Friday, May 27, 2011

Ice-worms, Boofs and Bunny-hops: The Beauty of May in AK

A handfull of us glued in thigh straps last week, huffing glue and MEK while drinking Moose Drool, I think it was, and eating Great Harvest peanut butter chocolate chip mega-cookies at Alaska Raft and Kayak.

Yes, quite a party with Jeff C., Toby S., and Tony P. We had to wait for the glue to dry and so didn't consummate the party the way we should have: with a run down Six Mile's Third Canyon boofing everything in sight with those new, cone-headed, long-tailed, 2011 Alpacka Rafts.

By the time the glue was dry I headed for the Harding Icefield with Amy (my snow algae grad student) and Melissa (my ice-worm student) and Tyler (undergrad assistant). It was an Alaska Pacific University research trip investigating glacier ecology.

The weather was sunny and interesting with some low blowing snow one morning and cooking sun the other. Our main objectives were to drill holes through the snow and into the underlying ice to anchor "ablation cables" for measuring snow melt over the summer using the steam drill:

We had the guys' and gals' tents. The gals' tent looked far more spacious than the guys', and the gals even managed to build a multi-walled wind block from the snow.

Another objective was to install a worm cam to shoot the emergence of ice worms as the season progresses and measure the light and temperatures simultaneously.

Basically we got up at 7 AM, melted snow, ate breakfast and headed out for our drilling project with the steam drill, a pressure cooker-like contraption that forces steam down a hose and so melts a hole in the ice and snow.

The skiing was great.

And the work crew stellar. They called the steam drill, "Hookie".

Tyler Katzmar, Hookie-meister.

We drilled about three dozen holes -- actually they drilled. I was just the supervisor/surveyer.

After we put in the holes, Amy fertilized her experimental plots to see if she can get more snow algae growth by adding nutrients to the snow.

We just worked on a small corner of the enormous icefield. Look closely in lower left to see the skiers.

After two nights on the Icefield we headed out, the gals a few hours ahead of the guys. The icefield was great traveling.

The gals had passed the Harding Icefield emergency shelter a couple hours ahead and would get down so far ahead of the guys that they went into town and got pizza and beer.

Spring had sprung and, boy, was the snow rotten on the trail.

And the bridge slick.

In the three nights we were away, spring had come.

I've written here about the Harding before and even after like my dozenth trip up there I am reminded of how much I like its Pleistocene austerity.

Skiing across its flats lets my mind wander through hypotheses big and small about why and where things live and grow up there, and this was one of the more productive 96 hours I've had there.

It's just that hike up and down with big loads that keeps me from returning every year instead of every other!

But the real reason for this post is to provoke readers with my fatbike's gearing arangement: a trials size dingle:

Look at the drive train! 16 T chainring and 16/18 T freewheel.

These are my two most-often used gears (1:1 and about 0.8:1) when riding wild. Since I only needed to shift two gears (and would need a chain tensioner anyway) I decided to do rear dingle rather than front dingle.

The derailleur is from my old teen-age Campy bike -- very retro.

I tested it today by riding the Brown Bear Trail on Hillside coming and going with ease.

Is it slow? You bet!

If I want fast I'll take my Pivot 429 out and rip, snort and roll. But for stability and crank and slo-mo fun this low geared dingle and 7 psi is just my ticket to ride.


  1. interested to know more about the science u did up there. and nice gears!

  2. Ah yes, the science. The main idea is to see if algae is responsible for increasing the amount of snow melt on the glacier. Thus we will first look to see if algal abundance and ablation correlate well as the season progresses; however, this could be simply because more melt means more water, and more water means more algae.

    So, we will also see if we can increase the amount of snow algae by fertilizing with Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and the two together. If this increases the amount of algae relative to the controls, then we know that the algae is limited in part by these nutrients. And if the snow melts more where we have increased the abundance of the algae, then we have good evidence that snow algae increase melt, particularly if albedo (i.e. reflection) is reduced by the increased presence of snow algae, as it is well known that reducing albedo increases snow melt.

    We also measured last winter's current accumulation of snow across a 4 km transect, and will revisit all summer long to see how the algae, ablation, albedo and ice worm abundances change over the course of the season and on the experimental plots.

    A previous grad student, Joe Thomas, found through his manipulation experiments that snow microbes and ice worms were positively correlated early in the summer but perhaps not later in the summer, although he may have not sampled long enough after his manipulations late in the summer to be sure. So this year we want to see how ice worms and snow microbes vary naturally.

  3. Love the bike!

    Seems like you'd throw the chain to the inside without more chain tension. Also, with those two gears you might as well go singlespeed.

    Vintage post, check.

    Single hydro, check.

    Contradictions writ large, check.

    Nice, very nice.

  4. B&P you have an excellent eye for bikey detail!

    It's a specialized craft meant for soft, steep (up), bumpy, and slow. A sort of off-trail & loaded cruiser. The small difference in gearing between low and hi are actually noticeable and welcome. But I will have to try a slightly bigger difference eventually.

    The next incarnation is a pugsly offset fork with a third cog: an 11 tooth. Right now the ride's no fun to the trailhead. And maybe the 18T front instead of the 16T.


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