Trip to the Taku Glacier Terminus (Blogging From the Field #12)


Text by Cathy Connor and Matt Beedle, photos by Cathy Connor

[This post is part of a series of real-time communication from participants in the 2012 Juneau Icefield Research Program.  The program begins June 23rd and concludes August 18th.]

Last week a team of JIRPers spent four days surveying the terminus of Taku Glacier.  Taku Glacier is the largest outlet glacier of the Juneau Icefield (~700 km2) and is famed for being one of very few glaciers around the globe that is currently advancing.  A primary reason for this present advance is due to a complex relationship with tidewater.  This relationship, known as the tidewater glacier cycle, consists of a pattern of glacier advance followed by rapid recession (largely from calving).  While all glaciers are influenced by climate variability, tidewater glaciers are largely insensitive to climate during certain phases of this cycle.  Read more about the tidewater glacier cycle here, including details on Taku Glacier.

An ongoing initiative of JIRP is to monitor Taku Glacier, primarily through surveys of terminus position.  Here are a few photos from the 2012 field surveys of Taku Glacier:

Al Clough (center), a pilot and co-owner of Wings of Alaska who was first with JIRP in 1969, flew the crew from downtown Juneau to the Taku Glacier.  Al is with his wife Jeffra (right) and Gary Linder (left) another long-time JIRPer and current JIRP senior staffer.  Al and Gary have also served for many years on the board of directors of the Foundation for Glacier and Environmental Research – the non-profit, parent organization of JIRP.

JIRP participants leave downtown Juneau for the Taku Terminus aboard a Turbine Otter.  From left to right are Scott McGee (JIRP operations manager and faculty, Anchorage, AK), Matt Osman (JIRP 2012 student, Augustana College), Al Clough (above), Lauren Frisch (JIRP 2012 student, Bard Center for Environmental Policy), David Bigelow (JIRP 2012 student, University of British Columbia), Dr. Carrie Jennings (Glaciology and Glacier Geology, University of Minnesota), Anne Boucher (JIRP 2012 student, Carleton College), Dr. Cathy Connor (Geology, University of Alaska – Southeast), and Tobias Kuchenmeister (JIRP faculty/staff, Berlin, Germany).

Taku Glacier terminus as seen from Grizzly Bar.  Four JIRP students and four JIRP faculty traveled to the Taku Glacier terminus June 27‐30th to measure its present position with survey-grade GPS receivers and to get a look at the push moraines building with the ongoing advance. Students participated in the surveying and collected geomorphic data from the push moraines. The crew was able to survey about 70% of the 8 km glacier terminus on foot.  Steady rain, abundant mosquitoes, and a glacier forefield covered in giant purple lupine provided an excellent Alaskan field experience.

Camp near Taku Terminus in a meadow of Lupine.

The JIRP surveying team walks the margin of Taku Glacier where it knocks over spruce and cottonwood trees as it advances.

During the coming weeks JIRP students and faculty will be analyzing the data they collected at the terminus of Taku Glacier and a few 2012 JIRP students will be making this effort their primary research endeavor of the summer.  Stay tuned for results and analysis from this JIRP field research!


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Leave a comment:


Ronny Wenzel

July 5, 2012

Fantastic field trip – this will fit nicely with satellite data evaluation soon to get continuity of the monitoring of the Taku Glacier terminus advance.

Very very nice feeling seeying you all in famous condition
Special hug to Gary and Scott,


Phil Salvador

August 8, 2012

Very interesting notes about Taku Glacier – a kind of glacier I did not know about. Field pictures reminded of my own time in the field in Alaska long ago. Best wishes for success in the study. Special greetings to my old pal Cathy Connor.

Phil Salvador (now residing in Doha, Qatar. No glaciers detected there yet, but the search goes on)