ogives on the Gilkey Glacier July 29, 1965; Bill Patzert checking the tent, Siggy looking for food, Bill Isherwood checking seismic geophones, and Ty Kittridge smoking his last Picayune cigarette.

Back to Civilization:

Once back to the ice plateau we motored back to Camp 10 where several of us had the task of securing the buildings for winter and heavy snow. We drained fuel from the snowmobiles and generator and picked up loose gear and trash. We burned the trash with the aid of some extra generator gas. As I recall, in 1965 the main body of the summer team marched down the Taku to tidewater and in later years I think the team marches down to Atlin. I had neither option since I had been on the cleanup crew. We flew out with Arlo Livingston back to Douglas Island and his aerodrome.

Back to school August 15, 1965

Back to school August 15, 1965

Then ‘til Now ... the Next 50 Years:

There is not a single day that I do not think about the Ice Field and the guys I was with that summer. There were no females back in the day. I finished BS in record time before my sports eligibility was completed so I was a scholar-athlete in 1966. I worked for five years drilling holes for the Michigan Highway Department and sorting/identifying rocks for concrete aggregate and went to school full time. The MS was finished in 1968 and I switched to the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources in 1969 for a PhD in Resource Development that was finished in 1973. The doctoral work focused on law, public policy and geologic processes. Dr. Miller was on my committee and greatly assisted in defense and editing in his usual giving manner. I moved to Florida and worked five years for the Florida Legislature on natural resource issues as a staff director and science adviser where I learned how scientists and politicians interact. During that time Dr. Miller moved to Idaho and was involved as the State Geologist in phosphate mining there. I had just helped pass comprehensive mine reclamation legislation in 1975,  for Florida’s phosphate industry and I was able to help Mal with background information.  Since 1978, my spouse, Dr. Linda Lampl, and I have been in the consulting business covering a host of topics in the sciences. See more at www.lampl-herbert.com. For more than 25 years I have helped the Florida State University geology program in an adjunct professor role. If anyone needs an interesting graduate program the newly assembled Department of Earth, Oceans and Atmospheric Sciences is a wonderful place to learn about the planet.

And, to the chagrin of my old friends and associates, most of my good stories start with the glaciers moving down the mountain.

Be safe!

 Editor's Note: Are you a former JIRPer with stories or photos to share? Please be in touch by email if you would like to help us tell the JIRP story: fger.jirp@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Link TV: Juneau Icefield Expedition

By Matt Beedle

In 2013 JIRP was fortunate to have photographers and documentary film makers Jeffrey Barbee and Mira Dutschke as members of a great crew of staff and faculty.  In addition to their efforts to help JIRP run smoothly and safely Jeff and Mira produced two fantastic video episodes on the 'Juneau Icefield Expedition' for Link TV.  Enjoy!

Thank you, Jeff and Mira! 

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