Research In The Park

Research equipment on Turner Glacier
Research equipment on Turner Glacier

Ellyn M. Enderlin

Coupled hydrologic and glacier dynamic instabilities during Turner Glacier's surges.

Boise State University, Ellyn M. Enderlin 2022.

This study aims to collect a variety of detailed geophysical observations of Turner Glacier during its ongoing period of rapid flow, known as a surge, to better understand how the glacier and its hydrologic system evolve throughout surges. Surges occur periodically, redistributing snow and ice from higher elevations towards a glacier's lower reaches, where melting will occur at a faster rate. As a result, surges can considerably influence rates of glacier mass loss. Despite their importance in regard to glacier mass loss and the potential hazards surges can pose, the precise controls on these periodic order of magnitude changes in the rate of ice flow are poorly understood. Through our unprecendently detailed analysis of Turner Glacier's current surge, we will gain insights into the relationships between water flow through and beneath a glacier and ice flow during surges. The results of this study will lead to a better understanding of controls on glacier surges and facilitate predictions of when and where surges occur.

From September 2020-July 2023, an array of geophysical instruments will be installed on and around the glacier to record the surge. Five high-precision GPS will be installed along the glacier length to record changes in ice flow and thickness. Two automated weather stations and a stationary ice-penetrating radar will also be installed on the ice to provide data on snow accumulation, melt, and routing through the ice. We will also installed five on-ice seismic stations and six pairs of stations along the glacier to monitor water flow beneath the ice. A time-lapse camera will be installed to overlook the glacier terminus to provide insights into changes in length and water output at the terminus.

Samovar Hills sample area
Samovar Hills sample area

Erin Donaghy et al

The role of oceanic plateau collision in the geologic development of the St. Elias Mountains.

Erin Donaghy, Dr. Michael Eddy, and Dr. Kenneth Ridgway 2022

The goal of this project is to document the sedimentary and igneous record of oceanic plateau accretion in southeastern Alaska (Yakutat terrane) and the Pacific Northwest (Siletzia terrane) during the last 50 million years. Recent geologic data suggests that Siletzia and Yakutat formed as part of the same oceanic plateau offshore Washington. This hypothesis requires that following formation, the Yakutat terrane split from Siletzia and was transported northward by strike-slip faults to its present location in southern Alaska.

We have the unique opportunity to better understand how the collision of the Yakutat terrane impacted local climate, topography, and regional depositional environments in eastern Alaska since the Paleogene. Comparison of data to our work in Olympic National Park will give us the unique opportunity to test if part of Olympic NP has been transported up to where it currently resides in Wrangell National Park and Preserve. Fieldwork in the Samovar Hills will consist primarily of lithofacies mapping, measuring stratigraphic sections, and collecting samples for igneous and detrital geochronologic analyses. Researchers will be dropped off in the Samovar Hills via helicopter for one week of field work.

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Weather station on the Kennicott Glacier
Weather station on the Kennicott Glacier

Regine Hock/Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks

Current and future mass changes of Kennicott Glacier and their drivers.

Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Regine Hock 2022

The majority of glaciers in Alaska have been shrinking for decades but only a few glaciers have detailed in-situ observations of mass change. The goal of this project is to establish a 10-year monitoring program at Kennicott Glacier to study glacier-climate relationships and provide data for glacier modeling and projections. The Kennicott Glacier is ideal for longer-term monitoring due to the proximity of Kennicott and direct road access close to the glacier. In addition the glacier is of special interest since it is covered by extensive debris cover in much of its lower reaches, which affects melt rates and how the glacier reacts to climate change.

We drilled several stakes into the glacier and their height above the surface is measured repeatedly to assess how much the glacier is melting over the melt season. Stakes are distributed across the glacier but focused on the lower part of the glacier for logistical reasons. The stakes will be re-drilled when they melt out. In addition we installed two automatic weather stations, one close to the glacier tongue at 675 m above sea level and and another one at high elevation (>2100 m above sea level). The stations continuously record air temperature, humidity, wind speed and radiation. These data will be used to study the relation between glacier change and meteorological variables. We also installed several pairs of stereo cameras to collect time series of photographs to study the dynamic changes of the glacier surface as the glacier melts and moves. Typically the glacier field campaigns are performed in late May/early June and in August/September.

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Coastal Alaska Forestry Inventory
Coastal Alaska Forestry Inventory

USDA Forest Service

Coastal Alaska Forest Inventory & Analysis (FIA)

Pacific Northwest Research Station (PNW), USDA Forest Service 2022

FIA provides information on the status and trends of forests across the region for policymakers, resource managers, and the general public at local, state, and national levels. Our work makes it possible to show how forests have changed and how they might change in the future. We collect, analyze, and share data that provide broad insights into past trends and the future potential of forest land. Our program focuses on long-term tracking of the status of land use and forest resources by sampling all forest types under all ownerships. The information FIA acquires can be used in many ways to inform management decisions. This year there are nine plots that the Coastal AK FIA crew is planning to visit within Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.

FIA collects data on fixed-radius permanent field plots. These plots are spaced at intervals of about 3 miles on all public and private forests across the Nation. Data are collected using techniques and methods that are consistently applied across the country. The FIA Field Guide is publicly available.

PNW-FIA collects data on:
-live and dead trees: diameter, height, crown, percent rot and other damages from insect or disease.
-understory vegetation (species and percent-cover)
-down woody material (coarse woody debris transects, duff & litter depth measurements)
-stand level characteristics such as forest type, stand age, historic and ongoing disturbances.

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Kennicott Glacier and Valley
Kennicott Glacier and Valley

Tim Bartholomaus

Unraveling spatio-temporal patterns of past subglacial sediment and erosion dynamics in the Kennicott Glacial Valley.

University of Idaho, Bruno Belotti 2022

The presence of thick layers of subglacial sediment beneath valley glaciers and ice sheets, and the controlling influence of this sediment on glacier motion and glacier erosion, has been acknowledged for decades. However, despite the importance of subglacial sediments, their occurrence, distribution, and residence times remain largely unknown. Results of this project, which couples glaciology, fluvial sedimentology and lacustrine sedimentology with geophysical methods will determine how thick sediments in the Kennicott valley are, how the sediments along the valley were deposited, when sediment deposition occurred, and whether or not sediments resided beneath the glacier and for how long. From these data, I will reevaluate the presence, amount, and influence of basal till beneath glaciers, and its dynamics during changes in glacial extent, depositional environment and transport capacity, which will impact our understanding of the subglacial environment and glacial erosion.

I will first conduct TEM surveys to measure sediment thickness at strategic locations along and across the valley. I will then measure multiple decimeter-scale vertical stratigraphic columns along the bluffs and identify and correlate lithofacies. Special attention will be given to the identification of glaciotectonic deformation features, which are indicators of deposition and/or reworking of strata beneath a paleo-ice-flow. The stratigraphic analyses will be accompanied by detailed sampling for organic carbon, which will be used to date specific sedimentary and deformational features and estimate deposition ages (in fluvial / proglacial paleo- environments), sediment residence times beneath the glacier, and subglacial denudation rates.

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Iceberg Lake and glacial valley
Iceberg Lake and glacial valley

Maarten Van Daele

The Eroding Iceberg Lake Sediments: A short-lived opportunity to obtain a paleoseismic record.

Ghent University, Belgium, Dr. Maarten Van Daele
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Dr. Michael Loso 2022

The Yakutat - St. Elias Mountains region (in which Iceberg Lake is located) has been historically struck by several large earthquakes, such as the 1899 M8.1 Yakutat Bay, the 1958 M7.9 Lituya Bay and 1979 M7.4 Saint Elias earthquakes. To better estimate the seismic hazard for such earthquakes in the future, we need records of past earthquakes that reach further back in time then historical records. However, paleoseismic studies (that identify evidence of past earthquakes based on geological records) on and around the Yakutat region are scarce and incomplete. Lakes have proven to provide valuable archives of earthquake shaking: earthquakes cause a.o. sediment sliding and slumping deposits of which intercalate the normally laminated sediments. Here we study the exposed lake sediments of Iceberg Lake by cleaning and describing sediment exposures that naturally developed since the lake drainage in 1999. We will further use geophysical methods to study the local site response (amplification) of earthquake shaking and image the sedimentary infill of the Iceberg Lake basin.

Geological fieldwork: enhancing about 10-15 natural exposures with a height of up to a few meters and further expose earthquake deposits for several meters horizontally. Main activities include digging the already slumped sediment out of the way, describing and imaging the enhanced exposure, and sampling the sediments by hand-carving "cores". Geophysical fieldwork: (1) temporarily setting out 10 nodes in the area that will record ambient noise for seismic site response; (2) acquiring shear-wave velocity (Vs) profiles (for site response) by striking a sledge hammer onto a metal plate and recording the waves on 48 geophones laid out on the ground surface; and (3) repeating the previous along transects to obtain a seismic profile of the sediments.;;

Tracing Mercury researcher with Lake Trout in hand
Researcher on a boat holding a Lake Trout

Sarah Laske & Krista Bartz

Tracing Mercury Through Lake Food Webs in Alaska's National Parks.

USGS Alaska Science Center & NPS Southwest Alaska Inventory & Monitoring Network, Sarah Laske & Krista Bartz 2022

Mercury bioaccumulates in lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush)from the environment, including from the foods that they eat. Individual lake trout may have high levels of mercury in their tissues, which could pose health risks to people or to wildlife that consume them. We ask several key questions:
1) Are different feeding areas (open water or lake bottom) related to mercury contamination in lake trout?
2) Do lake trout specialize in certain lake habitats or eat foods that cause greater mercury contamination? Can highly contaminated lake trout be identified based on their body shape or habitat?
3) Does mercury at the bottom of the lake trout food chain (e.g., in aquatic insects) differ among the sampled lakes? What drives those differences? Does that mean there will be more or less mercury in the lake trout?

As part of a multi-park study, sampling will take place in Copper Lake and Tanada Lake for two weeks beginning in mid-June. We will sample lake trout, prey fishes, aquatic insects, zooplankton, algae, and water to measure the amount of mercury at each link in the lake’s food chain. From each lake trout, we will remove muscle tissue for mercury analysis and otoliths (ear stones) for age analysis. We will also assess stomach contents to determine what lake trout are eating. Based on the stomach contents, we will target known food items (e.g., kokanee [Oncorhynchus nerka]) for collection and laboratory analysis of mercury.

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Stream in the Kennecott Mines area for water samples
National Creek in the Kennecott Mines area for stream samples

Brandon Briggs

Characterization of Microbial Communities Involved in Cold-adapted Bio-weathering and Mineral Liberation.

Unverisity of Alaska Anchorage, Dr. Brandon Briggs 2022

Critical minerals (CM) are vital to the U.S. economy but the supply chain is tight and easily disrupted. For example, CM are used in a variety of applications including computers, batteries, cell phones, fluorescent lighting and are critical in defense and healthcare industries. China is the principal supplier of rare earth elements (REE) to the world; 72% of U.S. imported REE comes directly from China and many REE imports from other countries ultimately originated in China as well. This scenario leads to a high risk of supply shortage. Current hydro-metallurgical technologies are energy and cost-intensive, inefficient, and have environmental and safety issues associated with concentrated acids and solvents. Microbes that are adapted to cold environments may hold the secret to new sustainable and efficient process that can extract CM.This project aims to characterize the microbes and the processes and determine if the minerals can be developed for biotechnolgical applications.

Two different types of samples will be collected from samples from the glacial terminus of both Kennecott and Root Glaciers will be collected. Additional water samples will be collected at National Creek or water seeps near the tailings. Microorganisms within the water will be collected by filtering 5-6 L of water. Tailings will be collected from six locations. Three on either side of National creek below the leach plant and General Store. All samples will be transported back to the UAA for laboratory analyses. The microbial DNA will be sequenced to identify the types of microbes present. Microbes will also be cultured and characterized.

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Mesozoic history of convergence, paleoenvironmental change, and mass extinction: a prolonged record from the Wrangellia Terrane of southern Alaska
Research area in Contact Gulch near Grotto Creek

Andrew Caruthers

Mesozoic history of convergence, paleoenvironmental change, and mass extinction: a prolonged record from the Wrangellia Terrane of southern Alaska.

Western Michigan University, Dr. Andrew Caruthers 2022

The Wrangellia Terrane of southern Alaska represents an oceanic plateau located at tropical latitudes during Triassic time (~200 Ma) in the now vanished Panthalassic Ocean. As the Panthalassic seafloor was gradually destroyed (i.e., tectonically sinking into the Earth’s interior), the terrane traveled northeastward to eventually collide with Alaska (Cretaceous; 145–66 Ma). The sedimentary rocks exposed in the present-day Wrangell Mountains represent ancient environments of deposition in which sedimentation was sufficiently continuous to record this extraordinarily long ~ 80 Ma time interval.

Studying this thick sequence of sediment is important for two reasons: (1) the sediments were deposited across at least three intervals of time that witnessed severe biotic demise and paleoclimatic upheaval, known as mass extinction events (i.e., end-Triassic; Early Jurassic; and Cenomanian/Turonian in the Cretaceous); (2) rocks were deposited in a constantly changing environment that was being physically transported from tropical (i.e., location during the Triassic) to boreal (i.e., location during the Cretaceous) latitudes. Determining the effects that this journey (through climate belts) had on the seawater chemistry and marine biota that surrounded Wrangellia is critical toward understanding the controlling mechanisms of these mass extinction events.

This study will focus on generating multiple lines of data from five areas of the WRST. This work is an integral part of our recently awarded NSF grant (2026882) and will build upon results generated from two previous WRST permits (2018-SCI-0005; 2017-SCI-0004). The purpose of this study is to facilitate a more holistic understanding of the paleoceanographic and paleontological response(s) that took place in Panthalassa during this ~ 80 Ma interval of time that spans the Late Triassic–Cretaceous.

Fixed-wing aircraft transportation will be used to fly camps with sample collection to take place over several days at a time. A diverse set of physical (i.e., rock) and visual data will be collected from five areas of WRST designated wilderness. Rock samples / specimens will be collected from composite stratigraphic sections. Each section will detail relevant changes in lithology and intervals of fossil collection and geochemical sampling. Samples collected for paleontological analysis will be described by PIs Caruthers, Golding, Aberhan, Haggart, and Cordey at their respective institutions and curated with WRST; samples for geochemical analyses will be performed by PIs Gill, Owens, Them, and Marroquín at their respective institutions; and samples for sedimentological, paleomagnetic, and petrographic analysis by PI Trabucho-Alexandre. To expand our three-dimensional understanding of the environment in which these sediments were deposited (i.e., during the Late Triassic to Early Jurassic time interval), an assortment of visual photograph will also be collected from designated study areas. This will consist of digital media from the use of fixed-wing surveys to generate 3-D models of the selected areas showing basic dimensions, orientation, and physical distance of large- scale sedimentary structures.

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Researchers installing monitoring equipment on Malaspina Glacier
Researchers installing monitoring equipment on Malaspina Glacier

Martin Truffer

The Demise of Malaspina, the World's Largest Piedmont Glacier

University of Alaska Fairbanks, Martin Truffer 2022

Malaspina Glacier is the world's largest piedmont glacier, located on the coast of Southeast Alaska. It is rapidly thinning and retreating into a series of proglacial lakes, some of which are separated from open ocean by only a narrow moraine barrier. The glacier bed is located well below sea level and all indications are that retreat and thinning will continue, and most likely accelerate, even with little future climate change. This has the potential to be the largest loss of ice in Alaska from one glacier in the next several decades and is likely to result in a newly opened landscape with a series of lakes and/or marine fjords. This will be among the biggest modern changes to Alaska's and the nation's coastlines with large impacts to both terrestrial and marine ecosystems. These changes would also constitute the largest single removal of terrestrial land cover from the National Park system in modern US history.

Our proposed work consists of the following measurements that require field work: Mass balance, GPS velocities, temperature, supraglacial debris thickness and temperature, ice penetrating radar, transient electromagnetic (TEM) surveys, active seismics, timelapse cameras, sediment sampling, and a weather station. The map provides an overview of the proposed locations.

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Last updated: November 14, 2022

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