On the Dot: A Day on Cook Crew*†

By Molly Wieringa, Harvard University

*Here on the icefield, roughly sixty people need to be fed at least three times each day. To meet this demand, students pull duty as cooks from our first camp to the final days of the program. Each crew consists of three students who will band together and support one another through some of the longest, busiest days of the summer. I have here attempted to capture some of the insanity inherent to being a cook at a JIRP camp.
†all times are approximate

06:00- You’ve been awake for at least 15 minutes, and depending on where you sleep, you’ve picked your way across camp to the cook-shack. If you weren’t caffeine dependent before JIRP, you definitely are now, so you down your first coffee of the day and shuffle into the pantry, where you spend five minutes pretending that you have an actual choice about what breakfast will be.

07:00- The water for the oatmeal you will inevitably make is still not boiling. On the other hand, the coffee percolating on the stove has bubbled over twice.

08:00- Turns out that breakfast will be slightly late. There aren’t yet enough pancakes (or fried diced Spam; to each their own) to accompany the oatmeal. You rocket around the boundaries of the kitchen, pushing oatmeal toppings onto the serving counter, collecting the knives and bowls and crumpled towels lying haphazardly on every surface, flipping off the burners in response to a query about why the cook-shack smells like gas.

08:13- The most enthusiastic (or awake) member of the crew trumpets the vuvuzela, both indoors and out, and breakfast is served.

09:00- During the camp manager’s announcements, you call seconds, promptly distracting every student and instigating a stampede, through which navigation to any place other than the serving counter is impossible.

Typical cook crew swagger on display during lunch prep, when energy is at an all-time high. Left to right: Eric, Gavin, and Bryn. Photo credit: Molly Wieringa

Typical cook crew swagger on display during lunch prep, when energy is at an all-time high. Left to right: Eric, Gavin, and Bryn. Photo credit: Molly Wieringa

09:30- Welcome to Round 1 of dishes. Wash, hot rinse, bleach rinse, dry, repeat. You’ll be here for at least an hour and a half.

11:00- Break? What break? Better get started with lunch. You wander back through the pantry before deciding that making anything from scratch isn’t worth the effort, especially because at least half of the camp’s population is usually out in the field during lunch. Out the door to the refrigerators (read: snow filled coolers) you go.

13:00- The horn blows again; you’ve managed to reconstitute some combination of leftover rice, oatmeal, or soup, perhaps accompanied by canned meat or fresh-ish veggies. Hopefully, no one complains.

14:00- Maybe there are seconds, maybe there aren’t. Either way, Round 2 of dishes begins. If you’re lucky or experienced, you’ve used fewer dishes than breakfast and finish by 15:30.

15:30- Barring any major disasters, you take a nap, if you know what’s good for you. Feeding sixty people is hard work.

17:00- You’ve just woken up from what was going to be a 30 minute nap, having kissed your aspirations of academic productivity for the day goodbye. You meet the rest of the crew back in the cook-shack, theoretically “on the dot.” Regardless, it’s now time to test your mettle- dinner is when you either pass the high bar set by previous crews or tumble into culinary insignificance. The pantry awaits and your adventure fully begins. Playtime is over.

17:15- You’ve doctored a real recipe from an actual cookbook, possible only through many potentially sketchy ingredient substitutions and a (not that you’ll ever admit it) totally bogus scaling ratio. The number of pots on the stove has been increasing alarmingly.

18:00- Panic sets in briefly when you realize you’ve forgotten the vegetarian option. Another pot hits the stovetop.

18:55- Dirty dishes cover every surface- they seem to have multiplied on their own. Surely you didn’t actually use that bowl, but then why is it covered in sauce?

18:56- You scramble to move the various scattered kitchen implements to a designated area away from the serving counter, slap an ever-so-slightly snarky menu on the whiteboard, and then rush the pots and pans containing dinner onto serving trivets.

19:00- The vuvuzela sounds and the hovering hordes descend.

19:02- Realizing that the vultures previously known as your campmates are consuming food at an unheard-of rate, you panic all over again, before imposing serving sizes on each dish in the loudest voice you can manage in such a frazzled condition.

19:55- The camp assistant (a fellow student charged with helping the cook crew and the camp manager) gets up and gives a personal reflection. You then call seconds, again resulting in an impassable cook-shack.

20:10- If you’ve overestimated the amount of food, you beg your comrades to take thirds on their way to evening lecture.

20:15- The cook-shack, so hectic just moments before, now seems quiet as the grave. You sigh, blink at the mess in front of you, and steel yourself for the third, final, and most gnarly round of dishes. In order to win the favor of the masses, you’ve prepped a dessert already, and slide it into the oven before breaking out the dish soap.

21:30- Said masses, fresh from lecture, breeze through the door, carefree and laughing, as you push the dessert trays to the counter with achy muscles and prune-y hands. In a gravelly, strained voice, you urge them away from the newly clean camp bowls in favor of personal mugs. You’ve had it up to here with doing dishes.

Julian the Kitchen Troll: a representation of every cook at the end of the day. Photo credit: Molly Wieringa

Julian the Kitchen Troll: a representation of every cook at the end of the day. Photo credit: Molly Wieringa

22:00- During the post-dessert daze, you somehow managed to put everything away, dump the dirty dish water, and wipe down the kitchen surfaces. If you’re like this cook, you ignore the rationale of going to bed early and seek out Avery, Benjy, or Max, one of whom is probably playing guitar. Wiser cooks take this opportunity to pass out. It’s been a full 16 hour day, but one of the most gratifying in camp. As your head hits your sleeping bag, you pray for the souls of tomorrow’s cook crew, and bless the stars you don’t have to wake up early.**

**Disclaimer: despite having used a tone to the contrary, being on cook crew is usually enormous fun, and a wonderful opportunity to get to know your two fellow cooks. Ten out of ten, would recommend.*


"Anyone Wanna Shred?"

By Max Bond, Dartmouth University

For the first week at Camp 17, we experienced nothing but bone-chilling wind and rain. All our gear was soaked through, we were constantly wet and cold, and the weather was starting to take a toll on the group’s morale. Poems, songs, and jokes about the weather kept us sane. For example, Christoph gave an optimistic speech about how the rain “made us closer,” and Jane re-wrote the Pledge of Allegiance on July 4th to include bits about the poor conditions.   

For me, there was one thing I knew would cheer me up, and that was skiing. I’ve always loved making turns, and despite the weather, I knew the glacier was calling my name. I was tired of the weather deciding our actions for us. If I didn’t ski soon, I was going to lose my mind.

One night after lecture, I decided the time was now. Outside it was cold and misting; poor visibility made the Ptarmigan Glacier (“The Gnarmigan”) look like the inside of a ping-pong ball.  Everybody was huddled around the dinner tables of the warm Cookshack enjoying coffee and hot chocolate, which didn’t make skiing seem very attractive. I knew it was going to be difficult to convince somebody, but I needed a release from the weather.

I started asking everybody I could find if they wanted to shred. First I asked Mike, who looked outside and reluctantly declined. Then I asked Evan, who promised he’d go tomorrow. I asked Allie, who gave me a kind “maybe later.” I asked Lara, who gave a hard-fast “no.” I asked Matt, Erin, Justine, Mo, Dani, and Frank; nobody wanted to ski. Finally, after I thought I had exhausted all the staffers, Annie gave me a stern “Go get your skis. We’re leaving in five.”  

I was more excited than ever! I ran to grab my ski boots (neglecting Annie’s rule of “no running” around camp) and rushed to strap them on. Peer pressure must have convinced everyone else, because I ran back to find Matt, Frank, Chris, Evan, Mike, and others also strapping on their boots, getting ready to shred! There was even a single sliver of blue sky (retrospectively, it was probably more of a lesser-gray patch) above us. Other students grouped outside around Avery, who was jamming on his ukulele and singing songs about the weather. Everybody made a tunnel with their ski poles, and one by one, we all dropped in to the foggy ping-pong ball.

The tunnel of skiers at the top of the Gnarmigan ski hill. Photo credit: Max Bond

The tunnel of skiers at the top of the Gnarmigan ski hill. Photo credit: Max Bond

I’m not a good skier, so while I was busy holding my skis in a “pizza” all the way down the hill, everyone passed by and eventually I was all alone inside the mist. Despite my lack of skill, I was having a blast. When I finally got to the bottom, everybody was cheerful, dancing, laughing, and having a great time, which made me even more stoked. Despite the weather, we were all outside enjoying ourselves and having fun. All it took was a positive attitude and some good skiing. We climbed back up, made another tunnel, and dropped back in for another awesome, misty run.  

Climbing back up the Gnarmigan after skiing down, inside a ping-pong ball. Photo credit: Max Bond

Climbing back up the Gnarmigan after skiing down, inside a ping-pong ball. Photo credit: Max Bond



Welcome to the JIRP Family

By Annie Boucher and the student alumni of 2015 and 2016

Students usually come to JIRP for either the science education or the promise of adventure (or both). With 16-hour days and seven day weeks spent pursuing both, we hope most leave with a good taste of whatever they sought.  At the end of August, however, when students talk about what they’re most going to miss about JIRP, they tend to look to the people. While we all have more science and more adventure in our futures, saying goodbye to the expedition team is difficult. JIRPers are extraordinary people, and every summer they seem to form a community that is unusual in its acceptance, its support, and its ability to challenge its members to be their best selves.

While every season brings its particular quirks and inside jokes, the program is run along lines of decades-old traditions and surprisingly durable culture. These traditions and culture bind together the JIRP family across years - certainly at any Earth Science conference one will find a group of JIRPers, but they tend to come out of the woodwork on buses, in foreign countries, and, once, the father of a friend whose house I happened to visit for dinner.

This year’s students are taking their first steps towards joining the JIRP family. Soon enough we’ll be steeping them in the well worn adages that provide structure to every icefield traverse: Nature is screaming at you! - Always ski in the snow machine track. - No coupling. - Our priorities, in order, are: look good; look good; go big; look good; safety; and (last) personal hygiene! - Beware the center of the Llewellyn Glacier! - Whatever happens on your traverse, it’s not as bad as the crew that bivvied on the ridge for three days in a white out! - Always carry your ten essentials! - Tape your feet as soon as you feel a hot spot!

As a first step towards welcoming the 2017 crew into the wide open, often smelly, and usually sunburnt arms of the JIRP family, the students of 2015 and 2016 offer up the following advice for preparing and packing for JIRP.

Warning: A few things on this list are contradictory, and many come down to personal preference. Perhaps the first lesson of the Icefield is that there isn’t always one good or right answer, and the only way to figure out what works for you is to jump in and be ready to learn by experience.

Bring a journal, and be vigilant about keeping up with it as much as possible. I was very diligent about writing every evening, and not only did this time allow for self-reflection, but it was also tangible evidence of my evolution as an individual over the course of the program. I still return to my writings when I want to remember a particular feeling, or remind myself of why I care so strongly about action on climate change. I also laugh A LOT when I re-read certain sections, and that alone is worth the extra effort of writing often.
— – Donovan Dennis, student 2015
Bring light shorts, they were the last thing I thought to bring to a glacier so I ended up borrowing them off people!
— – Ellie Honan, student 2016
It's a bit counterinuitive, but you will likely wind up wearing shorts a LOT when on an Alaskan glacier in the summer. Photo: Kellie Schaefer

It's a bit counterinuitive, but you will likely wind up wearing shorts a LOT when on an Alaskan glacier in the summer. Photo: Kellie Schaefer

One thing I absolutely regret not bringing was a small field thermos for tea or hot chocolate.
— - Jacob Hollander, student 2015
JIRP 2015 staffers Annika Ord and Adam Toolanen enjoy an espresso at Camp 26 - demonstrating the luxury of a hot beverage from a small thermos. Although we don't recommend packing the Handpresso and pounds of ground espresso all summer, we sure did appreciate Adam making the effort in 2015! Photo: Matt Beedle

JIRP 2015 staffers Annika Ord and Adam Toolanen enjoy an espresso at Camp 26 - demonstrating the luxury of a hot beverage from a small thermos. Although we don't recommend packing the Handpresso and pounds of ground espresso all summer, we sure did appreciate Adam making the effort in 2015! Photo: Matt Beedle

Begin journaling before you get to Juneau! I wished I had written down the process towards JIRP as well as my time in it.
— – Victor Cabrera, student 2016
1. Bring a backpack fly (aka cover)! They are cheap and worth the money especially if your pack is older.
2. Keep a journal. It’s a great way to make sure you slow down and take some time for yourself each day, and is an excellent way to relive JIRP memories after the summer is over.
3. Not sure if eye masks are on the packing list, but if you are uncomfortable sleeping when it is light outside make sure to bring one.
4. If your rain gear is older, re-waterproof it!
5. Bring a waterproof /shockproof/drop-your-phone-down-a-rock-crack-of-unknown-depth-and-abandon-it-to-the-elements-proof phone case if you bring your phone onto the icefield. (*Note: Riley did get his phone back, but it took a couple days.)
6. Go easy on your skis, they can break.
— – Riley Wall, student 2016
Cheap dry bags will suffice (you can get 3 for $10 at Walmart)! I liked having one truly waterproof one, but was glad I didn’t spend $100+ on the other 5 that I used to organize my gear. Also I would suggest not bringing/investing in a pack cover: a trash bag liner will keep the inside of your pack dry (and your ice axe will quickly shred the pack cover, anyway).
— - Olivia Truax, student 2016
Bring music!! (Note: There may be speakers available for group use that have aux cables. Please don’t bring your own speakers, and you will be expected to abide by JIRP rules on appropriate and safe use of headphones.)
— – Kenzie McAdams, student 2016
Commit to good gaiters or you may very well find your rain pants shredded!!!
— - Matty Miller, student 2016
If possible, thoroughly test the waterproofing of your rain gear in advance.
— - Eric Kittilsby, student 2016
The 2015 mass-balance team readies for their departure from Camp 10 to Camp 9 - in the rain. Note the variety of wet-weather apparel - from full rubber, to Gore Tex, to plastic bags to compensate for a jacket that perhaps isn't as waterproof as desired. Photo: Matt Beedle

The 2015 mass-balance team readies for their departure from Camp 10 to Camp 9 - in the rain. Note the variety of wet-weather apparel - from full rubber, to Gore Tex, to plastic bags to compensate for a jacket that perhaps isn't as waterproof as desired. Photo: Matt Beedle

When booking flights, consider giving yourself a couple extra days in Juneau after the program. (NOTE: This suggestion was seconded by ten others!)
— - Chris Miele, student 2016
Don’t skimp on getting a good pair of sunglasses or a good raincoat.
— – Hannah Marshall, student 2015
It's perhaps impossible to overstate the importance of having good sunglasses for eye protection during a summer on the Juneau Icefield. Photo: Matt Beedle

It's perhaps impossible to overstate the importance of having good sunglasses for eye protection during a summer on the Juneau Icefield. Photo: Matt Beedle

Write down your AGU username and password and bring it with you! Makes the abstract submission a bit easier.
— – Molly Peek, student 2016
If you’re on the fence about buying rubber tips for your ice axe (20 or so bucks) invest! I did and it totally saved my pack cover.
— – Kenzie McAdams, student 2016
My main piece of advice is to bring a bunch of extra plastic bags! A couple trash bag size ones and some ziplocks. Icefield life is so much drier with plastic bags. Also, don’t forget to eat plenty of blueberries on the hike up to Camp 17!
— – Isabel Suhr, student 2015

Are you a previous JIRPer or an intrepid adventurer with advice for the JIRP 2017 cohort? Please chime in on JIRP's social channels with your suggestions for those things that a JIRPer should be sure to have along for the expedition.

Field Sketching

Part 1:

Little Details

Kellie Schaefer, Michigan Technological University

One of the best ways to document a specific person, place, or thing is to compose a field sketch. Field sketches are extremely useful on the icefield for a number of reasons. They help to create a record for future analysis. For example, a field sketch of a specific icefall or cirque glacier can be compared with another field sketch or photograph from a different time to see how much change has occurred. In addition to providing an image, field sketches include a set of notes describing who did the sketch, where they were, what the weather conditions were, when they composed the sketch, and why they decided to sketch a particular subject. Unlike a photograph, these specific details can be included for future reference. Field sketches also help the composer to record their memories of the subject that they are sketching. Much more time, effort, and observation are put into a field sketch than into a photograph. Little details must be taken into account. The scale of the sketch must be proportionate to the actual object. This forces the composer of the sketch to deeply analyze the “big picture”.

This aspect of analyzing the “big picture” is why I enjoyed field sketching on the icefield so much. Most of the time, I would ski or hike past the most amazing sights I’ve ever seen, and I didn’t take the time to really look at these sights. I would snap a photograph, pause a moment to take in the scenery, and continue on with what I was doing. When I decided to sketch something, it really made me analyze what exactly I was drawing. Where did this rock slope meet the glacier? How was this peak situated with respect to its surroundings? How many cracks were there on the right face of a particular Taku Tower? Little details that I would most likely have overlooked were suddenly seen. I can still go back to my memories of the places I sketched and remember them as if I’d only seen them yesterday. I can still see the bush planes that flew past us on Vesper Peak as a group of students sat on top, quietly contemplating the layout of Camp 17. I can still feel the intense sun that beat down on Camp 10 as I sketched the Taku Towers. Sketching put me into a near meditative state. I would become so fixated on what I was sketching that I couldn’t think about anything else.

While field sketching provides us with a way to compile scientific observations, it also enables us to get a good look at our surroundings and observe the little details that would normally be overlooked. Some people may be thinking that they need to be an artist in order to make a good field sketch. Being an artist is not necessary, because the purpose of a field sketch is not to create a masterpiece, but to record with pencil and paper your experiences and how you are interpreting them.

Part 2:

Sketching a JIRP Field Season

Annika Ord, JIRP Senior Staff Member

June 30, 2016
Watching the waters rise during the now annual jökulhlaup, a glacial outburst flood, at Mendenhall Glacier visitor center. JIRP students take field notes in our first field sketching outing of the season.

July 9, 2016 Observing the route to C-10 with anticipation. Like 2015, the snow cover was particularly low, and we'd have to transition multiple times between snow and ice before reaching the Norris Cache and a well deserved nights sleep in the village of tents.

July 16, 2016
We stumbled upon this gem of a lake while exploring Ivy Ridge for vascular plants with the botany project group, otherwise known as Portable Plant. Sapphire blue and filled with icebergs, it lay like a gem between the talus slope and a blue ice face of the glacier.

August, 2016
Waiting at the inlet for Archie, soaking up the last moments before Atlin and the return of showers, dogs, and four-wheeled mobiles.

Part 3:

Field Sketching and JIRP

Matt Beedle, Director of Academic and Research

At the outset of the eight weeks of JIRP, many participants begrudge the leaving behind of screens and digital connectivity. Strangely, this forced "isolation" feels foreign. But upon emerging in Atlin, it may well be one of the things that we JIRP participants miss most.

Dr. Maynard Miller (JIRP co-founder and long-time director) is famed for saying, and guiding JIRP based on this maxim:

We bring students into Nature, and that makes all the difference.

JIRP, however, does a bit more than "bring students into Nature" - it fully immerses students in the wilderness of the northern Coast Mountains. This immersion, I feel, is crucial to the power of JIRP, and the power of wilderness experience in general. Even while immersed in such an experience, however, it's easy to gloss over your surroundings. To take a picture and make a promise to revisit the landscape at a later date (a promise unlikely to come true). In many years with JIRP, and on my travels with family and friends, my only regret is that I didn't slow down even more. Field sketching affords this slowing down, an opportunity to study, admire and learn from the landscape, and also to cache the memory in our internal hard drives for later recollection. Quoting Locke (1989) in their seminal review of "Learning in the Field", Mogk and Goodwin (2012) write:

Having to physically move from place to place in the environment requires students to slow down their engagement with the subject of interest, take time to talk with mentors and peers about observations as they emerge, and have time to reflect on their work to gain deeper understanding.

This slowing down, taking time, and having time is central to the JIRP experience. JIRP has benefited greatly from having artists play an integral role, artists such as Dee Molenaar, Maria Coryell-Martin, Annika Ord, Kellie Shaefer and more. We are excited that field sketching has grown in prominence in recent years under the guidance of Annika, and to announce that the role of art and science communication is set to expand for JIRP 2017 (more on this soon). In the mean time, know that JIRP and its participants aren't the only beneficiaries. Sitting down, breathing, looking, seeing, sketching are available to all. Grab a pen and paper. Slow down. Breathe. Sketch.

Left to Right: The toes and sketches of JIRPers after a pause for observation and reflection at Mendenhall Glacier (Photo: M. Beedle). Annika Ord sketches Camp 18 and Vaughan Lewis Glacier (Photo: A. Pope). The sketches completed by JIRPers during the 2016 "JIRP Olympics" at Camp 17 (Photo: M. Beedle).


Mogk, D. W. and Goodwin, C. 2012. Learning in the field: Synthesis of research on thinking and learning in the geosciences, in Kastens, K. A., and Manduca, C.A., eds., Earth and Mind II: A Synthesis of Research on Thinking and Learning in the Geosciences: Geological Society of America Special Paper 486, p. 131-163, doi:10.1130/2012.2486(24).

Crevasse Orientation with Respect to Flow Velocity

Donald Jarrin

Colorado Mesa University

Here on the Juneau Icefield we have many hazards we must overcome on a day-to-day basis. These hazards range from hypothermia to snow blindness, but some of the biggest hazards we encounter are crevasses. These features are found across the glacier, and in this blog I will describe how ice flow velocity dictates crevasse orientation.

For the sketches here I will use the following color scheme: blue for the glacier, brown for the valley walls, yellow for glacier flow direction, green for lateral extension, red for zones of friction, and black for crevasses. It’s important to understand that there are arrows showing flow direction and speed, but there is an overall flow velocity throughout the glacier. The middle of the glacier flows more quickly than the sides of the glacier. There is friction from the valley walls which is causing the crescent shape in the flow velocity.  In all of figures (see Figure 1 below) we look down on the glacier from a bird’s-eye view.

Figure 1

Figure 1


In general, when two things are pulled apart this causes extensional stress (tension). On glaciers extensional stress occurs when faster moving ice is followed by slower moving ice, as seen in Figure 2 below. Because the stress acting upon the ice is extensional and oriented down glacier, the crevasse forms perpendicular to the flow direction.

Figure 2

Figure 2


Figure 3

Figure 3

The opposite of extensional stress is compressional stress. Glaciers experience compressional stress when ice with a faster velocity is uphill of ice with a slower velocity. The compressional stress creates a lateral extensional stress as the ice spreads to accommodate the change in volume. As the ice flows outward laterally, crevasses form parallel to flow. This results in crevasses in the exact opposite orientation to the previous extension method. This process is shown in Figure 3 above.


Figure 4

Figure 4

Shear stress is a little different from the two previous forms of stress. This is because shear stress is a product of both the ice flow and friction against the valley walls. As the ice grinds against the valley wall, the rest of the glacier moves at a more constant rate. This yields a crevasse orientation 45 degrees up glacier from the valley wall. Figure 4 above shows the flow direction of the ice at the shear zone, and a single resulting crevasse. Figure 5 below shows what the crevasses would look like as the glacier moves down valley and encounters friction on both sides of the glacier.  

Figure 5

Figure 5

Terminus Crevasses

Figure 6

Figure 6

The last type of crevasses are terminus crevasses. Once the glacier has made its journey down the valley is has the potential to form one last set of crevasses. If the glacier terminates in a broad flat area it can form a fan-shape toe (terminus). If this happens, the glacier begins to widen, thin, and create new crevasses that are sub-parallel to the original direction of flow- down the glacier. Figure 6 above shows that when the toe begins to expand the flow outward, lateral extension pulls the ice apart(shown in green). This is similar to the compression figure above but in this figure the ice is flowing down and outward to the lowest possible elevation.
Though crevasses are a major hazard to anyone who traverses any icefield, as well as being sobering reminders that glaciers are always in flux, they are also valuable teaching tools for looking at ice velocity and overall glacier movement.






Taku Glacier: Anomaly of the Juneau Icefield

Kate Bollen

On a map of the Juneau Icefield, Taku Glacier is a distinguished ribbon that winds out of the southeast corner of the icefield as an outlet glacier. It’s remarkably large, even by Alaskan standards. It encompasses 671 square kilometers (Pelto et al, 2013) and measures about 5 kilometers across where it passes in front of Camp 10. It’s fed by four tributary glaciers that line its upper margins, and its outline is similar to the shape of Thailand. Taku Glacier is quite special, not only because it sets a stunning scene for JIRPers to admire from the porch of the Camp 10 cook shack, but also because it’s one of only a hand-full of glaciers in Alaska (and around the world, for that matter), that has been advancing (Pelto et al, 2013).

Shawnee Reynoso and Louise Borthwick sleeping out on the porch of the Camp 10 cook shack overlooking Taku Glacier. Photo: Kate Bollen

Shawnee Reynoso and Louise Borthwick sleeping out on the porch of the Camp 10 cook shack overlooking Taku Glacier. Photo: Kate Bollen

Until recently, Taku Glacier has been growing in mass. Indeed, the Taku looks unlike its neighbors as it descends toward the floodplain of the Taku River. The ice juts out over the small trees that live in its path, as the adjacent Norris Glacier looks as if it’s withering away, cracked and shrunken. Since most Alaskan glaciers are surrounded by forests that are actively creeping out onto the new ground exposed by glacial retreat, the sight of the Taku mowing over trees and shrubs as it slides down its broad valley is quite victorious to the glacier enthusiast.

Positions of the end of Taku Glacier from 1948 to 2014. Adapted from a figure by Chris McNeil.

Positions of the end of Taku Glacier from 1948 to 2014. Adapted from a figure by Chris McNeil.

Boundaries of Taku Glacier on the Juneau Icefield. Adapted from a figure by Chris McNeil.

Boundaries of Taku Glacier on the Juneau Icefield. Adapted from a figure by Chris McNeil.

Students Molly Peek and Shawnee Reynoso and faculty member Chris McNeil ski through thinly exposed crevasses on Taku Glacier below Camp 10 on a sunny day. Photo: Kate Bollen

Students Molly Peek and Shawnee Reynoso and faculty member Chris McNeil ski through thinly exposed crevasses on Taku Glacier below Camp 10 on a sunny day. Photo: Kate Bollen

There are two main causes behind the anomalous case of the Taku. First, the glacier has a unique hypsometry, which refers to the distribution of the glacier’s surface area with respect to elevation. Most of the Taku lies above 1200 meters above sea level, so it has a huge accumulation zone (the area where annual snowfall doesn’t completely melt by the end of the melt season) compared to the total surface area of the glacier. As a result, the majority of Taku Glacier can gain mass from falling snow each year. Second, Taku Glacier is a tidewater glacier. This may strike an observer as peculiar since the Taku currently flows into a river rather than the ocean, but this classification stands based on the Taku’s behavior and bed topography.

Olivia Truax collects snow depth data on the Northwest branch of Taku Glacier. Photo: Kate Bollen

Olivia Truax collects snow depth data on the Northwest branch of Taku Glacier. Photo: Kate Bollen

To understand the dynamics of Taku Glacier, we have to know the story of the tidewater glacier cycle. Here is a summary derived from a lecture delivered to JIRP students by Martin Truffer earlier this summer at Camp 17. As the end of a tidewater glacier, known as the terminus, rests in a fjord, the elevation of the glacier’s bed is below sea level. As a result, the melt water beneath the terminus of the glacier becomes pressurized so that it can still flow into the ocean despite the weight of the seawater column. The terminus is quickly eroded as big chunks of ice peel away during calving events and as warm sea water circulates against the terminus. Consequently, the glacier is driven into a rapid retreat, and it recoils up its valley until it reaches a resting point above sea level. There, the glacier is able to stabilize and to eventually begin an advance by pushing its dirty, icy terminus forward on a terminal moraine (a pile of sediment collected by the glacier at its terminus as it grinds forward). By advancing a homemade mound of sediment ahead of itself, the glacier can rest above the deep water of the fjord and the subglacial hydraulics are less pressurized, so the glacier is protected from the intense melting and erosion that previously drove it back. As it continues to bulge onward, the glacier eventually reaches a state where its surface balance nears zero, which means that its accumulation and ablation (melting) are equal. At this point, the glacier can reenter a rapid retreat as the tidewater glacier cycle continues.

A steamship floats in front of the Taku terminus during an earlier advancement of the glacier.

A steamship floats in front of the Taku terminus during an earlier advancement of the glacier.

As for the Taku, its bed doesn’t rise above sea level until an estimated 20 kilometers up-valley of its terminus (oral comm. Beem 2016). Additionally, the Taku has been in the advancement stage of the tidewater glacier cycle since 1850, but its advance has halted in the last two years (oral comm. Truffer, 2016). It’s too early to determine if the Taku has reached the end of its advance or to say that a rapid retreat is imminent. However, the reactions of the Taku and other glaciers to climate will have wide-spread impacts and can tell us quite a bit about the changing climate. Mountain glaciers account for less than 1% of global glacial ice volume, but their rapid rate of mass loss is responsible for one-third of the current observed sea level rise (Larsen et al., 2015). Additionally, glaciers play a big role in downstream ecosystems as they deliver nutrients and sediment as well as well as manipulate water flow, turbidity, and temperature (O’Neel et al., 2015). Consequently, these glaciers can almost directly impact where and how people near and far are living. The Taku and other glaciers captivate us as scientists and inspire us as humans to understand the complex systems in which we live.


Beem, Lucas. Oral communication 2016.

Larsen, C. F., E. Burgess, A. A. Arendt, S. O’Neel, A. J. Johnson, and C. Kienholz (2015), Surface melt dominates Alaska glacier mass balance, Geophys. Res. Lett., 42, 5902–5908, doi:10.1002/2015GL064349.

O’Neel, S. et al. 2015. Icefield-to-Ocean Linkages across the Northern Pacific Coastal Temperate Rainforest Ecosystem, BioScience, 65, 5, 499-512.

Pelto, M., J. Kavanaugh, and C. McNeil , Juneau Icefield Mass Balance Program 1946-2011, Earth Syst. Sci. Data, 5, 319-330, doi:10.5194/essd-5-319-2013.

Truffer, Martin. Oral communication 2016.


Storytelling in JIRP

Victor Cabrera

Dartmouth College

Among the many idiosyncrasies of the JIRP micro-culture, perhaps none are more valuable than the culture of story-telling, which is so fondly expressed at every moment of every summer on the Juneau Icefield. Those who commonly read our blog will have noticed two of the main themes which so often occupy our thoughts: surmounting fear of death and surmounting the smell of our SPAM-laden outhouses. Oral tradition, however, proves to be much more complex when we learn to read between the lines of those events which most readily entrain the attention of young students, new to a life of expedition.

Staff member Allie Strel reads a humorous story on Expedition Behavior in the Library at Camp 17. Photo by Matt Beedle.

Staff member Allie Strel reads a humorous story on Expedition Behavior in the Library at Camp 17. Photo by Matt Beedle.

The JIRP storytelling tradition goes beyond a recounting of history. Indeed, it goes beyond any sort of written record as well as past any sensible degree of scale (did that person really fall 100 feet into a crevasse?). Whereas staff and faculty introduce the study of glaciers and the pursuit of truth as the backbone of JIRP, the true mainstays of JIRP are the tales told at the dinner table/porch/rock, the phrases carefully written on the walls of its buildings, the names stretched across the rafters, and the held breaths of a captive audience sustaining a barrage of onomatopoeias.

One of two events usually triggers a staff or faculty’s story: the mention of a scribble on a wall or an exasperated request to explain an inside joke which has remained outside of the students’ knowledge. Each trigger, however, develops into the same effect: a devilish look in the storyteller’s eye, the slight curl of the lips, and a knowing look at a complicit compatriot which hints to the audience exactly how great a story will be. In the spirit of scientific statistics, it is interesting to note that the intensity of the story is positively correlated to the amount of restless chuckling and background provided by the teller. Regardless of the build-up to the punch line, however, a promise of legendary shenanigans always keeps the listeners attentive through as many circuitous tangents as may be presented. We here at JIRP have realized that, in the end, it will always be good.

Kate Bollen peers into the 'Zoo' (Radio Room) at C17, where staff and faculty members Annika Ord, Chris McNeil, Annie Boucher, Newt Krumdieck and Ibai Rico spin a good yarn during meal time. Photo by Matt Beedle.

Kate Bollen peers into the 'Zoo' (Radio Room) at C17, where staff and faculty members Annika Ord, Chris McNeil, Annie Boucher, Newt Krumdieck and Ibai Rico spin a good yarn during meal time. Photo by Matt Beedle.

The cruxes of our stories create the very language we employ. They culminate at paramount lessons about life on the icefield which may perhaps even be employed outside the icy visage of the Taku Towers. Moral imperatives drawn from the tales of the illustrious Dry-Corner Man or that of the amorphous, yet readily sensed, Cook Shack Easter Bunny teach us about the value of selfless expeditionary tact. Tales behind the quotes on our outhouse walls tell us about the reflective potential of looking deep within ourselves during the only moments in which we are truly (usually) alone. Tales of daily camp life gone awry teach us both to look up to and to strive for the legendary flexibility which makes JIRP adventures possible. Lastly, tales of Dr. Maynard Miller teach us about the significance of the legacy we are inheriting and showcase the reverence that one person can potentially earn by following a clear and noble vision for good.

Storytelling in our modest nunatak camps is what establishes the nexus between JIRP’s two goals of expeditionary training and science. Moreover, it is what draws returning JIRPers back out into the wilderness and away from any recognizable degree of urbane comfort. It cements our friendships and validates our experiences and, most importantly, it slowly hands off traditions rooted in more than 70 years of experience to the next generation of fiendish JIRPers. No testament is stronger, however, than witnessing the tradition of storytelling beginning to be reflected among the students. It is then, when a student, rather than a staffer, begins to tell of experiences and events, that the devilish look, the rise in tone, and the knowing looks have clearly infected a new group of JIRPers. It is also then that the most intense and prideful laughs are projected by the staff, when it becomes clear that a new class of students has now joined them in adding to the collection of tall tales that colors life on the icefield.


Cooking and Teamwork

Olivia Truax

Amherst College

On an expedition filled with steep learning curves (you’ve never seen snow before? Try telemark skiing down a hill with a 30-pound pack! You’ve never slept outside before? How about camping on a glacier! You’ve never had a science class before? Let’s talk biogeochemical field methods!) the steepest, by necessity, is that of camp cook. When your name appears on the “plan of the day” as part of the three-student cook team it’s do or die. Well, I doubt that our camp of hungry JIRPers would kill a cook who, at the end of a long day of fieldwork, failed to produce an edible meal. However, cooks do run the risk of going down in JIRP history like “that idiot in such-and-such year who cooked the pasta into barely edible salt mush.”

Luckily, Brittany, Lyda and my first mistake was one of quantity not quality. Fifty JIRPers can eat a lot of oatmeal. They cannot, however, eat eighty servings of oatmeal. Having made it through breakfast without memorable slipups we faced our next task: lunch and what to do with 30 servings of rapidly congealing Quaker Oats (because all of our food on the icefield is delivered via wildly expensive, gas-guzzling, helicopters, food waste, always environmentally and financially irresponsible, is inexcusable). Word to the wise: 1. JIRPers love burritos 2. if you mix leftover oatmeal with brown sugar, flour, raisins, vegetable oil, and baking powder and stick it in the oven it won’t turn into an “oatmeal cake,” but it will turn into a delicious pudding-esque dish even if you forget about it and bake it at 400 degrees for an hour and a half.

For dinner we decided that it’d be a fun challenge to make a meal that used every dish in the kitchen. Well, our goal was to make enough roasted potato medley, chopped salad, and beef stew, for 51 people— no more, no less. The somewhat predictable result was four hours of chopping and roasting twenty-five pounds of potatoes, sweet potatoes, and carrots in a single oven, stewing canned beef in the largest cast iron skillet I have ever encountered (this behemoth requires two burners), and a brief stint as short-order cooks desperately trying to chop enough peppers, apples, and lettuce to keep the salad bowl full in the face of the seemingly inexhaustible appetite of a never ending line of JIRPers (it was our own fault, we told them to help themselves to “bottomless salad”).

The Mass-Balance Team - Evan Koncewicz, Victor Cabrera, Tai Rozvar, Olivia Truax, Alex Burkhart and Kate Bollen - present their research proposal on the deck at Camp 10. Photo by Matt Beedle.

The Mass-Balance Team - Evan Koncewicz, Victor Cabrera, Tai Rozvar, Olivia Truax, Alex Burkhart and Kate Bollen - present their research proposal on the deck at Camp 10. Photo by Matt Beedle.

When the line of salad-seeking JIRPers finally ended we had a moment to enjoy our meal staring out at the view of the Taku Towers from the porch of the cook shack before the mountain of dishes called us back inside. Sitting with Brittany and Lyda, enjoying the meat Brittany stewed, clutching a cup of coffee Lyda brewed, and savoring the last of the peppers we had frantically chopped I found myself reflecting that 1. Kirkland-brand canned meet and pre-ground coffee has never tasted so good and 2. my day cooking, a task that I’d dreaded as a chore for weeks, had been one of my favorite days so far on the icefield. Sometime in-between preparing almost twice the amount of oatmeal we needed and the final dash to finish the salad something about JIRP clicked for me. Far from the day I had anticipated away from the science and exploration I thought constituted the “real” business of JIRP, my time in the kitchen—surrounded as I was by the laughter I shared with Lyda and Brittany, the aroma of baking “oatmeal cake,” and the smiles of JIRPers with full bellies—took me to the heart of what it means to be part of an expedition family.

Here on the icefield we talk a lot about community and teamwork. The idea that we are stronger together than the sum of our parts is an organizing principle of our daily life, drawing us closer as we navigate the challenges of living and learning in this harsh environment. I began to feel the strength of this community on the long trek from Camp 17 to Camp 10 when the quiet encouragement of the person ahead of me on the rope team got me through the final slog up the crevasse field to our camp at the Norris Cache. It buoyed me when I took a hard fall running through Camp 17 to grab my ski boots for a sunset ski on the Ptarmigan Glacier and my fellow JIRPers patched up my bruised knees and low stoke level (word to the wise: DO NOT RUN IN CAMP). Co-authoring a research proposal and digging snow pits with the rest of the Mass Balance project group, I’d begun to feel an inkling of what’s possible when JIRPers devote themselves to a project as a team. But it was in the kitchen with Brittany and Lyda brainstorming an original menu from limited ingredients and dashing about to make enough salad that I first understood that phrase “stronger together than the sum of our parts” as not only an aspirational aphorism but an incontrovertible truth.

Completing the two-day traverse from Camp 17 to Camp 10. Photo by Catharine White.

Completing the two-day traverse from Camp 17 to Camp 10. Photo by Catharine White.

Our meal won’t go down in JIRP history. I’m sure the potatoes we agonized over have already begun to fade into the many delicious meals we’ve had here on the icefield in the minds of our fellow JIRPers, but my first day in the kitchen will stay with me. Working together wasn’t always easy: I stubbornly stuck to the idea that we should fry up two sausages to feed 51 people for dinner long after Brittany and Lyda, sensibly, pointed out that if we did that 40 JIRPers would go hungry. But, together, we produced three meals (none of which involved sausage) that kept our expedition, our community, happy and fed.

Gilkey Trench Fieldwork Adventure

By The Gilkey Trench Crew (Jamie Bradshaw, William Jenkins, Jon Doty, and Justyna Dudek)

While many students already started the fieldwork for their projects at Camp 10 and even Camp 18, five students have been anxiously awaiting to begin their fieldwork in the Gilkey Trench. The Gilkey Trench is the magnificent view that you see from Camp 18 where the Gilkey, Vaughan-Lewis, the Unnamed and many other glaciers connect and flow down through the steep, glacially carved, 2,000 foot deep valley. The Trench is filled with beautiful curving medial moraines and jaw dropping ogives created by ice falls. Getting to such a beautiful place is not easy and well worth a full day’s effort.

Descending "The Cleaver" - approaching the start of the series of fixed ropes - with the Gilkey Trench in the background.  Photo by Adam Toolanen

On Wednesday, July 31st, these students and four safety staff members departed Camp 18 for our camp on the bare glacier ice in the sunshine. The trick to getting to the glacier is descending what is affectionately called “The Cleaver.” The Cleaver is the 2,000 feet of bedrock that sits between Camp 18 and the glaciers below.  The descent was led by senior staffer Scott McGee, who has done the route many, many times. The first half of the route was going down steep snow slopes until we got to a vegetated area called “The Heather Camp.” This is where the fixed ropes began.

Waiting in a safe location - protected from rockfall from above - for their turn to descend the next section of fixed ropes.  Photo by Adam Toolanen. 

Here, the students and staff put on helmets and harnesses and tied into the fixed ropes with a knot called a prussik. This rope system served as a back up in case there was a slip on the steep, unstable terrain.  Fixed ropes were used for the last half of the descent because the route became steeper and more exposed. Because the glacier is melting, new bedrock and rock debris is left behind. This makes finding new routes difficult and challenging in the unstable footing. After 11 very long hours, the students and staff safely and happily arrived at our camp in the Gilkey Trench during a magnificent sunset.

Scott McGee scouts the lowest section of the descent made of freshly exposed bedrock, and precariously deposited boulders left by the rapidly thinning Gilkey Glacier.  Photo by Jeffrey Barbee. 

The next two days were spent collecting data from the field. A brief explanation of the students’ projects in the Gilkey Trench are below:

Jamie Bradshaw - Surface Ablation of the Gilkey Glacier

For my project, I looked at the ablation, or melt rates, of the Gilkey Glacier. In May 2013, wires were steam drilled into the ice for Dr. Anthony Arendt at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (also a visiting JIRP Faculty member earlier in the summer). My task was to find these wires and measure how much wire was exposed. Luckily the sites came with known GPS coordinates and had a wire tetrahedron with bright orange flagging attached to it, so it was fairly easy to find in the rolling, mildly crevassed terrain of the Gilkey Glacier. By knowing the length of the wire exposed at the time of installation (which I will find out upon returning to civilization) and measuring the length of wire exposed in August, the ablation can be determined. This becomes important because once the area of the glacier is known, the total amount of melt water runoff from the glacier to the ocean can be calculated.

Jamie Bradshaw photo documents one of the ablation-measurement sites on Gilkely Glacier.  As the glacier surface melts, more wire (at Jamie's feet) is exposed.  Photo by Jeffrey Kavanaugh. 

William Jenkins - Ogive Survey

My research in the Gilkey Trench was focused on the ogives, also called Forbes Bands, which form at the base of the Vaughan Lewis Icefall, adjacent to Camp 18. These interesting features in the ice are annual formations that only appear beneath fast flowing icefalls. It is commonly accepted that their light and dark banding represents the variations between summer and winter ice that has made its way through the icefall in one year. Summer ice, which is subjected to wind blown particulates and increased melt, constitutes the dark bands of the ogives and forms the trough of their frozen wave-like appearance. The white winter ice is composed of that year’s snowfall, and forms the crests of the wave bulges. 

William Jenkins surveys one of the Gilkey Glacier ogives with GPS.  "The Cleaver" is the ridge of rock in the background, with the Vaughan Lewis Icefall on the right.  Photo by Jamie Bradshaw. 

The purpose of my study was to determine how fast this area of the Gilkey Glacier was thinning in comparison to previous years. In order to determine this rate, I conducted a longitudinal GPS survey, with the help of Scott McGee, that had previously been carried out from the years 2001-2007. As a result of the glacier’s rapid thinning rate, I’ll be able to calculate its subsidence by the changes in the elevation of the survey over time. I will also compare the data I observe with the Vaughan Lewis mass-balance data that JIRP has collected over the years. This comparison will allow me to correlate the changes in annual precipitation with the transformations in the ogives wavelength and amplitude over time. The relationship between mass balance and ogive structure will shed light on the future transformations of the ogives and Vaughan-Lewis Glacier as a whole.    

Panorama of one of the ogives near the base of the Vaughan Lewis Icefall (in the background).  Photo by William Jenkins. 

Justyna Dudek - Photogrammetry

The main objective of my project was to create an up to date digital terrain model (DTM) of the Vaughan Lewis Icefall flowing down from Camp 18 into the Gilkey Trench. A digital terrain model describes the 3-dimentional position of surface points and objects, and can be used to retrieve information about geometrical properties of glaciers. In order to create the model, I decided to explore the procedures and tools available within the field of digital photogrammetry, a practical method which allows carrying out non-contact measurements of inaccessible terrain (very useful for areas such as icefalls, which for the sake of avalanches and falling seracs, might be too dangerous for exploration or measurements on their actual surface). The baseline dataset for creating the DTM of Vaughan Lewis Icefall  were recorded on the first, sunny and cloudless day of our stay in the Trench. With the guidance from Paul Illsley (present via radio from Camp 18) and help from my colleagues Jeff Barbee and Jon Doty (present on the Gilkey Trench), I set up the three profiles along which we collected the data in the form of terrestrial photogrammetric stereo pairs and ground control points (GCP). The database created by our team will be subsequently processed in order create a DTM which can constitute a reliable, starting point for further research in this area in the future.

Paul Illsley overlooks the Vaughan Lewis Icefall from a terrestrial photogrammetry station near Camp 18.  Photo by Mira Dutschke. 

Jon Doty - Nunatak Biology

My path into the trench followed a slightly different approach than the other students who reached the Gilkey Trench via the Cleaver descent.  Ben Partan – Senior Staff member in charge of camp maintenance – and I were brought down to the Gilkey via helicopter from Camp 18 to Camp 19, with a load of material to fix up the camp, which sees infrequent use. After two days repairing the roof, and siding, as well as swamping the camp interior, we descended into the trench. During our descent we made four stops at progressively lower elevations, conducting a botanical survey. At each site I recorded all plant species present, the compass orientation of the plot, elevation, and tried to keep an eye out for faunal interaction, and any other interesting features of the site. 

Ben Partan repairs the C 19 roof.  The upper Gilkey Glacier is in the background.  Photo by Jon Doty. 

As we dropped down closer to the surface of Gilkey Glacier - biodiversity plummeted. My final site featured only a single species of plant, as opposed to nearly twenty at the highest point of my survey. This loss of biodiversity can be tied to the recession of the Gilkey exposing new substrates, and the time required for mosses and lichens to reach the area and for soil to develop. Using a rough dating technique called lichenometry, we can gain insight as to the amount of time each site has been exposed by the recession of the glacier. The lichen species Rhizocarpon geographicum grows about 1 cm for every 100 years and is very common. Its absence at the lowest two sites is therefore noticeable, and signals that these sites were only recently revealed.

My survey is paired with another conducted by Molly Blakowski on the southerly oriented C 18 nunatak. These two slopes face each other with the Gilkey separating them. We plan on comparing the results of our surveys to determine what affects the differences of aspect have on the vegetation.   It was an absolute pleasure to join back up with the group and explore the Trench, and true fun to climb up the Cleaver and reunite with the rest of the JIRPers at C 18. 

The 2013 Gilkey Trench Crew (left to right): Jeff Kavanaugh, Jeff Barbee, Justyna Dudek, Jamie Bradshaw, Adam Toolanen, Adam Taylor, Jon Doty and William Jenkins. Photo by Jeffrey Kavanaugh

In closing, on August 3rd, the Gilkey Trench Crew packed up camp and headed towards the Cleaver to ascend back to life at Camp 18. Again, we tied into fixed ropes, had a remarkably beautiful day and had a safe climb up the Cleaver. The Gilkey Trench Fieldwork Adventure had been a success and possibly, the icing on the cake for all crew members.

Additional photos from the Gilkey Trench Fieldwork Adventure.  Click on any of the images below to open a slideshow with all photos and captions: