“A magnificent desolation.”
          Edwin Aldrin, Apollo 11, July 1969

Although spoken from the surface of the Moon, Edwin Aldrin’s words perfectly capture the essence and experience of the Juneau Icefield. Stretching 90 miles from Juneau, Alaska north to Skagway, the Juneau Icefield is one of the world’s largest non-polar masses of snow and ice. Though seemingly remote and inhospitable, its close proximity to Alaska’s capital city draws tourists, adventurers, students, and scientists to its lush, rain-forest-rimmed perimeter and its barren interior.

Seven decades ago, it was the interior of the Icefield that attracted the attention of a young, energetic glaciologist named Maynard Malcolm Miller. As a member of the U.S. Navy during WWII, he was involved in several projects examining the impact of weather and climate on military operations, particularly in the north polar region. In the early 1940’s, and throughout WWII, there was much interest in using the polar ice cap as a base for military operations. But to do so, it was necessary to understand the role of both short-term weather and long-term climate on the formation and stability of the polar ice pack. Unfortunately, the dynamic nature of the polar ice pack retained a record of only relatively short-term weather events. A longer annual record of weather and climate was needed. Thus it was necessary to find a location where long-term climate changes could be observed.

Recognizing that glaciers record hundreds, or even thousands of years of climate events, in 1946 Maynard lead a small group of explorers on a reconnaissance of the Juneau Icefield to investigate its potential for climate research and the feasibility of establishing a long-term glaciological research program. Thus began one of the longest continuous-running programs of its kind in the world. Dedicated to education and science, and now it its 63rd year, the Juneau Icefield Research Program (JIRP) continues to attract students and scientists from around the world.

The program’s success lies partly in its approach to education - learning from Nature, in Nature. This is also the key point of the Emersonian Triangle. In his 1837 oration, The American Scholar, Ralph Waldo Emerson enunciated the three primary influences on scholarly development and effectiveness: Nature, Books, and Action. He proposed that Nature is the ultimate arbiter of truth, the source from which knowledge is obtained. Books are the transcript of other men’s accumulated knowledge of Nature. And he believed Action is required of the scholar to investigate Nature, adding to the body of knowledge.

This philosophy is embodied in the Juneau Icefield Research Program. During their two months living on, researching, and traversing the Juneau Icefield, JIRP’s students and scientists are immersed in Nature. They learn from Nature that the Icefield is more than just snow, ice, and rock. They learn it is an integrated, synergistic system of disparate elements acting together to provide clues to, and evidence of, past climate. They learn Nature has a story to tell, and they learn how to decode the secrets of Nature.




One of the key goals of the Juneau Icefield Research Program is to impress upon its students the importance of the Emersonian Triangle, and to continue its long legacy of percipio quo Natura, in Natura (to learn from Nature, in Nature). And what better place to do this than the magnificent desolation of the Juneau Icefield.

Life on the Icefield
JIRP's annual field season runs from early June to early August. During this time, all participants hike and ski 80 miles across the Icefield from Juneau, Alaska to the shore of Atlin Lake in British Columbia. A 40-mile boat ride completes the traverse to the town of Atlin.

The first five days of the program are spent in Juneau for orientation, field trips, and academic lectures. Participants then hike up to Camp 17, the first of several permanent camps maintained by JIRP. Participants spend a week at Camp 17 for glacier safety training, ski practice, and introductory lectures. A two-day ski trip then takes everyone to Camp 10, the main camp in the middle of the Juneau Icefield. The next several weeks are spent on field work, lectures, and moving from camp to camp northward across the Icefield. This is a full immersion program - there are no days off and no trips out to Juneau.

A typical day begins at 7:00 wake-up, followed by breakfast, daily announcements, and camp maintenance duties. Field trips, project work, and lectures round out the day, with lights out at 11:00 pm. Students are involved in various research projects, ranging from geology, mass balance, meteorology, botany, geophysics, and GPS surveying. Students also have the option to define their own research project, in collaboration with faculty and staff members.

Participants begin making their way off the Icefield around August 12-15 with a ski trip to Camp 26 on the Llewellyn Glacier. Several days later they are picked up by boat on the shore of Atlin Lake for the trip to Atlin. There, the program wraps up with final lectures, field trips, and student presentations of their research projects. Students then travel by bus and ferry back to Juneau for their flights home.

For More Information
To obtain more information about the Juneau Icefield Research Program, visit the JIRP Web site or write to the address listed below.

Juneau Icefield Research Program
4616 25th Avenue NE, Suite 302
Seattle, WA  98105

E-mail: fger.jirp@juneauicefield.org
Website: http://www.juneauicefield.org



A view of Camp 18, perched on a nunatak high above the Gilkey Glacier, after a summer snowstorm


Hiking out to Atlin after two months on the Icefield, students cross a medial moraine on the Llewellyn Glacier