August 2, 2012 Glacier: Part 3
With the glacier folks averaging 2 days on ice and the third filtering water and suspended sediment samples, it was again time for my field assistance on the ice. Every night after dinner we have a group meeting to determine where everyone is going to be for the next day, often with promises of chocolate in return for help carrying, coring, or digging. As the glacier people are often in need of extra hands each time they travel, they've been through quite a few assistants (but churned through an astonishingly small amount of chocolate…you connect the dots ; ) ). One thing the glacier crew does have is an incredible field site that their workers can easily find plenty of interesting landforms, ice-forms, and general glaciological eye catchers to keep them busy while they service the equipment. This trip has single handedly allowed me to changeover nearly all of my generic glaciological example photographs with ones taken from my own camera…and just think REU and AG212 folks, you're gonna be famous (at least in a rural part of Maine]
The glacier day hike now goes pretty quickly when traveling in a small group (John, Kayla, Dion, and I this time). If you're out of the garage by 9:20 am you can be at the lake by 10 am. From there it is an hour to 'boot rock' and about another 45 minutes to be at the lower isco site to eat lunch #1 and watch it sample on the noon hour. Today's main objectives would be to first get an outline of a flat braided area in the stream on the GPS, complete a salt discharge measurement, map the lateral meltwater channels on the glacier, and end the day with isco sampling as soon as the 3 pm batch was finished. After lunch we got started without hesitation and I jokingly told John to skip along and get the GPS track done cause we had work to do…well, skip he did. In fact, I took a movie for the first 2.5 minutes of his track that I stopped because he was only a third of the way through, skipping around the whole braided section. Based on his energy level, I think it is a good thing for all of us that John gets to do the 26 km glacier hike 2 out of 3 days.
With the skipping done, it was time for all of us to get to work measuring the salt discharge. The process is based upon mixing 1 kg of salt in a few liters of stream water and then dumping it a known distance up stream from a troll gauging site. By coordinating the dump with radios, it is then timed by the folks downstream with the troll and the data reader (called a 'rugged reader') and they record every ten seconds leading up to when the salt is recognized on the conductivity meter, then 5 seconds thereafter creating a conductivity peak curve over time. Though their measurements are recorded very accurately on the reader, they hand write everything live time as electronics are always a great back up for field work but nothing beats having cold hard, written data. The shape of the curve (peak height, intensity, and timing) depends on the amount of salt dumped, the stream velocity, and the total water moving through the system.
After completing the salt discharge we had about 2 hours to do some GPS work on the glacier and generally explore the lateral meltwater systems. These systems are a blast to run around because while you're goals are scientific, they are hugely driven by the shear curiosity one feels when watching massive amounts meltwater careen down the sides of the glacier, making meandering supra-glacial channels, diving down through tunnels/crevasses to the glacier base, and sounding like huge muffled underground rivers. I also can't help but chuckle when I think of bottled water companies that like to mention they are pure as glacial spring waters. Well, glacial water ain't nothing' if not filled with massive amount of turbid sediment and frankly, it doesn't come more brown than in the spring and about as artesian 'spring-like' as a slip and slide.
We mapped the snout for a bit, beckoned one another to look at this cavern or that, and generally had a blast on the ice. In some areas we could find crystal clear ice with entrained sediments along shear planes that managed to draw all of us enthusiastically into tight quarters.
John generally ventured to the more extreme spots (but still safe mind you) according to the saying that has worked its way into my vernacular, "it's your thesis!"
Kayla, Dion, and I had a tendency to try and stay more dry but still couldn't help ourselves when we came across exciting spots.
The last objective before hitting the iscos was to map the furthest meltwater stream to the east of the glacier which had the most impressive channel I've seen yet. On the highest elevations of the glacier it ran through channels on the ice surface just like a stream through the woods and grew larger with every tiny supra-glacial tributary that joined its path. In some spots it meandered just like a river down the surface and was often covered by thin bridges of dirty ice and snow.
At 3 pm we made it to the disco just in time to watch it purge the lines and fill the last sample bottle. With bottles in the packs it was time to head back to camp. Being about a 3 hr hike back out, we marched briskly.
Upon return, everyone gathered in the main station at the normal time but things looked different at our usual dinner spot. We knew it was Frederick and Lena's final evening at Isfjord Radio as the Basecamp caretakers and they said they wanted to join us for dinner. As a bit of background, Frederick and Lena have been the most easy going and helpful, nice people anyone could ask for at Isfjord Radio since Feb. 2010 and everyone in the group was sad to see them moving on to live back in Longyearbyen. In the main station our group chatted with them, somewhat confused as to what was going on, and they said just look at how downhill things had gone with them leaving: no plates on the tables, the cook not to be found…until they smiled and said tonight would be a treat. An impromptu barbecue was already in the works and everyone was to head to the beach for a night of fun, food, and friends for their final evening. The food was amazing, the company great, and we all had a blast seeing them off.