Citizen Science in the Wilderness: Glaciology

This the third year of doing the course And we spend four days out in the backcountry and we camp out a little ways below the terminus of the glacier So it is a bit challenging to hike into these glaciers. We go off trail and you do have to carry overnight backpacking pack, that weigh anywhere between 35 and 50 pounds Depending on how much gear you want to carry It takes a full day to get out there and a full day to get back. It’s definitely not an easy trip. It’s through bushes and boulder fields and rocks and rivers and you never quite know what to expect. It was pretty intimidating in my mind Thinking about setting up tents in what could have been like 40 mile per hour winds, 45 mile per hour winds It’s “Oh! Alright.” this is what we’re doing. There’s no turning around. It’s a more active way to hike. You’re not just passively following a trail. I think it’s really cool. I mean you just sort of, you’re more, for one thing you’re more aware of your surroundings cause you’re always picking your trail, you’re always trying to find the best path. And if you’re with a group of people The whole idea is that you’re not just following the person in front of you. You need to be choosing your own path. Because there’s no trail, there’s no bridges So in several places we actually had to cross the stream. Like to get onto the glacier terminus, we had to cross the terminal stream which was, the water must be right at freezing. Cold. Yow!! I lost sensation in the lower part of my body for upwards of three or four minutes. Getting up on the glacier we did need to put crampons on to walk around on the ice so we wouldn’t slip. The glacier was cool and you know even from a distance you the intense like blue especially with the subdued lighting you know the blue on the glacier is pretty cool but, going through the contours it’s such a unique space and to be up and to climb higher on it, knowing what is underneath your feet and knowing the age the time and the process it went through creating what’s underneath your feet, I think it’s pretty fascinating. It was raw and intimidating. There are a lot of aspects to it that I hadn’t really thought about. It’s a place that you can just visit for short periods. You kind of borrow that time and it seems like the glacier has the final word. Just getting on to the glacier for the first time. I mean I was on the glacier for a few minutes and I just said, you know this was worth the price of admission. This was worth the walk in. So the main goal of the trip was to get a profile of the elevation change of the glacier. So we took high resolution GPS’s and took several thousand points of the glacier surface just to see how much elevation change there was since the last time it was measured. What it turns out to be here is how much ice loss, how much volume loss of the glacier is occurring because of climate change and unfortunately all our measurements have been negative in that we are measuring volume loss and retreat of the glaciers. There are hundreds of glaciers in Denali National Park and Preserve, so this is a really small sample. And these are some of the more sensitive glaciers because they’re at lower eleveations so these are the glaciers where you’re seeing the most dramatic ice loss due to climate change. But even, even on the high cold mountain (Denali/Mt. McKinley), even those glaciers are losing mass. This year has been a great opportunity to reflect on wilderness given the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. So I think it’s important to protect this place not only for our benefit, people’s benefit, but it’s maybe even more important to preserve these places just for their own intrinsic value, just for their own sake. These are places that have existed without significant human manipulation for millions of years and so to protect these places, you know, as the home of the animals and the plants that live here of the mountains the glaciers and their own value I think is really important. I think it’s important to have wilderness like Denali because it’s one of the few places that you can go out and feel what it was like before humans came here and try to get a sense of how grand the great outdoors really is. To get out here in wilderness you really do kind of need to earn it. I know modern living is often all about what’s the easiest way to do something but I don’t think that includes getting into wilderness. I think you kinda of have to earn it get here and just have the lowest impact you can.

2 thoughts on “Citizen Science in the Wilderness: Glaciology

  1. Nice presentation folks wish I could have been there, I really really really wish that! Any way just thinking, can we accumulate enough data to differentiate between human impact vs natural cyclic action as far as climate change? or has the human factor exponentianted the natural change? I know it's a simple question with no simple answer…

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