Stuck with strangers?

Kit Cunningham

Montana State University

Coming into this program, I didn’t know what to expect. I knew the various aspects of glacial travel and academics that I would be learning; however, I didn’t know how this group of 40ish people would shape the dynamics around me.  Now, after the program, I realize the intense impact they had on my experience.

These people, who came from all walks of life and from so many different backgrounds, had the ability to create a unique environment where all forms of growth were welcomed and could flourish. I realize in hindsight that this growth began through the initial questions surrounding the journey, which could only be approached with unabashed curiosity and high excitement. These questions could be something like, “How do I put my foot in my ski binding?”, “What does ablation mean?”, “How many cans of spam would you use to feed this camp?”, and, my personal favorite, “Is the rainfly just a rain jacket for the tent?” These questions, as innocent and rudimentary as they seem, sparked the fire for continuous curiosity that would surround the group for the rest of the summer.

Other factors that fueled the fire of inquisition were the traverses from camp to camp. When you have been skiing through what looks like the inside of a Ping-Pong ball for six hours, and still have seven hours more to go, the only source of entertainment are these weird beings beside you also trudging along. The traverses led to new forms of questions revolving around life stories, embarrassing moments, and of course, the weirdest places everyone has ever pooped. When there is nothing to do and the people around you are the only outlet for mental stimulation, it’s no surprise that some weird and very personal stories emerged. In any other circumstance, I would have never heard the situation in which Tae held a dead cat. Or when Mo was forgotten in the back of the truck or when Auri almost died in a plane crash. I am normally hesitant to surround myself with strangers due to my own antisocial tendencies, but after learning facts about the people around me that I normally would never begin to unfold, I realize the special environment for vulnerability and friendship that traverses tend to create.

A trail party traverses the upper Thomas Glacier on day one of the two-day traverse from Camp 17 to Camp 10. Photo by Matt Beedle.

A trail party traverses the upper Thomas Glacier on day one of the two-day traverse from Camp 17 to Camp 10. Photo by Matt Beedle.

The last main factor that contributed to the atmosphere around me was the people themselves. These people are all so special, in both similar and completely different ways. They all have this drive for adventure that makes them ask more, dive in a little deeper, and want to look just around the next corner. The constant fear of missing out (fondly known as FOMO) is deeply embedded in all members, causing impromptu dances in the moonlight, sing-alongs to guitar, and sunset ski runs. Everyone also has unique characteristics they bring to the table that add to the group’s flavor. If you give Kellie a rusty spoon and an expired can of cream of mushroom, for example, she will undoubtedly create a culinary or artistic masterpiece out of it. Or if you tell Annie B. a dream you had the night before that is only interesting to you, regardless, she will raise her eyebrows, open her eyes a little wider, and look at you like you are telling her the most exciting thing she has heard all day. Or if you are listening to music, Joel will demonstrate crazy, psychedelic hand motions that will both hypnotize and entertain.

While I can’t speak for the rest of the 2016 JIRP crew, the comfortable space created this summer has had a permanent impact on my life. I personally struggle with emerging from my shell, and more specifically, talking about myself. I have never been around a group of people who have not only welcomed my oddities and my presence, but have pleasantly harassed me for personal quirks. Off of the icefield, I feel like I can blend in with the people around me and be one with the wallpaper, but being in an area as beautiful as Camp 18, and surrounded by people equally as beautiful, I can’t help but remove myself from the sidelines and let myself be engulfed by the wonderful aroma of curiosity, vulnerability, foot stank, and immeasurable love and acceptance that the 2016 JIRP crew has fostered.

To top it off, here is a photo of Molly popping a pimple on her leg, Victor feeling “one” with the rock, and I don’t know what Tai and Alexandra are doing. Photo by Kit Cunningham.

To top it off, here is a photo of Molly popping a pimple on her leg, Victor feeling “one” with the rock, and I don’t know what Tai and Alexandra are doing. Photo by Kit Cunningham.

JIRP Presence at AGU

Dr. Lindsey Nicholson

Universität Innsbruck

San Francisco at sunset. Photo by Dr. Lindsey Nicholson

San Francisco at sunset. Photo by Dr. Lindsey Nicholson

The American Geophysical Union (AGU) annual Fall Meeting later this month is one of the biggest earth science meetings of the year. This year the student research projects have each prepared a poster on their scientific projects and findings to be presented at this meeting by a student representative of the group. It is a great achievement and I hope those who can attend the meeting have a great time there. If you are visiting the AGU please try to visit the posters being presented by our teams of students, which I have listed below. The name of the person presenting the poster is given in brackets after the poster title although the posters were prepared by a whole team, whose names can be found following the title link to the abstract.

C33A-0756: Gravimetric determination of the Thickness of Taku Glacier: Impact of Glacier Thickness on Subglacial Hydrology and Potential Erosion (Hamm, Tae)

H13A-1334: Chemical Weathering on the Llewellyn Glacier, Juneau Icefield (Zaccarin, Annie)

PP31D-2330: Spatio-temporal Variation of Water Isotopes on the Juneau Icefield (Semnacher, Cezanna)

GC31C-1133: Vascular Vegetation and Soil Microbiota of Juneau Icefield Nunataks (Collins, Deirdre)

C41C-0688: Evaluating Interannual Variability of Accumulation Gradients on the Juneau Icefield (Koncewicz, Evan)

C53D-0777: Temporal Changes of Surface Elevation and Velocity of Taku Glacier, Juneau Icefield (Ooman, Brittany)

Many JIRP faculty are also presenting at the AGU Fall Meeting, including Jason Amundson, Anthony Arendt, Billy Armstrong, Matt Beedle, Kiya Riverman, Eric Klein, Jeremy Littell, Brad Markle, Chris McNeil, Twila Moon, Allen Pope, Shad O’Neel and Martin Truffer. Have a talk to any of our former students of these faculty members to learn more about the program. 

There will also be a JIRP Open House on December 14th from 5pm to 8pm in the Sierra C Room of the San Francisco Marriott Marquis Hotel. Come learn about our program or reunited with old JIRPers. Cash bar provided. There will be a short presentation by our academic director, Dr. Matt Beedle. Hope to see you there!

The Beauty of the North

Deirdre Collins

Georgetown University

On August 5, Camp 18 echoed with rumors that the Northern Lights, or the Aurora Borealis, would make an appearance later that night. The clear and starry night sky enclosed us and appeared faintly green, exciting onlookers with fantasies of one of the Earth’s most impressive phenomena. Determined not to miss the twisting and twirling lights that would dance through the night, my friends and I decided to sleep on the north side of camp and set alarms every hour to inspect the sky. By half past midnight, my excitement had kept me up way past my normal bedtime. The sky glowed light green, indicating that the Aurora had started and foreshadowing the curtains of light that would soon appear above me. Constellations like the Big Dipper were sprinkled delicately across the vast expanse of space above. Without quite realizing it, I soon drifted off to sleep, hoping that my next conscious moments would be under the Aurora. 

At 2 am, I was awoken by my friends who wore faces of pure wonderment and admiration. As my eyes adjusted to the light above me, I saw it — curtains of lime green light meandering and moving quickly through the sky. Streaks of violet and white radiated from the snaking luminance that occupied our astonished minds. The lights twisted and turned rapidly around each other and we tried not to blink for fear that we would miss a second of something so spectacular. Shooting stars cut through the Aurora every now and then, appearing to pierce through the light that moved so rapidly through the sky. Curled up in our sleeping bags under the show, we lay there contemplating the power and beauty of nature and as scientists, questioning the mechanisms that could produce such magnificence. The scientific understanding that underlay the beauty of the Aurora is what truly captivated me that night on the Camp 18 nunatak above the Juneau Icefield.

Storm Range at Camp 18 under the Aurora Borealis. Photo Credit: Deirdre Collins

Storm Range at Camp 18 under the Aurora Borealis. Photo Credit: Deirdre Collins

The Aurora Borealis in the northern hemisphere, and the Aurora Australis in the southern hemisphere, result from solar storms. Large amounts of highly charged particles from the sun travel towards the Earth and interact with the Earth’s magnetic field. These charged particles travel along the Earth’s magnetic field to the planet’s north and south poles. Entering the Earth’s upper atmosphere, roughly 100-200 km above the surface, these highly charged particles excite various gases. When these gases return to a resting state — their electrons moving back down an orbital or energy level — releasing visible radiation (light!). According to the American Geophysical Union’s Earth & Space Science News, the Aurora is most prominent 2-3 days after outbursts of high solar activity. The type of gas and the difference in energy between the gas’s excited and resting states determine the wavelength of light released and, therefore, the color we see in the night sky. The greens and yellows we observe in the Aurora result from the release of radiation from one gas, whereas the purples we see result from release of radiation from another gas. The excitement of atmospheric gases by the interaction of highly charged particles from the sun with the Earth’s magnetic field produce one of the most spectacular wonders observed by man. It was both the exquisiteness of the Northern Lights and their intriguing scientific explanation that captivated me as I lay on a nunatak on the Icefield that night following the colorful lights as they danced throughout the sky. 

Mountains above the Gilkey Trench under the Aurora Borealis. Photo Credit: Deirdre Collins

Mountains above the Gilkey Trench under the Aurora Borealis. Photo Credit: Deirdre Collins



The Magic of Camp-8

Mackenzie McAdams

Purdue University

I would love to say I felt the magic of Camp-8 right when I arrived, but that was far from reality. After being towed behind a snow machine across the Matthes Glacier in a whiteout, we came to a halt on the edge of a slope. Newt told us that the snow machine had gone as far as it would go, and it was time to ski up from there. Still completely disoriented as to where I was, I started switchbacking up the slope until we reached the nunatak that Camp-8 was on. Dropping our skis and boot-packing to the top, we couldn’t wait to see our new home for the next two days. We opened up the door to a musty smelling one-room building with four bunks, a table, and a kitchen fully equipped with a waffle maker. We didn’t get to stay too long at first, because at the bottom of the nunatak sat the sled full of food and four tanks of propane. We headed back down, filling our empty packs with all the food and supplies we could, and grabbing a propane tank each. Slowly but surely, we made our way back up to camp. Magical yet? Not in the slightest, but as with most things that are worthwhile, you’ve got to work a little bit to achieve them. Arriving back at camp, and still only able to see about a meter in front of us, we tucked away inside our new home and finished all of our camp opening chores. 

Camp-8 when we first arrived. Photo by Kenzie McAdams.

Camp-8 when we first arrived. Photo by Kenzie McAdams.

After we finished cleaning, we stepped outside and the clouds were starting to clear. Newt and Tristan insisted that we take advantage of the weather and make the trek up to Mt. Moore, the summit of the nunatak. Deirdre and I exchanged glances. I knew we were both tired from opening and just wanted to take a break. But here we were standing in the middle of the icefield with hopes of blue sky above us; how could we not take the opportunity to see this beautiful place from a different perspective? So up we went, and boy was it worth it. At the summit, the sun was shining bright above and the clouds were flowing over the peaks below us like a river. I had never seen anything even close in comparison to the views that day. It was ethereal, everything below us was moving so fluidly, an important part of this natural system that happens every hour of every day, regardless if anyone is there to see it or not. It was in this moment that I felt the true magic of Camp-8. In the rest of our time at Camp-8 we summited Mount Moore twice more, each time different from the last. 

Newt Krumdieck overlooking the cloud-covered icefield from the summit of Mount Moore. Photo by Kenzie McAdams. 

Newt Krumdieck overlooking the cloud-covered icefield from the summit of Mount Moore. Photo by Kenzie McAdams. 

The magic didn’t stop once we came down from the summit. That evening we made cornbread waffles with barbeque chicken and roasted potatoes, played Settlers of Catan, and shared chocolate brownies right out of the tin with a couple of forks. We became fast friends with Lucifer, the heating unit that warmed the whole room, and learned all about the tradition of “RASHing”. We were trained on the radio, learning how to keep the radio log, understand the lingo, and what the importance of radio communication meant to JIRP. Whether it be the back and forth between Juneau Base to Camp-8 and Camp-8 to Camp-18 trying to relay weather information to get a helicopter in that day, or the happy-go-lucky trail parties calling in for their daily check-ins, the success of JIRP hinges on this radio system. Although we had an important duty monitoring the radio, in the true spirit of JIRP we didn’t stop exploring. Our remaining time at Camp-8 was spent exploring the bergschrund on the side of the nunatak, (or more fondly know as “the ‘schrund!”), mastering our tele turns on the hill and rappelling into the snow crevasse that opened up near camp overnight, always to return to warm waffles waiting for us at camp.

Kenzie Mcadams sharing the view from inside the Camp-8 crevasse. 

The opportunities for exploration and growth are endless on the icefield; each camp, each traverse and each conversation has its own unique type of magic. After reading all of the writing on the walls and chatting of the JIRPers before us, we left Camp-8 knowing that we were joining the ranks of those JIRPers who got to experience this magical place. 










The Many Lessons Learnt by JIRPers

Kellie Schaefer

Michigan Technological University

It is fair to say that the majority of students participating in JIRP this year have never been on a glacier before. I thought it was insane that a large group of 20-somethings was going to be transported via skiing throughout different locations on a large ice sheet in Alaska. Through trial and error that broadened their range of knowledge (and perhaps developed some “character”), the students began to learn a few lessons on their JIRP journey.  

Crampon training on the Mendenhall Glacier. Photo by Kellie Schaefer.

Crampon training on the Mendenhall Glacier. Photo by Kellie Schaefer.

They first began their quest through the famed “vertical swamp”. While most of the trek consisted of slogging through dense blueberry bushes and boggy muskeg, there were a few short moments of excitement. While crossing a large stream, Chris managed to drop his bright green roll of duct tape into the rushing water. The duct tape was eventually fished out of the stream with a ski pole, much to the excitement of the trail party. Two lessons were learned during this episode:

1) Don’t “Christmas Tree” your pack

2) Duct tape is a crucial piece of gear that must be saved at all costs

About halfway up the vertical swamp, Victor hiked past a stump, and promptly began to hoot and holler, yelling “Stinging!!! Stingers!!! Aaahhhhh!!” Having no idea what was meant my “stingers”, I continued to slosh through the muskeg, only to hear a buzzing sound. I glanced up to see a swarm of angry bees. I quickly changed my course and escaped with no bee stings, while Victor managed to receive three. About three weeks later, I was collecting Isotope samples along Profile A. Unfortunately, I was paying more attention to the GPS path than the terrain. Before I knew it, I had toppled face first into a rather large sun cup. Maybe I was not being as observant on the icefield as I had been with the bees. In short:

3) Be aware of your surroundings at all times

4) You don’t always have to follow the exact GPS path

The weather had treated us JIRPers unusually well during the voyage up to Camp 17, with the exception of one night that consisted of 60 mph winds and everyone in the camp running outside to lean into the wind. Clear skies and impromptu outdoor nights of sleep continued throughout the week at Camp 10. The staffers continuously reminded us of how spoiled we were in terms of weather. When the clouds rolled in and the rain began to patter on the corrugated roofs of the various camp buildings, the students began to panic. Clothes that had been laying out on the granite rocks for days had suddenly become sodden. Boots left out to dry were now soaked again. People scrambled for their rain gear, which is pretty unserviceable on the icefield (unless you utilize the rubber rain jackets in the cook shack). When mass balance or GPS teams returned from their daily excursions in the rain, their faces were freshly sunburned and contoured with even more tan lines. The recent precipitation has taught us many things:

5)    Rain is wet

6)    The driest sock is sacred

7)    You can get sunburned all of the time, even when you’re in a cloud 

Shawnee and Alex being the "victims" during crevasse rescue training. Photo by Kellie Schaefer.

Shawnee and Alex being the "victims" during crevasse rescue training. Photo by Kellie Schaefer.

Due to the change in weather, most of the student’s free time is now spent in the kitchen area. If they are feeling particularly observant, they may find entertainment in witnessing the exploits of the creatures known as “the cooks”. The cooks are extremely vigilant of “vultures”, swooping in on anyone who takes one too many slices of fried spam. Only the bold will enter their domain to seek a certain spice, or if they are feeling particularly cocky, exit/enter the cook shack through the cook’s door. The cooks can become frazzled after a long day of catering to hungry FGERs, and can sometimes do silly things. Take Joel for example, who turned on the stove, struck the match (after a brief period of time), and lit the stove. Joel did not realize that propane gas is quite flammable, and proceeded to scorch all of the hair off of his hand in the flame that ensued. Kate-CO forgot to drain the water after cooking the mac n cheese noodles, and ended up making a mac n cheese soup.  Eric somehow got bit by a carrot. The cooks frequently make too much oatmeal in the morning, and creative new recipes are born from the leftovers. A few very important life lessons can be obtained from the experience of being a cook:

8)    Light the match before turning on the burner

9)    You love oatmeal and oatmeal loves you

10)    SPAM® is a beautiful thing 

Cheers from 'Taku B'!!!

Cheers from 'Taku B'!!!

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.


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.

Unexpected Biogeochemistry Results, and How They Were Surprisingly Helpful

Molly Peek

Smith College

Sometimes, in field science, things do not go as planned, and you just have to make the best of it. While this is true for all of life at JIRP, this year’s biogeochemistry group received special lessons in planning and adaptation.

This was the first year of the biogeochemistry student research project (BGC for short); we needed to start with an exploratory study. With no prior fieldwork done in the area, we relied on related research to begin our study characterizing the chemistry of supraglacial streams in the ablation zone of the Llewellyn Glacier. Supraglacial streams are melt water streams that run along the top of exposed ice in glacier melt zones. Nutrients from nearby nunataks are blown onto the ice, where supraglacial streams transport them across the glacier, and eventually off the end of the glacier into the downstream fluvial system. We decided to focus our project on alkalinity, which is dissolved inorganic carbon, or bicarbonate, in the water. Bicarbonate can be weathered off rocks through water, and thus is a good starting point in characterizing the chemical makeup of water.

Team BGC crosses from the nunataks to the blue ice of the ablation zone for a day of fieldwork. Photo credit: Auri Clark

Team BGC crosses from the nunataks to the blue ice of the ablation zone for a day of fieldwork. Photo credit: Auri Clark

Team BGC headed down to the blue ice of the Llewellyn Glacier and Camp 26 to investigate alkalinity in the supraglacial streams carving the ice, armed with our relevant literature and our alkalinity titrator (a devise used to measure the concentration of bicarbonate in our water samples). After a long traverse over thin snow and a tricky crevasse field, we arrived to Camp 26 on the Llewellyn ready to take alkalinity measurements on 30 melt water streams. Using clean water sampling strategies, we donned plastic gloves and filled plenty of bottles to bring back to camp for titration, as well as recording measurements and observations on the character of the stream.

Chris Miele measures the dimensions of a supraglacial stream on the Llewellyn Glacier. Photo credit: Annie Zaccarin

Chris Miele measures the dimensions of a supraglacial stream on the Llewellyn Glacier. Photo credit: Annie Zaccarin

Back at camp with fresh samples, we excitedly began titration to test for bicarbonate. To titrate, we added a dark green indicator base to the water sample, followed by drops of acid that react to the base, turning the water bright pink. The number of drops of acid required to turn the water a vibrant pink indicates the alkalinity of the water—the more drops we needed to add, the more alkalinity in the water.

Based on previous research on similar glaciers and the nature of the Llewellyn’s geology, our group expected to find significant amounts of alkalinity in supraglacial streams, especially in those streams with visible debris along their beds.

So, where was all this alkalinity? Adding acid to our samples, we consistently found it only in low levels, with the water turning boldly pink after fewer than 10 drops of the acid, indicating our samples would have bigger error bars.

Did we do something wrong? Checking over our work, we realized that, no, we had done the process correctly; we just had results that were completely unexpected. What now?

We had committed a fatal flaw in science: becoming married to a hypothesis! What can I say, we were excited. Our first response was to laugh for a little while in some frustration, and then we decided to take this as a lesson, but make it a fun one in the end.

A supraglacial stream running over the blue the ice, which our testing showed carries surprisingly low levels of alkalinity. Photo credit: Auri Clark

A supraglacial stream running over the blue the ice, which our testing showed carries surprisingly low levels of alkalinity. Photo credit: Auri Clark

If we didn’t find alkalinity where we predicted, we wondered if we would find it anywhere else. As a group, we decided to use our extra bottles to collect samples from other places around Camp 26 and on our hike off the icefield. We collected water from basal streams found in ice caves and coming out near the terminus of Llewellyn Glacier, and at the Llewellyn Inlet on Atlin Lake.

A meltwater stream running over rock debris near the terminus of the Llewellyn Glacier. Although sampling this stream wasn’t part of our initial fieldwork plan, it proved to have high levels of alkalinity. Photo credit: Auri Clark

A meltwater stream running over rock debris near the terminus of the Llewellyn Glacier. Although sampling this stream wasn’t part of our initial fieldwork plan, it proved to have high levels of alkalinity. Photo credit: Auri Clark

Finally in Atlin, we broke open the alkalinity titrator kit for one final hurrah to test these “fun” (or, more professionally, “exploratory”) samples. Observing the water as we collected samples, most of these sites were more turbid, or cloudy with dissolved particles, than the supraglacial streams had been: a good sign for finding alkalinity derived from bedrock weathering. We added our indicator dye, and apprehensively began to add drops of acid. We started slowly, but became more excited as they passed the statistically significant threshold – we had found alkalinity!

Testing these samples was exciting purely because we found the results we had set our hearts on earlier. Even though we know this is a dangerous trap in which to fall in science, as this experiment proved, it was satisfying to find the sought-after alkalinity. Beyond that, though, these samples allowed us to ask more questions about our study, which we consider a successful outcome in an exploratory study.

Why was there far more alkalinity found in basal streams than in supraglacial streams? Where did the alkalinity in the basal streams come from? How do we characterize the supraglacial streams, knowing they have little bicarbonate? How does this differ from basal streams?

All in all, this year’s biogeochemistry project was a lesson in flexibility. When the route through the crevasse field doesn’t work, try again. When your hypothesis gets a little fuzzy, ask why. A ‘null result’ is still a result, and it allows us to build off the unexpected and ask new questions.