I recently spent two and a half weeks working as a glacier field assistant for the North Cascade Glacier Climate Project. Over the course of the field season, we backpacked around various glaciers in remote areas of the North Cascades. Overall, we logged over 100 miles and 30,000+ feet of elevation gain. It was an amazing opportunity and I learned a lot about field methods, snow, and glaciers.
A short documentary was created of the 2014 field season and can be seen below:
Glaciers Included in the Project
- Easton Glacier (Mt. Baker)
- Coleman Glacier (Mt. Baker)
- Heliotrope Glacier (Mt. Baker)
- Rainbow Glacier (Mt. Baker)
- Sholes Glacier (Mt. Baker)
- Lower Curtis Glacier (Mt. Shuksan)
- Columbia Glacier (Near Monte Cristo Peak)
- Lynch Glacier (Mt. Daniel)
- Daniel Glacier (Mt. Daniel)
- Ice Worm Glacier (Mt. Daniel)
While working as a glacier field assistant, I received hands-on training in a variety of different field techniques used to measure glaciers. The first skill I learned was how to use a probe to measure the snow depth on top of the glacier ice. Using this skill, I took snowpack measurements across each of the glaciers. This data was then recorded on a satellite image and will be used to determine the mass balance of the glaciers.
Another skill that I learned was how to record slope and distance measurements, which are then used to create a profile of the glaciers. Using a laser rangefinder, I measured the slope and distance measurements across glaciers and then recorded this information into a field notebook. A handheld GPS unit was also used to record the exact coordinates of each location. This data will be used to create a cross profile of the glaciers to determine how the slopes are changing over time due to ablation and other changes related to climate change.
One of the most interesting skills I learned during this project was how to take stream measurements. Using a wading rod that was marked in tenths of a foot, I was instructed on how to measure the depth and width of various streams. A fluorescent tracer was also used to measure the flow of each stream. These measurements were conducted multiple times over the course of a day to find the average discharge of various glacial streams in the North Cascades.
In addition to learning new field techniques, I also learned how important it is to think analytically when working in the field of science. I also gained experience working with a small team in remote areas. Working in remote areas requires a lot of endurance, especially when carrying large amounts of supplies.