Sunday, May 3, 2015

Black Rapids Airforce

Since the early 1970s the changes of Black Rapids Glacier have been measured annually. Initially this was done by the USGS, then UAF. Sometimes, we have funding from NSF to continue these measurements. But often we don't and in those years we've relied on volunteer pilots to get us there for a day to do the necessary measurements. This year I got my own wheel-skis, and for the first time I was part of the volunteer flying team, the Black Rapids Air Force! We couldn't have chosen a more beautiful day!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Taku Glacier in the rain

This year we'll have a big program on Taku Glacier. In late July we plan to drill through the ice to measure how much it is sliding over its base, and how sediment gets evacuated from under the glacier. In preparation we set up some instruments to measure glacier speed and melt. Last year this time it was relatively cold and sunny; this year mostly rain!

Panaroma of the front of Taku Glacier
Taku Glacier is one of the very few advancing glaciers in the world. This time lapse video shows the glacier advance over the past few months.

Anika running away from the advancing ice

The glacier mowing over trees

The advancing glacier lobe is pushing into the Taku River

Our camp from the air. There were almost 2 m of snow at this location a year ago.

Sand layer over snow. This sand was deposited during a flood in January

Annika waiting for the rain to stop

The tidal flats of Taku. This was over 100 m deep a little over 100 years ago!

Jason working on a GPS unit

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Glacier landing!

It's been a while since I set foot on a glacier. More than half a year actually. So two weeks ago I figured I needed to go, even if it was for a short time and had nothing to do with work. I took advantage of a phenomenally beautiful day and did my first glacier landing on my old favorite glacier: Black Rapids Glacier

Sunday, September 7, 2014

It's already winter on Black Rapids Glacier

Last week we had a quick one-day visit to Black Rapids Glacier. After the wettest summer in Fairbanks since records are being kept, we had another impressive rain fall on the first day of September. Because it was quite cold, Black Rapids got up to 30 cm of snow and looked like the middle of winter. Luckily it was not enough snow to bury our instruments, and when we got there on Wednesday, we had a beautiful sunny day.

Camera used to watch glacial lakes drain. In the background are potholes, left over crevasses from the last surge (1936/37) that are often water-filled.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Operation Ice Bridge Alaska

 Every year we fly over many of Alaska's glaciers to measure changes in surface elevation. My colleague Chris Larsen has been responsible for this for over a decade now. Recently, this program has been funded through Operation Ice Bridge, a program that bridges the gap left between two orbiting laser satellites (Icesat 1 and 2).
Recently, I've been able to join this program to add a radar component with the goal of measuring the thickness of the glacier ice. For most glaciers in Alaska, we don't actually know how much ice they contain.
The beauty of airborne science is that it can only happen with good weather. Mountain flying poses so many challenges that we have to wait for conditions to be great. Last week we had five days of beautiful conditions and managed to cover a large part of Alaska's glaciers. Some impressions follow below.


Beautiful blue glacier lake

Late fall conditions with only little snow left on many glaciers

A drained glacier lake

Ultima Thule Lodge: our base of operations

The ever-amazing Mt. St.Elias from Icy Bay; 5400 m from bottom to top!

St. Elias with Malaspina Glacier in the foreground

Funky avalanche

Icy Bay

A really nice fold in Icy Bay; St. Elias in the background

Icy Bay

Tyndall Glacier in Icy Bay

Some Moose enjoying the lush vegetation of coastal Alaska
We saw much of the snow surface covered in red algae. This is sufficiently darker than the snow to cause additional melting and snow cups.

Close-up of red snow algea

The Bagley Icefield with Mt. Logan, arguably the largest mountain in the world. The area over 5000 m asl spans more than 15 km.

Pothole central on the upper Logan Glacier. These are believed to be left-over and water-filled crevasses and are associated with surges

A landslide onto a glacier

The advancing Taku Glacier

Band-ogives or Forbes bands, an alternating sequence of dark and bright ice forming under ice falls. This one is from the Juneau Ice Field.

Close up of Forbes' bands.

A large ice berg with runnels in the Columbia Glacier Bay

And finally a nice look at beginning fall in interior Alaska.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Yakutat: a glaciologist's paradise

Yakutat, Alaska, is a small town on the coast. The area around this little town hosts some incredible mountains and glaciers, some of them among the most rapidly retreating in the world, others quite happily advancing. Here are some impressions from our recent flights.

Turner Glacier seems to surge about every 2-3 years. It repeats surges more rapidly than any other glacier I know of. The surges are very violent, and nothing on the glacier remains uncrevassed.

Turner Glacier: the surge advances a front right into the ocean. It is one of the few (if not the only) surging tidewater glacier in Alaska.

Hubbard Glacier is an anomaly in this area: it has been steadily advancing during the past more than 100 years

Strong tidal currents manage to keep this gap open for now.
Hubbard Glacier threatens to close off this gap at Gilbert Point.

Looking out Yakutat Glacier into Harlequin Lake. The glacier has retreated dramatically in the past few years. It might have accelerated in the process, at least it looks much more crevassed than a few years ago

The glacier has separated into two different glaciers recently. The ice in the lake has already broken off and will soon flush out