Up to Alaska

June 4th, 2010

guest blogger: Stephanie

We arrived in Juno last night a little past 10 PM local time (that’s 2 AM for us…) after a long day of traveling, to be greeted by stuffed bears in the airport (awesome!). After spending a night in the lovely Breakwater Inn, we had an amazing breakfast at Donna’s, swung by the Mendenhall glacier in the Tongass National Forest, and then waited in the airport for Dan Lawson, of CRREL (Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory).

The Breakwater Inn

Mount Juneau

The Mendenhall glacier

The "stream" at the hatchery. When spawning time comes, the salmon hatched here return.

Shopping followed, as did lunch and a quick trip to the salmon hatchery. Then it was back to the airport to catch our flight to Gustavus, which provided us with some awesome views of the inlets and mountains in the area.

Our plane!!

A cirque, a basin formed by a glacier, seen from our plane.

Once in Gustavus, we went on into Glacier Bay National Park to the headquarters to plan for the next few days and learn some bear safety tips. Tomorrow, it’s to the field!

A Day on Pleasant Island

July 27th, 2009

Tree
The Woo crew in front of one of the larger cedars we found.

Today we took a skiff over to Pleasant Island to core some older cedars. Our guide and captain for the day was Wayne, an archeologist in the area. We found many huge and old cedar trees after a relatively easy hike to the site. Colin managed to get many cores to bolster his chronology for his IS.

Skiff
Dr. Wiles and Wayne help secure the skiff after landing on Pleasant Island.

Coring
Wayne looks on as Dr. Wiles and Kelly core a large, old and dead cedar. The cedar remain standing long after death.

Also interesting was a dendroarchaeological point of interest: we found several cedar that had their bark stripped by (we think) the Tlingit. Colin’s careful analysis will help us to know the year it was stripped for sure.

Adze
A dead yellow cedar that has had its bark stripped. Wayne thinks the markings were likely made by an adze.

Cedar Adventure to Excursion Ridge

July 26th, 2009

Intro
Kelly and Colin standing on one of the lower ridges near Excursion Ridge.

Today we hiked up Excursion Ridge to collect yellow-cedar samples for Colin’s I.S. On the trek up to the cedar stand, we hiked up the road and passed the dam used for the Falls Creek hydroelectric project. They plan to harness the power of Falls Creek to provide summer power to Gustavus.

Dam
The dam on Falls Creek. They regulate the flow of the creek to provide power while still allowing enough water for the fish. It is a controversial project due to questions on power provided versus environmental impact.

The day was uncharacteristically beautiful, and the expedition turned out to be fruitful. We collected samples from 43 yellow-cedars, with at least two samples from each tree. While at the site, we also collected samples from lodgepole pines dominating the meadow to satisfy our scientific curiosity. All in all a very productive day.

Coring
Colin places a core into the straw after extracting it from the tree.

Meadow
The meadow located at the top of the sample site, dominated by lodgepole pines and covered by arctic cotton.

Lunch
Dr. Wiles and Kelly walk through the meadow to the lunch site.

News from the North

July 25th, 2009

Colin and Kelly standing in front of Mendenhall Glacier. Last year, the ice was where they are standing.

Colin and Kelly standing in front of Mendenhall Glacier. Last year, the ice was where they are standing.

After arriving in Juneau, we went on a quick tour of the town before grabbing a bite to eat and setting up camp across the lake from Mendenhall Glacier. A constant misting rain provided a fitting welcome to Alaska.
The next day we hiked up to the glacier itself while waiting for Dan Lawson and his crew to finish the necessary errands before our chartered flight to Gustavus.

A view of foggy mountains from the Cessna on the flight to Gustavus.

A view of foggy mountains from the Cessna on the flight to Gustavus.

Once in Gustavus we met the final member of our party, Sarah Laxton, who had arrived at the house before us.
The next morning the entire crew loaded into the Capelin, a small research ship, and Justin (our captain) drove us over to our first site, Beartrack, where Dr. Wiles, Kelly and Colin were dropped off for the next two nights.

The Capelin, our trusted research vessel.

The Capelin, our trusted research vessel.

The Fairweather Range, as viewed from the Capelin.

The Fairweather Range, as viewed from the Capelin.

We set up camp in a small wooded area across from Beartrack Mountain and set off on a medium length hike marred only by an arduous return trek through a bunch of windfall.

Our small camp in the woods. The area was almost an island during high tides, connected only by a tombolo to the mainland and, during low tide, another island via tombolo.

Our small camp in the woods. The area was almost an island during high tides, connected only by a tombolo to the mainland and, during low tide, another island via tombolo.

In the mud just outside of our campsite, Beartrack lives up to its name.

In the mud just outside of our campsite, Beartrack lives up to its name.

The next morning we embarked on an arduous vertical hike up Beartrack Mountain, made even more difficult by a section that had been ravaged by an avalanche, making the climb that much more difficult. Large Sitka spruce dominated the lower slopes. As we rose in elevation, some mountain hemlocks were mixed in until finally towards the top only mountain hemlock remained.

Kelly and Sarah core a mountain hemlock near our lunch site during one of the fleeting moments of sunlight.

Kelly and Sarah core a mountain hemlock near our lunch site during one of the fleeting moments of sunlight.

Colin uses the increment borer to core another mountain hemlock.

Colin uses the increment borer to core another mountain hemlock.

One added benefit of our ever increasing elevation was one of many quite beautiful views of the fjord.

One added benefit of our ever increasing elevation was one of many quite beautiful views of the fjord.

Once at our top site (next to a radio repeater station) we all split up and went off to different ridges to core some more hemlocks closer to treeline.

Dr. Wiles head off with his trusty increment borer towards one of the ridges to core some yellow cedar.

Dr. Wiles head off with his trusty increment borer towards one of the ridges to core some yellow cedar.

The next day we were picked up by the Capelin by Justin, Dan, Sarah and the rest and went by boat to upper Muir Inlet to collect samples of wood killed by glacial advances for Kelly’s I.S. These samples ranged from 8000-2000 years before present. To find these samples we hiked up to Dan’s study sites which were located in fluvial valleys where debris flows and erosion due to rain had uncovered old pieces of wood. Along the way, we saw lots of evidence of glacial presence, ranging from moraines to huge glacial erratics. It was hard to fathom that the entire hike had been covered by glaciers a mere 30 years ago.

Sarah standing in front of a huge glacial erratic (one that didn’t have that far to travel). Notice the sediment in front of it that had been pushed along during the glacier’s advance.

Sarah standing in front of a huge glacial erratic (one that didn’t have that far to travel). Notice the sediment in front of it that had been pushed along during the glacier’s advance.

The crew advances on at a time down the steep slope into the valley.

The crew advances on at a time down the steep slope into the valley.

Dr. Wiles cores a trunk along the base of the streambed.

Dr. Wiles cores a trunk along the base of the streambed.

Colin digs out a piece of wood from the wall of the valley.

Colin digs out a piece of wood from the wall of the valley.

The next day was similar. We hiked up to another stream valley to collect more samples.

Dan cuts a cross-section with his chainsaw.

Dan cuts a cross-section with his chainsaw.

On our way back down to the shore from the stream valley, the fog began to roll back and a wonderful View of Muir Inlet was revealed.

On our way back down to the shore from the stream valley, the fog began to roll back and a wonderful View of Muir Inlet was revealed.

After we relocated to another valley nearer the base of the inlet, we located some wood that we think is 8000 years old.

After we relocated to another valley nearer the base of the inlet, we located some wood that we think is 8000 years old.

After four long days in the field, we finally returned to the house for much needed showers and access to a clothes dryer. Today was spent recuperating and going over what had already been done and what still remains to do. Sadly, we also had a casualty in our ranks. Sarah flew back home to British Columbia this evening with what is probably a fractured arm.

Professor Greg Wiles in the news and a new book

July 24th, 2009

Earlier this summer the Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom ran a photo essay about scientists working hard to sort out climate change questions. One of the people featured is Wooster professor of geology Greg Wiles in a classic photo first run in National Geographic.

From the Guardian, May 14, 2009 issue.

Wooster's own Greg Wiles looking buff as he cores a log in Alaska for dendrochronological and paleoclimate research (from the May 14, 2009, issue of the Guardian).

This photograph (and a description of Greg’s work) is now included in a new book titled Climate Change: Picturing the Science by Gavin Schmidt and Joshua Wolfe.

Solving the Jigsaw Puzzle

June 29th, 2009

Wooster geologists Terry Workman and Greg Wiles are joined by Alena Giesche (Middlebury College), Jessa Moser and Tom Lowell (U. Cincinnati) on Alaska’ Kenai Peninsula undertaking paleoclimate research. We are coring lakes in collaboration with The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge to get a better understanding of climate change and precipitation changes since the Ice Age.

Jessa, Alena, Terry and Tom researching glacial retreat at Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park

Jessa, Alena, Terry and Tom researching glacial retreat at Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park


Tom, Alena and Terry paddling the "The SS-Morass" to the coring site on Jigsaw Lake
Jessa (team geophysicist) spins up gear to image the stratigraphy below the lake and a sonar image of the lake floor
Alena archives another meter of sediment as Terry looks on.

Alena archives another meter of sediment as Terry looks on.

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