Field glaciology and earth systems science: The Juneau Icefield Research Program (JIRP), 1946–2008
Published:December 01, 2009
Cathy Connor, 2009. "Field glaciology and earth systems science: The Juneau Icefield Research Program (JIRP), 1946–2008", Field Geology Education: Historical Perspectives and Modern Approaches, Steven J. Whitmeyer, David W. Mogk, Eric J. Pyle
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For over 50 yr, the Juneau Icefield Research Program (JIRP) has provided undergraduate students with an 8 wk summer earth systems and glaciology field camp. This field experience engages students in the geosciences by placing them directly into the physically challenging glacierized alpine landscape of southeastern Alaska. Mountain-top camps across the Juneau Icefield provide essential shelter and facilitate the program’s instructional aim to enable direct observations by students of active glacier surface processes, glaciogenic landscapes, and the region’s tectonically deformed bedrock. Disciplinary knowledge is transferred by teams of JIRP faculty in the style of a scientific institute. JIRP staffers provide glacier safety training, facilitate essential camp logistics, and develop JIRP student field skills through daily chores, remote camp management, and glacier travel in small field parties. These practical elements are important components of the program’s instructional philosophy. Students receive on-glacier training in mass-balance data collection and ice-velocity measurements as they ski ~320 km across the icefield glaciers between Juneau, Alaska, and Atlin, British Columbia. They use their glacier skills and disciplinary interests to develop research experiments, collect field data, and produce reports. Students present their research at a public forum at the end of the summer. This experience develops its participants for successful careers as researchers in extreme and remote environments. The long-term value of the JIRP program is examined here through the professional evolution of six of its recent alumni. Since its inception, ~1300 students, faculty, and staff have participated in the Juneau Icefield Research Program. Most of these faculty and staff have participated for multiple summers and many JIRP students have returned to work as program staff and sometimes later as faculty. The number of JIRP participants (1946–2008) can also be measured by adding up each summer’s participants, raising the total to ~2500.