American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

The Juneau Icefield Research Program—1960

  • Notes
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1961

The Juneau Icefield Research Program—1960. The Juneau Icefield Research Program continued its annual investigations in the Northern Boundary Range of Alaska during the months of July and August, 1960. Under the aegis of the Foundation for Glacier Research the field studies were concentrated on obtaining further data on the Taku-Llewellyn Glacier system, thus extending the record which has been made consecutively over the past 15 years. Support was given to the program by the Geology Department of Michigan State University, by the United States Air Force, and by the Civil Air Patrol. The U. S. Forest Service and the U. S. Geological Survey aided through the loan of scientific instruments. Via the office of the President of Michigan State University, a cooperative program was also initiated in the field with a Japanese research group from the University of Hokkaido. This effort was preliminary to an international cooperative glacio-physical study anticipated for the program in the 1962 season. The 1960 J.I.R.P. expedition comprised a field team of 11 persons. A ski-wheeled Cessna 180 aircraft made 40 icefield landings in support of the summer’s work. The program also employed helicopters for the first time, using them for special operations. Further logistical support was furnished by the Alaska Air National Guard which made a series of landings on the icefield with C-123J ski-aircraft. It is of interest that the C-123J is the largest aircraft to make ski-landings on an Alaskan glacier, and is capable of transporting seven tons of supplies and equipment in a single load. For glacier work the effectiveness of the unloading ramp on the tailgate of this aircraft-type was particularly demonstrated by these missions. Heavy generators and bulky research instruments, as well as lumber, metal sheeting, and other construction materials, were thus easily delivered to camp on the 4000-foot and 6000-foot névés, lying respectively 25 and 40 miles north and east of Juneau.

The scientific program extended the basic regime measurements and sub-surface thermal studies of previous years. It also repeated and enlarged upon some of the critical glacier movement surveys for long-range comparisons. Synoptic meteorological records were obtained at the camps on the intermediate and high-level névés. These data, obtained for correlative purposes of the icefield study, were also transmitted to the U. S. Weather Bureau station at Juneau for use in local and regional forecasts. The program’s annual survey of frontal and névé-line fluctuations of the main outflowing glaciers was also conducted, most of this being accomplished by photogrammetric methods. This season’s data show the 1960 summer to have been one of the most continuously wet on record. At the site of the program’s new research station in the central icefield section (v. below), the record from minimum-registering thermometers for the interval 1958-60 revealed winter temperatures to -87° F. The extreme thermal hostility of this location with respect to any future winter operations is important, but the special interest of this unexpectedly low temperature is the relation to the geophysical character of the icefield’s extensive crestal névé. Another striking observation was that the zone of maximum snowfall has taken a strong downward shift during the last years of this decade. Coincident with this a significant thickening of the ice on the Taku Glacier was noted in the vicinity of the mean névé-line.

For use in the continuing program, a permanent Snow and Glacier Research Observatory was completed on a nunatak at the 7000-foot contour (Camp 8). This new high-level station is directly on the divide between the Taku and the Llewellyn névés, at a point six miles southwest of Mount Ogilvie and lies within one mile of the international boundary between Alaska and northern British Columbia (Lat. 59° N.). Further supplies and equipment were flown to an adjunct station site at 4000 feet where a smaller station is under construction. Also in this season an additional aluminum-sheathed building was erected at 4000 feet where the program’s permanent field headquarters is maintained. At each of these base stations new VHF radio equipment was installed to improve the reliability of future communications between icefield camps. In terms of the long range objectives of the study, the 1958–60 additions to the station facilities and the excellent research equipment now stored on the icefield will give exceptional advantages to the future program of periodic observations and comparative measurements.

Maynard M. Miller

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