Meg Yoder ’19 — Buck Lab Student-Faculty Collaborative Research Grant
Landing on the Kahiltna glacier in Denali National Park feels like landing inside the background of an Apple computer. The glacier looks like a sheet of paper that was crumpled and smoothed flat again, marred by immense snow bridge-covered crevasses. Out every window of our ski-equipped plane, mountains of unbelievable height soar far higher than anything I’ve seen in my entire life. Moments later we touch down on the surface; our work begins and does not stop until we’re back in the air nine days later.
First, we haul nearly two thousand pounds of scientific and personal gear up a hill from the skiway to where we’ll set up our camp. This comes as a rude awakening to our bodies that are more accustomed to sea level than the thin air available to us at almost 7000 feet. Scrambling about to set up, we probe for crevasses, then smooth out our circle of safety and erect tents, anchoring them to the snow with long bamboo stakes. We fire up the high-precision GPS base station, connecting to numerous space vehicles (I’d call them satellites but it seems the engineers wanted something more interesting). This will track our velocity, as the ice beneath our feet constantly moves. We make additional measurements around base camp, which we’ll revisit on our last day. I barely register that it’s past 10 PM; in the land of the midnight sun we could keep working around the clock if our bodies would let us.
When not outside conducting science, much of our time is spent inside our beloved Arctic Oven, the large orange kitchen tent where we gather to eat and relax. As a reluctant cook surrounded by some serious backcountry chefs, I claim the role of “water chef”. I like to think I was one of the more interesting faucets you’d ever meet: scuttling in and out of the tent with pots full of snow, stirring away as if preparing the most exquisite dishes, and discussing the various merits of slow-melted vs. fast-melted water. (Group consensus: no discernible difference.)
The next week is a blur of data collection, punctuated by sunscreen application and reapplication, and my copious consumption of Snickers bars. We deconstruct and reconstruct a weather station, carefully removing delicate instruments. These can somehow withstand years of subfreezing temperatures, strong winds, and high UV exposure, but could be harmed by our hands if not careful. We dig and dig and dig in the snow: a pit to put the base of the weather station in, pits to bury the station’s anchors, pits to sample snow and ice and to study stratigraphy and drill a firn core. Then we undig and undig and undig, filling in each pit as diligently as we created it. The glacier has enough dangers for mountaineers; we decide not to contribute.
The glacier appears solid, but I am taught to respect the chasms hiding in plain sight. We travel wearing skis on rope teams, spread out so that if one of us were to punch through, the others could stop the fall. The leader of the team probes ahead of her, searching for emptiness. But we’ve come armed with equipment even more advanced than a 3 meter long piece of metal, a ground penetrating radar system that can show us where the crevasses are. We use the GPR on the runway, where daily dozens of planes take off and land on a surface that is thinning, drawing closer to the openings beneath. While there are dangers associated with glacier travel, we aim to lessen them by showing the extent of the skiway crevasses to the National Park Service.
In this frozen environment, we take modern concepts and bring them back to basics. How will we take photos from above the glacier, in order to stitch them together and see how the ice subsides year to year? Drones require licenses and permits, so we channel our inner children and fly a kite. While it’s no ordinary kite, the primary colors and tail fluttering our behind it conjure up a strong nostalgia for days at the beach. Above snow rather than sand and water, the kite carries a camera pointed down on its string. As it joyfully bounces and swings, it snaps hundreds of photos, meanwhile we stand beneath and hope the wind prevails. There was surprisingly little wind during our trip. We launched the kite whenever we could, but often it was left fluttering like a baby bird just a few feet above the ground.
Safely back in the lab, our sunglasses tans fade as we process samples and read scientific journal articles. I think of what each of these scientists had to do to get the individual points on their figures. Which instrument malfunctioned, which samples did they have to re-run, who worked for eleven hours nonstop to make sure everything went according to plan? We learned the skills, but we also gained an appreciation for the determination and discomfort it takes to make scientific progress. (Can I put digging snow pits on my resume?)
Jamie Attanasio ’20 — Buck Lab Internship Grant
Henry Dodge ’18 — Buck Lab Student Research Grant
Research on potential wildlife corridor between the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and Makgadikgadi Pans National Park in Botswana, which may help recreate one of the largest wildlife migrations in southern Africa.
Research partner: Round River Conservation Studies
Arissa Moreno Ruiz ’18 — Buck Lab Community Engagement Grant
Community gardens project at Stanford Avalon Community Garden.
Stanford Avalon Community Garden is an eleven block community garden with 206 plots, located in the Watts neighborhood of South Los Angeles, a food desert with liquor stores and corner markets, but lacking fresh vegetables and fruits. At this garden, multiple generations of mostly low-income Latin@ immigrants come together to work together, to share knowledge and culture, and to relax. Due to climate change, California has been experiencing a climate-related drought and shortage of water, and water access and affordability is a problem for Stanford Avalon.
In this project, I conducted semi-structured surveys to gather some data on the demographics of the gardeners and their water usage. I also compiled stories into a photo-essay about the gardeners’ migration to the U.S., their families, their tierras, and their love for gardening and farming. These stories are a testament to the benefits of community gardens.