Reconstructing the Past Climate of Central Alaska

What Are They Doing?

The Alaska Range near Mount McKinleyThe Alaska Range near Mount McKinley The goal of the team's research was to develop a past climate and precipitation record of Central Alaska over the past 1000 years. In order to accomplish this task, the team extracted and analyzed a series of three ice cores from an ice divide between the North and South Peaks of Mount Hunter within Denali National Park and Preserve. They also continued ice depth and surface velocity surveying of major glaciers within Denali National Park and have plans for using this information to develop improved ice volume estimates and historical glaciological reconstructions of Central Alaska.

Research at this site is important as it completes the development of a spatial ice core array (a range of data) in the North Pacific that has been underway since the early 2000s, including climate records from the St. Elias Mountains, Coast Range, Brooks Range, and Wrangell Mountains. Mt. Hunter in central Alaska lies in a different precipitation and climate regime from these regions, and thus represents the missing piece in this array needed to evaluate spatial precipitation and atmospheric circulation changes on various timescales in this region of the Arctic. Considering the apparent teleconnections (climate phenomena related to each other and occurring large distances from one another) between the Arctic and Antarctic climate and meteorology, completing this array of ice cores may also provide information that is particularly useful for world glaciological and climate modeling purposes. More information about the project can be found at the University of Maine website.

Where Are They?

The Alaska Range near Denali National ParkThe Alaska Range near Denali National Park The team conducted research in Denali National Park and Preserve, in the Central Alaska Mountain Range. The team first flew by fixed-wing aircraft equipped with snow skis from Talkeetna, Alaska to a climber's base camp 7600 feet above sea level on the Kahiltna Glacier West Buttress. Once on the Kahiltna Glacier, the team traveled by ski and foot to 11,000-14,200 feet above sea level on the West Buttress, where they performed a variety of scientific objectives while getting acclimatized to the high elevation. Travel was on fixed rope teams for safety from crevasse falls and other hazards. The team conducted research and acclimatized for approximately two weeks on the Kahiltna Glacier prior to helicopter transport to the Mount Hunter Ice Divide at 13,000 feet above sea level where they started the ice core drilling. In the field the team lived in mountaineering tents. Temperatures ranged between -20 to 30 F during early season at the study site with winds from 0 to upwards of 40 mph.

Expedition Map


One Last Logistical...
On Saturday, we considered heading back down to Anchorage in the afternoon to pick up the U-Haul, but we still had much to do with organizing equipment. So, we continued our packing and gear logistics and planned one more final event. Talkeetna Air Taxi and Denali National Park Rangers and the remainder of our team decided to have a pot luck cookout at Talkeetna Air Taxi headquarters. Erich, Mike, Liz, Sam, and I cooked on available grills as our way of saying thank you to all the folks who helped over the past six years. It was a grand event with beautiful weather. The party went from 6...
After some final finishing touches that Erich and the others made on the second MET station at base camp (we had the same MET station there from May 2008 to June, 2012), and loading the three large twin otter airplanes with the rest of the gear, the final flights made it down to Talkeetna on a TAT flight. Dave, Brad and I had already taken a shuttle down to Anchorage to pick up a rental car and U-Haul which we would use to go back to Talkeetna for transporting the rest of our equipment and personnel down to Anchorage. In Anchorage, we would use RELO cubes to again return ship our equipment...
Time to Leave
It's time to get everything down from Mount Hunter and back to Talkeetna. Wow, did it go smoothly! The plan was for the helicopter to show up around 9:30am and start taking 700-1200 pound sling loads from the Hunter plateau down to Kahiltna Base Camp. From there, Talkeetna Air Taxi was supposed to fly all the cores and equipment back down to Talkeetna. Dave and Tim would fly with the first load from base camp to help move cores and equipment around in town. Mike, Brad, Dom and I would stay on Hunter to create sling loads. Erich, Liz, and Erich’s recently arrived undergraduate student...
Mount Foraker from Middle Hunter ridge
Tim asked me today how many km of radar data I have from this site and this got me thinking this morning while waiting for Tim and Dave to get picked up. I am on call with the land/air radio, VHF radio, and satellite phone to communicate with Erich at base camp for updates on weather, helicopter status, and when Dave and Tim may leave. The sling loads are ready to go and Dave and Tim are packed so now I can sit here and either process MORE data OR write a blog to update everyone. My eyes are tired of looking at radar data on the computer and I feel that a blog might be in a blog...
Tim Before
Seth sent me some news yesterday. They will be dismantling the core camp on Mount Hunter in the next day or so and are now waiting for good helicopter weather to move the cores to base camp. I have asked Seth to keep sending any pictures he can, but we need to understand that this a crucial time for the team. The stress of drilling is over, but the stress of getting the cores safely to Colorado has just begun. With big transitions afoot for everyone it looks like it was time for some spiffing up. Tim Before Yes there was a face in there after all. Photo Credit: Tim Pretty sporty...

Expedition Resources

Project Information

Dates: 29 April 2013 to 19 June 2013
Location: Kahiltna Glacier and Mount Hunter Ice Divide. Denali National Park and Preserve, AK
Project Funded Title: Reconstructing central Alaskan precipitation variability and atmospheric circulation during the past millennium

Meet the Team

Ken Williams's picture
Nobleboro Central School
Damariscotta, ME
United States

Following graduate school in 1984 Ken Williams started teaching at a small public school on the Maine coast. He has been at Nobleboro Central School ever since. New England has a tradition of community schools and Nobleboro is no exception as a K-8 school with a total student population of 130. Mr. Williams is particularly thrilled to be teaming with scientist Seth Campbell as Mr. Campbell attended Nobleboro Central during his K-8 years. Mr. Williams was a teacher and Mr. Campbell was a student during Mr. Campbellʼs middle school years between 1989 and 1991 and the two have maintained a friendship over the years. Mr. Campbell has mentored the entire Williams family on various rock climbing adventures and he has returned to Nobleboro multiple times to present his research and help Mr. Williams guide 8th grade wilderness trips. Mr. Williams likes to tell whoever will listen that Mr. Campbellʼs first backpacking experience was with Nobleboroʼs Outing Club. Although mostly a science teacher, the nature of a small school with only three faculty for grades 6-8 necessitates Mr. Williams' multi-disciplinary content work and he loves teaching reading as much as science. The small school setting, with class size routinely at ten or less, proves that relationships between students and teachers matter most. This is evident as a former student is now taking his teacher on a very excellent adventure in the Arctic. Mr. Williams believes that it is only because researcher Campbell wants to give him homework.

Seth Campbell's picture
University of Maine
Orono, ME
United States

Seth Campbell is working to complete his doctoral degree through the School of Earth and Climate Sciences at the University of Maine. He is also a research physical scientist at the US Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL) in Hanover, NH specializing in applications of geophysics to the cryosphere. Excluding dozens of CRREL related projects, Mr. Campbell has led five glaciological research expeditions to Alaska and participated in 15 research expeditions to the Arctic or Antarctica during his career. Research through his PhD and at CRREL range from glaciology, permafrost, and glacial geology, to radio wave propagation studies. Mr. Campbell brings a vast range of other technical and professional experiences as a suitable role model to participating teachers in the PolarTREC program. He is a former rock and ice climbing guide with 17 years of climbing/mountaineering experience, a past emergency medical technician-intermediate, and instructor for Stonehearth Open Learning Opportunities (SOLO), a renowned national leader in wilderness emergency medicine education. In his free time Mr. Campbell enjoys spending time outdoors with his wife Kristin, and their Coonhound, Kinley.

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