On the Adoption of Rocks

On the Adoption of Rocks

Joel Wilner, Middlebury College

Those who come to the Juneau Icefield often have distinct motivations. Some come for the adventure, others for the pursuit of knowledge; many for both. To get away from the neon screens and nine-to-fives of “normal” life is as good a reason as any. But invariably, one motivation touches all: the innate desire to let nature envelop oneself; to allow rain and ice and wind pierce the inside of the skin and flow; pulsing deep and through.

And then some want to literally take nature with them and become the adoptive parents of nature.

Meet Balboa the rock. JIRPers Tadhg Moore and James O’Neil found Balboa on last Thursday’s day hike to the Herbert Glacier. They were stunned when they found the little guy sitting by a stream near the glacier’s terminus, lost and freezing cold.

Tadhg (left) and James (right) show Balboa to his first proglacial lake. Photo by author.

Tadhg (left) and James (right) show Balboa to his first proglacial lake. Photo by author.

Balboa revealed his amazing story to Tadhg and James. He was born many millions of years ago in a vastly different landscape. Balboa doesn’t remember a whole lot from those days. He also doesn’t know much about his birth parents, other than that they were probably of a very similar chemical composition and geological origin as him – as the saying goes, the rock doesn’t fall far from the rock (unless you’re a glacial erratic). Then, after the end of a recent glacial advance, he was deposited, rolling off from the Herbert, his host glacier. He plucked up the courage to go off on his own.

“Balboa certainly has a well-rounded personality,” Tadhg told me. “He might seem to be hard-headed at first, but once you get to know him, there’s more than meets the rock hammer.”

“Balboa’s super smart, too - his mind is crystal-clear,” James added. “You know, a lot of quartz crystals.”

Tadhg and James made sure Balboa was perfectly comfortable as they brought him back to JIRP headquarters at the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau. He was finally given a warm home to live in and oxidize to his heart’s desire. Balboa was introduced to the other JIRP students, who warmly welcomed him into their lives. Tadhg and James even baptized Balboa in Juneau’s Auke Lake during a beautiful ceremony.

The new parents stressed that they wanted to open Balboa’s eyes to other glaciers. Later in the week, they carried the hefty rock up on a hike to the Mendenhall Glacier. Despite the extra burden, Tadhg insists that it was well worth it, and plans to carry Balboa across the Juneau Icefield for the remainder of the summer.

As for Balboa’s plans for life after the Icefield? The rock told me that he’s on to bigger and better things. Right now, the goal is to raise a family and settle down, preferably settling on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean as erosional sediment.  

The new parents with adorable Balboa. Photo by author. 

The new parents with adorable Balboa. Photo by author. 

Geomorphology of The Cleaver

By Patrick Englehardt and Leah Nelson

Camp 18 is located on a body of exposed rock called the Cleaver, and it is bordered by the Vaughan Lewis and the Little Vaughan Lewis icefalls. Although it currently stands proud of these icefalls, it is clear from geomorphological evidence that the Cleaver was once overridden by glacier ice. The scarred rock left behind following glacial erosion can indicate the direction of ice flow and can give clues to help understand subglacial conditions and forces.

Geomorphological features found on the Cleaver include chatter marks, striations  and roche moutonnee (all of which are defined below). Leah Nelson’s project is the creation of a geomorphological walking tour on the Camp 18 nunatak that identifies these features for future generations of JIRP students. The following photos and definitions are part of this project.

Chattermarks: Chattermarks are a series of small and closely spaced crescent-shaped features made by vibratory chipping of the bedrock surface by rock fragments carried in ice at the base of the glacier.  Their shape indicates movement; they are generally convex in the direction of ice motion.  The bedrock of the Cleaver is littered with chattermarks, showing the movement of the overriding ice.  

Chattermarks in the bedrock of the Cleaver.  Photo by Leah Nelson

Striations: Striations are multiple scratches, often parallel, inscribed on the bedrock surface.  These are caused by the sediment load in the base of the glacier that scraped along the bedrock.  In some places on the Cleaver, you can see striations that pass through both the bedrock and inclusions that are of a different rock type.  This instance of differential weathering shows the contrasting resistances between the two types of rock due to their composition.

Striations through a xenolith. Photo by Leah Nelson.

Roche Moutonnee: A roche mountonnee is an elongated bedrock knob whose long axis is oriented in the direction of ice movement. The upstream side is gently inclined, smoothly rounded and striated; while the downstream side is rough and steep, often with portions of rock removed or plucked away during formation. The term comes from the French and means “sheep-backed rock”.

Author Leah Nelson gives scale to a roche mountonnee on the Cleaver. Photo by Patrick Englehardt.

Author Patrick Englehardt stands on another roche mountonnee with the impressive Gilkey Trench in the background. Photo by Leah Nelson.

Dr. P. Jay Fleisher: Scientist, Professor, Mentor, JIRPer

Interview by Salvatore G. Candela

Dr. P. Jay Fleisher is a Distinguished Teaching Professor, Emeritus at State University of New York, College at Oneonta, where he taught Glacial Geology and Geomorphology. Jay has been involved with JIRP since 1968 when he participated with 15 other post-docs, and again on multiple occasions as a volunteer faculty member.  Jay served as JIRP's Interim Director from 2010 through 2011, then returned to Camp-10 as teaching faculty member in 2013 after a one year hiatus.

Dr. Fleisher explaining the xenolith inclusions near Camp 10.  Photo by Jamie Bradshaw.

Salvatore G. Candela: What was your educational path to becoming a scientist?

P. Jay Fleisher: As is true for many youths, it is possible to be influenced by a single teacher or mentor, and the influence came for me when my general science teacher in 5th or 6th grade took us to a university where we toured the engineering facilities and got  to see presentations by the faculty. I was so impressed by what these people did that I knew I wanted to be a scientist or engineer. During my first semester in an engineering curriculum I took a mandatory geology class that seemed to deal with topics of special interest. As I found myself learning about the formation of rocks and the Earth, I questioned “How could I possibly not study this?”. As I read the text books and listened to lectures I became so attached to the subject, and felt a passion for it, which lead me to become a geologist.

SC: What is your current field of study and interest?
PJF.: While in undergraduate school I found an introduction to a book on metamorphic rocks that said “the best geologist is the one who has seen the most rocks”. This inspired me to leave NY once finishing my undergraduate degree and head to North Carolina for my Masters to “see more rocks”. From there I headed to New Mexico to see even more rocks, and continue to grow my own knowledge on the topic. While working there, I realized I needed a PhD to do what I really wanted to do, teach at the college level. While in graduate school for my PhD, I decided to study glacial geology.

SC: What would you say was your greatest contribution to the world of science?
PJF: To have mentored and inspired undergraduate students to become scientists.

SC: What are the best and worst places your work has taken you?
PJF: The best place isn’t a place, it’s an environment, and the environment is the glacier wilderness, examples include the Juneau Icefield and Bering Glacier, Alaska.

The worst place….(long pause), was where I experienced being wet and cold, the combination being very physically uncomfortable, such as on the Juneau Icefield, and the Bering Glacier, Alaska, as two examples. Getting through these are also the experiences I take the greatest pride in.

SC: How did you become involved in JIRP?
PJF:  While on the faculty at SUNY-Oneonta, I reacted to a mailed flyer that described the JIRP program and applied and was accepted in 1968. This was during my post-doc research. When I got here, I realized that this was a place I could learn a lot about glaciers and glaciation, but also a place where I could learn at least as much, if not more about myself, thanks to the constant challenges presented in this environment.

SC: How has JIRP inspired your work or research direction?
PJF: While on a traverse across the Juneau Icefield, having traveled for two days in a storm including a bivouac on the glacier, my small field party of five were being transported on the back of a Thiokol (a large, tracked, over-snow vehicle) to a permanent camp site. As I sat there, watching glaciated mountains and glaciers slowly pass by I realized this is a place that deserves my full attention, because it’s an analog for what occurred in my home state of New York 14,000 years ago... I was actually living in an ice age.

SC: As a scientist and former JIRPer, what role do you envision JIRP playing in shaping the coming generations of scientist?
PJF: Hundreds of young men and women were exposed to the Juneau Icefield under the direction of Dr. Maynard Miller, the founder of the program. Looking back, I see from the roster of all those who participated, the names of some of the most outstanding scientists in glaciology and glacial geology today. Knowing that JIRP launched them and myself into our careers, I look towards JIRP to do the same for many more in the future.

SC: What advice would you give to the coming generation of young scientists?
PJF: Follow your bliss, never stop questioning, and never stop challenging yourself.

SC: Thank you very much for coming to the Icefield to teach us this year, and allowing me the opportunity to interview you.

Jay would enjoy hearing from those who have benefited from this blog:  fleishpj@oneonta.edu