Science itself is an interesting focus. It is not just a thing, or an idea, or even a sole research topic. You cannot box it into a category with one title or one author. It is not defined to a single glacier system or a solitary winding stream. It can be studied in any part of the world, with any questions in mind. The science that I am working on now happens to be on the Juneau Icefield in Alaska. My science involves snow-machines, base-stations, and of course: Global-Positioning-System (GPS).
I am spending the majority of my summer traversing and researching the Juneau Icefield. As part of the GPS team here at the Juneau Icefield Research Program (JIRP), it is our job to help collect elevation, longitude, and latitude data points as we traverse along the icefield. This variety of information will be used to calculate velocity in the numerous areas of the Icefield and relate it with past GPS data and JIRP’s other research area’s data, for instance, Mass Balance.
One specific area of science and research that the GPS group is focusing in on is the Matthes-Llewellyn Divide. The Matthes-Llewellyn Divide is a glacier divide that connects and separates Matthes Glacier from Llewellyn Glacier. As part of our project, we are constructing a grid of GPS points that we will lay out onto the divide with bamboo wands. When we lay the wands out, we will survey their exact longitude and latitude coordinates. As the ice flows, the set points will flow along with the two different glaciers, moving in opposite directions. We then will return back to the bamboo wands and re-measure the new locations of the wands. The distance and direction the wands have travelled will allow us to calculate the ice flow velocities and where, exactly, the two glaciers separate. We are constructing this grid by looking at the divide data from 2013 and beyond, and interpreting where the Divide may have migrated in the intervening years. By determining where exactly the flow divide is, how it has changed, and how it compares to previous years, we gain critical information about where one glacier ends and the other begins.
The research that the GPS team is working on over the course of summer 2016, and has worked on in many previous summers, provides important information about the condition of the Icefield. For example, that the Divide is shifting over time; this change can alter how much precipitation is being distributed to the Matthes and Llewellyn Glaciers. So, by using our GPS data along with data from other research teams, we can track long-term changes in the mass balance of the two glaciers. This, in turn, gives us a deeper understanding of the health of the whole glacial system.