Monday, September 14, 2015

ICCE Expedition on Dinwoody Glacier

Dinwoody Glacier (photo credit: Kyle Nicholoff)
The word glacier conjures polar ice and Patagonian steppes, so you might be surprised to learn that the largest glacier in the lower forty-eight states is right here in Wyoming, in the Wind River Basin Mountain Range: Gannet Glacier, on the east and north slopes of Gannet Peak.   

The unique composition of glaciers offers infinite opportunities for research, especially in hydrology and earth science.  This summer, Central Wyoming College (CWC) instructor, Jacki Klancher, took student researchers up to Wind River’s Dinwoody Glacier on the second annual Interdisciplinary Climate Change Expedition (ICCE), an eleven-day investigative adventure.  She was accompanied by Wyoming EPSCoR’s own Dr. Sarah Konrad, as well as archaeologist and CWC professor Todd Guenther. 

Outdoor Education students, led by instructor Darren Wells, provided valuable assistance comprised the ICCE Glacier team. They worked on projects both on and off the ice and worked in concert with the entire team to transport all of the equipment up and down the mountain.  As Klancher said, “It’s really a testament to the team’s skills that we all got up there, completed all of our research, gathered all of our data, and got everyone back down to the parking lot without any incident.  That’s got to be a fundamental consideration – how do you keep students safe.” 

One group of students focused on black carbon, dark particulate matter sometimes found on glacial ice.  Black carbon is related to industrial pollution and can increase snow temperature and accelerate snowmelt.  Students collected snow samples to test for the presence of black carbon and establish a baseline level that can be used to compare data from this coming year.  The team also hopes to use isotopic measurements which can allow scientists to trace the black carbon to its source.
ICCE team members on the move
(photo credit: Kyle Nicholoff)
Dinwoody Glacier is a popular backpacking and hiking site, and students wanted to test to see if human waste material had contaminated Dinwoody’s streams and surface waters.  Testing for E.coli on the mountaintop was a challenge, but two archaeology students found a creative solution: a chicken-egg incubator from Ace Hardware, small enough to carry up the mountain and perfect for housing E.coli cultures.  Next year, the team plans to return with laboratory-grade testing equipment, to expand on their research.  Student researchers also collected water and ice samples to test for temperature and acidity, and surveyed aquatic macroinvertebrate populations.

The ICCE team (photo credit: Kyle Nicholoff)
Guenther's archaeology team made several exciting discoveries on the mountaintop, including a buffalo jump at nearly 11,000 feet - the highest documented jump site in the Central Rockies.  The archaeology team also found what appear to be two Paleoindian camp sites just below the glacial moraine, showing that people were living immediately under the ice some eight to ten thousand years ago.  Researchers found what appear to be several stone cairns and a large store of stone tools.  They hope to return next year to continue their investigation of the site, and are excited to learn more about early human life at high altitude.  

The ICCE expedition also created several maps of the terrain.  Geospatial data collection using global positioning systems (GPS) and maps created using Geographic Information Systems (GIS)- is a significant component of the student research.   Students use GPS to translate data into visuals that they can then use to present their research.  In the future, these visual aids will be an essential part of journal articles and conference presentations will be essential; CWC’s students have a strong head start. 

Guenther pointed out that students are already reaping professional rewards: “We are hired by the BLM and other organizations to complete archaeological projects for them, data collection using professional grade GPS units and professional maps created using ArcGIS software– students who come out of this program are trained not only in archaeology but also GIS and that opens a number of doors for them, so they can take advantage of future opportunities.”

(photo credit: Kyle Nicholoff)
Next year, the team hopes to collaborate with UW’s Dr. Paul Johnson on collecting and analyzing surface water samples to test again for E. coli  Team leaders also hope to collect seismic data on the glacier.

Most of the focus, however, will remain on the students: “We hope to keep expanding, both to enhance the quality of the student experience and the quality of our data.”

By Jess White

No comments:

Post a Comment