The Northern Pacific Coastal Temperate Rainforest (PCTR)

July 4th, 2017

The high rainfall and high coastal ranges nourish the icefields of southern Alaska along and with the extensive carbon-rich forests and ecosystems of the Northern Pacific Coastal Temperate Rainforest (PCTR).

Chris surveys the North Pacific noting the extensive moisture source and ocean pasture that is just offshore of the terrestrial ecosystems we are studying.

Malisse sits atop a shore pine, another slow growing coastal species that is experiencing potential decline.

Kerensa sites atop an obducted ophiolite – we were 71% sure that there were pillows in the basalt.

Josh cores another Alaska Yellow cedar – we were able to sample three sites in the Juneau area. These cedars are in decline due to warming and loss of snowpack, which makes their fine roots vulnerable to frost. Our objective is to work up the tree-ring record of the sites to contribute to our understanding of the decline.

Alora takes a break from taking notes and GPS coordinates for each tree.

Ice caves fund to explore and act as a conduit to meltwater and warm air accelerating the melt.

Blue the dog – takes a break from pursuing porcupines in the muskeg.

Nick of the Ophiolite.

Kerensa wades through the deep texture of coastal carbon.

Buried forests emerge from the wasting margin of the Mendenhall Glacier.

Nugget Falls – this is a classic hanging valley that has been revealed by the Mendenhall Glacier over the past 80 years.

A granite erratic just offshore.

A marmot sites on a stone in front of the emerging shoreline and new stands of Sitka Spruce.

A recently stripped cedar. The Tlingit strip the trees for a variety of reasons, primarily to procure the inner bark for weaving.

The field group taking a rest on the way back from Cedar Lake. The group is now working intensively on the Yellow Cedar cores to develop the tree ring record.

Thank you Jesse Wiles for your excellent photography and logistical support.

Team Alaska’s Last Day

July 3rd, 2017

To wrap up an incredible journey, Team Alaska scrambled over glacially-scoured rock faces and occasionally bush-whacked through thick shrubbery to Mendenhall Glacier. Small glimpses of the glacier that were periodically revealed through high points or gaps in the forest

Approaching Mendenhall Glacier…can you spot the people for scale?

Subglacial hydrology, captured within an ice cave #NoFilter

Malisse, Chris and Kerensa explore the Ice Caves beneath the Mendenhall Glacier.

Jesse treks out onto the vast, icy terrain

Team Alaska plays follow the leader to get off the glacier safely

Alora coring subfossil snag trees from the Little Ice Age.

Taking in the immensity of the glacier

Day 4 – Keck Gateway – Alaska

June 27th, 2017

Day 3 consisted of Team Alaska exploring Juneau the way a tourist might. The group roamed around the downtown area stopping at quaint book stores, trading posts, and the Alaska State Museum. This allowed the team to relax their aching feet and gain a new perspective of the city and borough of Juneau. After visiting the museum, the team gained a deeper appreciation for Alaska’s native cultures and complex history.

On day 4, Team Alaska conquered Bridget Cove, led by local forest ecologist and conservationist John Krapek. In order to get to the site, the team hiked over a mile of steep terrain covered by a large and spinous plant called Devil’s club. The team was able to collect a plethora of samples including that of yellow-cedar and western hemlock. After collecting the samples, the team took a lunch break and enjoyed a nearby muskeg. Finally, Team Alaska descended the slippery and densely vegetated trail, which was marked only by their previous footsteps. We wish Team Utah the best of luck braving triple digit weather, excited to meet back in Ohio in the coming days!

The group smiles upwards as Jesse snaps a quick picture.

A quick look at one of the group’s field notebooks.

John shows us how the ecologists do it!

Malisse of the pines.

Kerensa cranks out another core.

Alora peers into the canopy.

A wild Dr. Wiles is spotted from a far.

Josh gets his arm workout for the day.

Chris and Jesse take a break and find a tree to climb. No trees were harmed in the making of this picture.

Team Alaska Day Two

June 26th, 2017

Team Alaska hikes through the woods on a cloudy day to Cedar Lake. At this site they retrieved over 50 increment cores from 25 trees, which will be compared with tree-ring data from Cedar Lake collected in previous years. Lunch included an astounding view of the Pacific Ocean, the misty Chilkat Mountain Range, and some seals! The day ended with another home-cooked meal, followed by some well-earned rest.

Malisse is always ready for the camera.

Nick, Wooster’s geology department technician, relaxes on a rocky outcrop for lunch. Nine miles behind him can be seen the expansive Chilkat Mountain Range.

The group finds a rope swing above a creek beside a public-use cabin. Be careful, Chris!

Alora hikes through the temperate rain forest in search of more cedars to core!

Kerensa wades through skunk cabbage to find the rest of the trail.

Team Alaska poses before Cedar Lake; behind them you can see the yellow-cedars waiting to be cored.

Josh cores high on the tree to avoid sampling a rotted section. Good workout!

Jesse, Team Alaska’s exceptional photographer, takes his turn coring some trees.

Nick and Dr. Wiles compare fresh cores while Alora records data.

Team Alaska Day One

June 25th, 2017

Day one involved team Alaska hiking the East Glacier Trail led by Brian Buma, a forest ecologist from the University of Alaska Southeast. Their goal was to sample yellow-cedar trees at high elevation sites and understand how the dynamics of the forest relate to climate change. The trip was off the beaten path after 2 miles and continued for another 6 miles through a steep, muddy, dense understory. The group only stopped to eat lunch, but it was a sublime day with amazing company. Upwards of 50 samples were collected from a boggy environment, known as a “muskeg”. After a very long but exciting day the group headed down the trail for home-cooked fish tacos. Yum!

Brian Buma, forest ecologist, gives the group information regarding adolescent cedar trees.

The group treks through the unknown terrain, they may be lost.

After realizing they were not actually lost Team Alaska catches their breath and admires the views atop the mountain.

Chris measures the DBH, diameter at breast height, to assist Brian Bumas’ study of these economically, culturally, and ecologically important trees.

Alora stands in the foreground to upstage the natural beauty of the mountain, it is possible to look good in a bug net!

Team Alaska poses for a quick photo-op before starting their fieldwork.

Josh, member of Team Alaska, reads his field notes and records data.

Kerensa labels a straw, containing a yellow-cedar tree core for future analysis.

Malisse, renowned multi-tasker, records field notes, holds cedar cores and protects herself from the hordes of insects trying to sample her blood. Thanks to Jesse Wiles for the photographs.

A Strong Start to the 2017 Keck Gateway Project

June 22nd, 2017

Guest Blogger: Addison Thompson (’20 Pitzer College and Team Keck Member)

The 2017 Keck Gateway Team.

Amid our first official day at the College of Wooster, spirits were high as we embarked on the five week Keck Gateway Project.  The Gateway Project encompasses two different scientific enquiries which will span three states; Ohio, Utah, and Alaska.  The goal of the project centered in Utah is to determine the age of geologically young lava flows (now igneous rock) in the Ice Springs Volcanic Field of central Utah in order to add another piece to the unsolved puzzle of the Earth’s geologic history.  The goal of the project centered in Alaska aims to gain a better idea of why Cedar trees in Juneau are in decline.  The information gained from the students working in Alaska will help pinpoint specific environmental factors that are adversely affecting ecosystems, trees in particular.  This portion of the project is one week long.

Evidence of a tree core.

Once the data from the Utah and Alaska field sites are complied, both teams will return to the College of Wooster to complete lab tests in order to answer each respective hypothesis. This portion of the project is roughly three weeks long.  The participants of the project also have the opportunity to attend and present the findings of their research at the GSA’s (Geological Society of America) annual conference in Seattle in mid-October.

The first full day of the project was a beautiful one and we dove into the topic material with gusto.  We began at 9am in the geology department which is located in Scovel Hall and had a discussion about the rules of authorship and the details of what mentoring means with Dr. Pollock and Dr. Wiles.  Following that, details for the field work trips (Utah and Alaska) were coordinated and supplies like rock hammers and chisels were evenly distributed.  At that point it was time to break for a much needed lunch.  The Keck group met back at Scovel Hall around 1:30, just in time for a jaunt around the Oak grove led by Dr. Wiles, during which the group cored three trees to determine their age.

The processing of coring trees involves inserting a hollow drill into the tree, then removing the sample of the tree located in the hollow drill.

An excited Team Alaska member extracts her tree core.

The Alaska team will use this method hundreds of times in order to determine the health of trees in a large area.  With the first day complete, our group looks forward to strengthening our bonds and embarking on our geology research.

On the second day, the Utah group and the Alaska group split to their respective labs to discuss the minutia of the trips.

The Utah group examined basaltic rocks from the Black Rock Desert, the location where they will be conducting their fieldwork.

These rocks had previously been dated via two techniques: one being Varnish Microlamination (VML) which aims to date the rocks by measuring the coating on rock surfaces, the other being Cosmogenic Nuclide Dating which measures the accumulation of radioactive isotopes in the surfaces of the lava flows.

Meanwhile the Alaska group learned more about tree coring, a practice they will become very familiar with during their stay in the last frontier.

This concluded our work for the day, and we broke for lunch.  The rest of the day was spent preparing for our arduous journeys to the field sites the following morning.  We went shopping to stock up on various items for the trips.  The day came to a conclusion with a delicious dinner and some frisbee outside Douglas Hall.

Much to their chagrin, the Alaska group was departing the College of Wooster at 4am on the third day.  The Utah group was given a more lenient departure time, 6am, because their destination was 2,113 miles closer to the College.  There were no issues rising bright and early and both groups headed to Cleveland Hopkins Airport with anticipation of the journey ahead of them and slightly weary eyes.  To make matters more interesting for the Alaska group, their travel plans routed them through Dallas Fort Worth…not quite in their desired direction but they were sports nonetheless. And so the day went, a travel day.  The Utah group touched down in Salt Lake City in the mid afternoon and began the two hour drive to the town of Fillmore, only stopping once for a much needed dinner.  Eventually the group made it to their campground and settled in their cozy cabins.  After a long day of travel and two hours lost, a rest is what the doctor ordered.  As of writing this, the Alaska group is currently still in transit to Juneau.  Tomorrow marks the first official day of field work in the Black Rock Desert for the Utah group and there is an excited fervor hanging in the air.  All the tools and measurement devices are prepped and ready to go.

 

 

 

 

Wooster geologists begin their 2016 Geological Society of America meeting adventure

September 25th, 2016

bell-092516DENVER, COLORADO — Seventeen Wooster students have now arrived in Denver for the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America. Eleven of them are giving presentations of some sort. We are very proud of each. Dr. Meagen Pollock and I may not be able to get to each poster, so we’re going to post what we can when we can. Today was big for Wooster’s Dendrochronology (Tree-Ring) Lab under the direction of Dr. Greg Wiles. All the work today was from various Alaska expeditions.

Early this morning I found Brandon Bell (’18, above) with his poster. Brandon is a double-major in history and geology. His project here on the Bering Expedition is quite fitting.

deck-585-092516Clara Deck (’17) here presents her dendroclimatic project.

deck-at-work-585-092516Clara at work doing the poster thing.

gunderson-092516Jeff Gunderson (’17) is also representing Wooster’s dendrochronology lab with his fine poster.

hilton-585-092516Annette Hilton (’17) is presenting for the dendrochronology lab.

mcgrath-585-092516As is Sarah McGrath (’17).

I’m very impressed with our students and their cheerful, confident and creative presentations. It is a daunting task giving a poster at a national meeting, and they are doing it exceptionally well.

More student presentations later! We’re having a good and productive time in Denver.

 

23 Hours of Sunlight and 22 Hours of Bugs (Part 2)

July 5th, 2016

Guest bloggers: Andrew Wayrynen and Jeff Gunderson

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We take our berry picking very seriously

Oh so you thought you got rid of Team Alaska, didn’t you? Yeah well, just as there are as many cedar sites in Juneau as there are cruise ship tourists, we’re back with part 2. Now where were we?

After our Kayak at McBride Glacier amongst the massive icebergs in the fjord, we— Jesse Wiles, Dr. Wiles, Jeff Gunderson, Andrew Wayrynen, and Nick Weisenberg— decided to take to the ice by foot. As such, the following day we made the short kayak to the outwash plain at the terminus of Riggs Glacier, a massively cold testament to what the coastal Alaskan climate can do. While on the glacier, it was impossible not to feel humbled and awe-struck by its enormity. It was a friendly and welcome reminder as to why the science truly matters.

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A Jeff for scale at Riggs Glacier

Exploring Riggs glacier was a wonderful experience, but the time soon came for another dendroclimatological expedition. Our goal was to search for wood in the recently vacated valley where once Riggs and McBride Glaciers connected. To our pleasure there was hardly any alders, which made the mission less trying, yet there was no shortage of braided streams that provided ample opportunities for a boot full of freezing glacier water. Unfortunately, there was only one log to be found and sampled in the entire valley. As sure as the bugs did bite, we brought it home.

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Dr. Wiles coring the lone log in the valley

The following day, an all-too-familiar gray haze took command of the skies that dripped upon us a rather watery substance called rain. As the bold, rugged mountain-worn scientists slated to bridge that 2000-year gap, we took the day off. We explored our camp cove and admired huge beached icebergs.

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Andrew investigates the dead ice 

 That day at our camp in Muir Inlet would prove to be our last, as Todd, the wise NPS boat captain, arrived in late morning of the following day with Dan Lawson to take us to Tlingit Point. However, we made a historically significant stop along the way. Before navigating Glacier Bay’s icy waters, Todd worked in Yosemite Valley in California, inadvertently following John Muir’s footsteps in his late 19th century search for glaciers. Much to Andrew’s excitement, he guided us to the site of John Muir’s cabin, which was built in 1879 by Muir and friends. Having been so busy as geologists, our crew relished in the opportunity to have a stab at archaeology.

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 John Muir’s cabin in the late 19th century where the terminus of Muir Glacier once was (left) and the same cabin today (right)

Now camped at Tlingit Point, we had our sights on the Mountain Hemlock situated atop the hills above us. The climb up was incredible in practically every sense of the word. While ascending, the chances of peering out to the bay and soaking in the gorgeous vistas were about the same as falling into patch of delicious wild strawberries. Near the top, the alders thinned and the brush only came up to ankle-height, but alas the bugs persisted, hungrier than ever. Once amid the old growth, we cored the mighty hemlocks and safely tucked away the obtained samples.

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Andrew tries his hand at coring for the first time

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Mountain goats became new friends to the Wooster Geology Department

 Things we learned: Giant Hogweed makes your skin more susceptible to UV rays and can cause third degree sunburns (no, those puss bubbles on your hand aren’t spider bites, Jeff). It doesn’t really rain in Alaska- spare your wallet and don’t buy rain gear if you go. Apparently, Alaskan mosquitoes are wildly undernourished. Dendrochronology/Dendroclimatology is amazing. Our favorite rock is becoming a tree.

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The view from the top of Tlingit Point marked the end of an awesome field season

23 Hours of Sunlight and 22 Hours of Bugs (Part 1)

June 26th, 2016

Guest bloggers: Andrew Wayrynen and Jeff Gunderson

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First attempt at collecting wood in Muir Inlet with Dan Lawson 

Two College of Wooster geologists in the Alaskan wilderness is always a recipe for success. Thanks to Dr. Wiles and the geo gang, we took our interests in glaciology and dendroclimatology to Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve in Southern Alaska, where scrambling up glaciers, maneuvering slippery alders, and finally sampling old growth trees became daily routine. As the first time in Alaska for Andrew and the second for Jeff, the beauty of the historic place was stunning and allowed scientific inquiry to flourish in its wake. Jeff’s tall task stood as “bridging the gap” of Glacier Bay’s glacial and climate history and Andrew, an English major by night, explored the location’s history in accordance with the writing of esteemed preservationist John Muir.

We were met by none other than Nick Wiesenberg at the Juneau airport, where we promptly sorted out food supplies and last minute gear checklists. After a few quick stops around town and a quiet night in the state’s capitol we were set to take off for Glacier Bay and to enter the field. We spent the night in a park-designated campsite and the next day we, as a trio, embarked a national park service boat to scoop up Dr. Wiles and his bright-eyed photographer Jesse who were already at Marble Mountain. Thereafter, we voyaged up-Bay to Muir Inlet where we set up camp between the Eastern-Arm’s McBride and Riggs Glaciers.

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Carrying supplies in the sand dunes to cross the river and find the log

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The older generation showing us how it’s done

The following day, the five of us kayaked to Wolf Lake in hopes of finding logs that would bridge the 2000-year old gap in the Glacier Bay tree-ring chronology. This totaled to a 14-mile round trip venture, where 6 miles were by foot and 8 were by kayak. The trek followed a decent sized creek, through marshy, bug-infested alders up a ridge to a drainage divide. From the top, a beautiful lake was visible whose crystal waters contained the remnants of an icy past. Down the other side of the divide was our goal- the roaring braided streams and the encasing alluvial fans. The mosquitoes brandished whatever the hell it is that they so eagerly stab us with and we set forth, mesh bug nets swaying in the wind, serving as a sort of lifeline. At last in the outwash plain, we spread out and surveyed the area for the missing pieces to our chronological puzzle. Our efforts proved fruitful, for there was more wood than we could conceivably carry.

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A teachable moment for us in the field

5.5We’re considering making a show called Alaskan Bushwhackers

This first day of fieldwork truly set the tone for the remainder of the project. Sunny skies would subsequently outweigh threatening thunderous clouds, and complacency would never overcome hard work. The following afternoon the crew seized the opportunity to explore McBride Glacier by sea kayak, both resting tired legs and experiencing the immensity of one of the only remaining tidewater glaciers left in the Bay. We found it incredibly rewarding and inspiring to be so close to the very living beings that we have, and indeed will continue to, spend so much time studying. That afternoon, ice appeared the most brilliant shade of blue. Later that night, rice and beans never tasted so good.

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Glaciers make us smile… stay posted for part 2

 

Team Columbia returns in high spirits with bountiful samples!

July 22nd, 2015

I.S. students, Kaitlin and Maddie enjoying the sunshine and representing Wooster below a fascinating ice tunnel.

I.S. students, Kaitlin and Maddie enjoying the sunshine and representing Wooster below a fascinating ice tunnel.

Guest Bloggers: Maddie Happ and Kaitlin Starr (Girdwood, Alaska)

Team Columbia is back from an exciting 8 days in the field.  Dr.Wiles, Nick Wiesenberg, Maddie Happ and Kaitlin Starr traveled via helicopter to Columbia Bay, Alaska beginning July 15th and returning July 21st. The first half of the trip was spent on the West Branch of Columbia Bay. Despite rainy days and blustery winds, we accomplished quite a bit of work! During our time on the West Branch, the team updated an old growth site, known as the Rock Tor, and collected samples from another living tree site near Kadin Lake. In addition to these living tree samples, the team collected cores and cross sections from newly exposed wood that were killed during the initial advance of Columbia Glacier.

    Kaitlin recording sample numbers and GPS locations at our first site.

Kaitlin recording sample numbers and GPS locations at our first site.

On July 18th, we were transferred across the bay to a location known as the Land Lobe. The team created base camp on the Great Nunatak side of the Land Lobe, as opposed to past years when groups were limited to the moraine due to the previous glacier terminus. Finally, the weather gods were on our side, and abundant sunshine allowed for productive days. We collected samples from the fans surrounding our base camp. On our last night in Columbia, we climbed to the tree line to update another living tree site titled the Son of the Great Nunatak. The alpine forest made for a wonderful last dinner in the Alaskan wilderness. On our final morning (with great weather still hanging on), Dr.Wiles and Nick recieved helicopter support to jump across the river to the other side of the Land lobe, where they collected newly exposed samples to complete a previously sampled site.

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Team Columbia enjoying sunshine and exploring sites at our second camp near the Great Nunatak.

Team Columbia encountered a few minor setbacks throughout the trip, including gritty oatmeal, killer porcupines, and constant stumbling (particularly near waterfalls); however, it was a fabulous adventure overall! I.S. students, Maddie and Kaitlin are excited to return to the Wooster Tree Ring Lab and begin exploring the great stories behind these logs.

    Photo of the East Branch of Columbia Glacier captured from the helicopter.

Photo of the East Branch of Columbia Glacier captured from the helicopter.

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