Ice Core Drilling at Denali

Katherine Anderson's 2019 Experience at Denali National Park

In June 2019, I was able to participate in an ice core drilling project in Alaska's Denali National Park, thanks in part to mini-grant support from the Irving Institute. Our field team, organized by Dr. Erich Osterberg and Dr. Bess Koffman (Colby College), included Gabe Lewis, a Dartmouth Ph.D. student approaching his thesis defense, David Polashenski, a former Dartmouth undergraduate student, and Lena Hanschka, an undergraduate student at Colby College. 

We travelled to Denali National Park to drill a 50-meter ice core from the summit plateau of Mt. Hunter. Dartmouth researchers previously drilled an ice core (all the way to bedrock!) from this location in 2013. Analysis of this ice core found that snow accumulation at Mt. Hunter has doubled since 1840-1850, while snowmelt rates have increased 60-fold (Winski et al., 2017; Winski et al., 2018). This summer, we completed field work to drill a new ice core to update and extend the original ice core record to the present day. This record will allow our research group to continue tracking modern changes in snow accumulation and snow melt, which have important implications for water resources in Alaska, including hydroelectric power resources.

While acclimatizing to the elevation on Kahiltna Glacier along one of the main climbing routes to the summit of Denali, we field-tested a brand new shallow ice core drill, the Stampfli 2-Inch Drill, which the U.S. Ice Drilling Program provided. After camping at Denali Base Camp (elevation 7,500') for a few days, our group travelled up the glacier with skis, ropes, and sleds to Camp 1 and Camp 2 (11,000') to continue acclimatizing. Gabe and David travelled to Mt. Hunter (drill site elevation ~13,000'), where they spent about a week acquiring a 50-meter ice core. A National Park Service helicopter airlifted the ice core boxes down to Denali Base Camp, and the cores ultimately made it safely to Dartmouth's ice core freezer a few weeks later. Processing and melting of the core are still to come. 

Supporting this ice core drilling project was a highlight of my graduate studies at Dartmouth; this was my main opportunity for ice core fieldwork during my short Master's tenure. Though my research mainly focuses on an ice core from the South Pole, the hands-on experience I acquired in Alaska helped me to develop new field skills and better appreciate the on-the-ground legwork which makes my research possible. I am excited to hear about the results of this project from other Dartmouth undergraduate and graduate students in the years to come.