Field Study: Glaciers of Alaska

GEO 385/585 (3 credits)
Summer Session

This seven-day field study of glaciers in south-central Alaska includes an introduction to glacial processes and landforms and a viewing of different types of glaciers, including small cirque glaciers, valley glaciers, and glaciers calving into lakes and tidewater. This trip will include hiking! There will be hiking along the terminus of the glacier and onto the ice itself to view ice structures and modern glacial processes. For walking on glaciers, warm clothes, daypacks, and hiking boots are required. Hiking sticks are recommended for those who prefer more secure footing.

alaska1Day 1 –

Will involve a trip along the scenic Turnagain Arm fjord to Portage Lake and a boat trip to the terminus of the iceberg-calving Portage Glacier.

Day 2 –

A trip along the Seward highway, considered the most scenic highway in Alaska, to Exit Glacier. An all-day, seven-mile round-trip climb along the right side of the glacier to the Harding Icefield, the only trail in the world to visit an ice field on foot. In the evening, we will visit the Alaska Sealife Research Center in Seward.

Day 3 –

The third day will be a six-hour boat trip out of Whittier to view fjords and 23 tidewater glaciers in Prince William Sound (College Fjords). Whittier was connected to Anchorage in 2002 when the longest highway tunnel in North America was completed. Thus, everything you see here will be true Alaskan wilderness.

Day 4 –

On the fourth day we will drive two hours to Matanuska Glacier, which is one of a few Alaskan glaciers accessible by car. A professional guide will help lead you through a step-by-step approach to the art and technical know-how of ice climbing and glacier travel. We will then hike onto the mountain of ice and learn about glaciology, geology, and the natural history of the Matanuska Glacier.

Day 5 –

If weather makes this possible, we will drive to the town of Talkeetna, built to serve people aiming to climb Mount McKinley in Denali National Park. We will fly with mountain climbers in a small plane over Ruth Gorge and over the largest mountain glacier in the world, and land on a glacier on Mount McKinley. By doing Denali this way, we stand a better chance of seeing the mountain and have the pleasure of visiting a town with some character. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, we will visit wetlands and boreal forest sites around Anchorage, which will include a study of moose, bear, and salmon, and visit the Alaska Native Heritage Center in the afternoon.

Day 6 –

The last day will be a boat trip with National Park personnel to Kenai Fjords National Park. The Glacier-Wildlife cruise includes the Aialik or Holgate Glacier and the Chiswell Islands, a national wildlife refuge. The area includes over 100 species of birds, seals, sea otters, sea lions, puffins, and various species of orca and humpback whales.

alaska2We will stay in dorm room units, which include two bedrooms that share a bathroom at the University of Alaska in Anchorage. Days will be long and we will take advantage of the 20 hours of daylight. Each day, we will depart the dorms around 7 a.m. and expect to return late.

Cost will include everything: plane tickets, boat tickets, dorm, van rental, and park fees. You will need to pay for food, although lunch is included on our boat trips.