What we are all about

Living on the Edge is the field study of earthquakes, volcanoes, and other hazards where tectonic plates collide. Field studies focus on understanding the science behind natural hazards that lead to catastrophic events and subsequent loss of life. Fieldwork is aimed at recognizing hazards and understanding the processes behind the hazards. The blog chronicles the participants and their experiences in Alaska Summer 2009

Monday, June 29, 2009

Tangle Lakes and Upper Copper River Basin June 26-28

Ok this is the second post for today, these entries were written last night at our campground after an amazing red salmon bake -- the salmon were literally caught hours before we enjoyed them - what a day!

Tyler Willey

Hi all! So the last few days have definitely been full of adrenaline and excitement. As we ventured our way towards Tangle Lakes we got to experience a brief snow blizzard and rain. Upon arriving at the campsite, it was raining fairly heavy so we rushed to set up tents, and to set up a tarp over our picnic table using 2 trees and branches as poles. After eating dinner we got to go fishing in the lakes…and surprisingly people besides Garver caught fish! I started off the catching with a grayling, and soon after Tyler caught a nice lake trout. The night ended with me catching 2 grayling, Tyler 1 lake trout, Ben 1 grayling, and Alex 7 grayling on his fly rod in a nearby stream. The next day we split into 3 groups and were assigned quadrants in which we had to hike around and observe vegetation, sediment, rocks, and any wildlife. Each group plotted 10-15 points in their quadrant on an aerial map, and upon returning to camp at the end of the day all points were shared and each individual created a map showing the vegetation and old and new deltas of the river. My group, which included Tyler and Marisa, started off the plotting with quite a scare when nose high in brush we saw a “bear” climbing a tree, after further observation it was thought to be a wolverine, and upon learning wolverines don’t climb trees we concluded it HAD to be a beaver. As we safely left the area and continued on our wandering throughout the brush and hills, we soon learned that this bear/wolverine/beaver was really a porcupine, as Jacki and Garver had gone out to observe what we had seen. There were no other adrenaline rushing encounters for the rest of the day, and the only other real interesting wildlife sighting was a bald eagle flying overhead. We attempted to go out fishing, however the wind was too rough on the lake, so we soon decided to head back and finish our mapping projects. After waking up and leaving in the morning we went down the Copper River. We stopped at a large fishing wheel station where we saw the people capturing HUGE salmon. One of the fishermen we talked to explained how the process works, how to filet a salmon, and in the end even gave us 7 fish to take for dinner! It was so cool to see the King Salmon, and I soon discovered how heavy they were when I couldn’t even hold one up with my left hand! After finishing at the fishing wheels we then drove to Squirrel Lake, which is where we are staying for one night.

The days here never cease to amaze me, and I can’t wait to tell more stories as we continue our travels.

Talk to y’all soon!

Marisa Kwoczka

Greetings everyone! We have spent the past two nights at Tangle Lakes campsite. When we arrived there on Friday it was raining so we had to set up camp pretty quickly. I went fishing with Jackie, Garver, and Alex, but I somehow became separated from them and headed back to camp early for some smores. Saturday morning we slept in and had a late start to working on our topographic map of the campsite and beyond around Tangle Lakes.

The ten of us split into three groups and were assigned areas in which we had to hike around and observe vegetation, sediment, rocks, and wildlife if we saw any. I was grouped with Tyler Willey and Tyler Izykowski. As we started our hike, we thought we saw a small black bear on a tree in the distance and backed away. After watching this “bear” for a while, it seemed too small to actually be a bear and assumed it was a wolverine. Later on we discovered it was a porcupine. We hiked to two peninsulas and the only other wildlife we saw was a bald eagle flying overhead.  After a long, tiring day we drove to the Tangle Lakes Inn for dinner and I had a Delicious Fruit of the Forest pie mmm good! I went finishing afterwards and officially caught my first graying fish and reeled it in! Garver took some funny pictures of me being squeamish when holding the fish. This morning we left Tangle Lakes early and had a long drive to Copper River. The town Copper River was an old gold mining town and we looked at two small museums. Then we stopped at the actual river and met a man named Mike Sullivan who was fishing red and king salmon. He gave us seven red salmon to have for dinner! We watched him cut up the fish and I was able to hold the Red Salmon and the very large and heavy King Salmon. We ended our day at Squirrel Campground where we are staying for the night. Tomorrow we are going to Valdez to shower and do laundry before we take a ferry to Cordova! It will be the first time we are showering since we arrived! WOOHOO! Talk to ya in a few!

Isabel Zellweger

Hi!Hi! So it is our tenth night here in Alaska and we are at Squirrel Campground. We spent the past two nights at Tangle Lakes Campground, where we did a mapping project. Tangle Lakes is a cool campground set on an old river delta, which makes the area relatively flat, not to mention the bathrooms got a 9.3 out of 10 rating! At Tangle Lakes I made my first fishing cast ever, no luck though- but Tyler W. did! We got to Tangle Lakes, (after a drive which included snow!) on Friday and went on a hike that afternoon to get an overview of our project.  For our project, all of us were divided into three groups- all with their own area to survey. The object of our project was to create a topographic map of our areas and figure out the creation of that area. My partners were Taylor, Shabana, and Alex. Around noon yesterday the four of us set out on our journey to study the sediments, vegetation and wildlife in our area. Garver drove us to the Tangle Lakes Inn and dropped us off. From there we set out and surveyed ten areas before making our way back to camp. Luckily we did not see any bears, moose, caribou, or any large animals for that matter because I will admit I was a bit scared. However, going out into the field was awesome. It was really cool to go out on our own and think like a scientist. We finally made it back to camp where we worked on the actual maps and ate dinner.  Today we woke up to egg –a- muffins, packed up and got on the road. From Tangle Lakes to Squirrel Campground we made many stops. We stopped at Glenallen to get some gas followed by the town Copper River.  Our next stop, which was supposed to be a quick half an hour turned into a very interesting couple of hours. We went down to the bank of the Copper River where there were many fishing wheels. We met a man who generously gave us our delicious dinner- 7 red salmon. Tonight we are going to finish up our maps and head to bed because tomorrow we are waking up early to make our way to Valdez. In Valdez we are getting to take much needed showers and do some much needed laundry. Tomorrow afternoon we are taking a ferry to Cordova, where we will be spending some time. 

Shabana Hoosein

Hi everyone! The last time we blogged, we were just coming from Donnelly Campgrounds. Since then, we traveled to Tangle Lakes, which was the best yet! If it weren’t so rainy and cloudy it would be the absolute best. Upon arriving we set up our tents right away (in the rain) and got to work! We hiked up this really steep slope and when we got to the top we could see the entire campground! I’ve really come to like hiking because after all the sweating and heavy breathing, you get to the top feeling more accomplished than when you were at the bottom. Metaphorically, it brings across an appetizing feeling because it’s so fulfilling. So, I’m glad that we do a lot of hiking because I look forward to it every day (not good for the shin splints though :/). On this hike we found a patch of snow (which was pretty rare across the whole campground) and we slid down the hill. That was lots of fun! Our second day at Tangle Lakes was amazing! We got put into groups to make the area around the campgrounds. I was in a group of four with Alex, Taylor and Isy where we explored the deepest (and wettest) areas of the campgrounds. As the four of us walked down the road in our rubber boots, hiking attire, and field notebooks, it felt like we were in a scene from an expedition type of movie. As we got further and further into our site, I felt more and more like the guy from “Into the Wild” (especially when we saw an abandoned vehicle in the middle of the woods).  Being out on our own for the first time brought mixed feelings. It was exhilarating because it felt like we were real scientists mapping on our own and supplied with a walkie-talkie as our only source of communication to the outside world. It was sometimes intimidating because we did a lot of bushwhacking and some of the vegetation came above our heads. In this case, bears, moose or other wildlife could have come out of anywhere. In the end it was mostly lots of fun because we ended up singing at the top of our lungs the whole time to scare off bears and other wildlife. By the end of the mapping, we were so exhausted from an estimated 5 ½ hours in the field that covered approximately 7 miles. Nonetheless, that was an experience that I will definitely take back with me to Union and may keep it in mind when I’m looking for future jobs/internships. Tonight, we are in Squirrel Campgrounds for the night and we head off to Valdez tomorrow morning. Valdez will be the location where I’ll get to take my first shower since last Saturday! I’m pretty excited. After that we’ll be on a ferry to Cordova on the coats. Overall, I really am excited for our studies at the coast. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Tyler Izykowski

Hot diggidy dog! Good times here in Alaska! The tenth day of our journey has landed us at the Squirrel Creek Campground. We’ve just completed our northernmost leg of the trip and have made our way down from the Tangle Lakes region. At Tangle, we engaged in a mapping project that helped us identify the history of the landscape. We broke up into three groups and investigated three different regions of the area that corresponded to an aerial photo obtained from GoogleMaps prior to our trip. Each group used ground truthing (an extensive observational analysis of the relative elevation, vegetation, and substrate composition of a dozen or so locations in the region) in order to report back to camp for further group analysis. We determined that the bizarre topography of the Tangle Lakes region was most likely due to glacial processes. It became apparent that stagnant ice and sudden drop in lake levels had long lasting effects on the land and the river connecting Upper and Lower Tangle Lake. Later, we made a color coded map of the area to visually demonstrate the diverse topography of the region. The project overall was very interesting and made for a day of hands-on, do-it-yourself learning. Saturday night we dined at the Tangle River Inn, which was most unexpected and welcomed. After filling our guts with deluxe burgers and homemade pies, we retired for the night before our early departure in the morning. Sunday morning we left Tangle and travelled south along the historic Richardson Highway (oldest highway in the state) to “the hub of Alaska,” Copper Center. We visited the quaint village of less than 500 residents, stopping at a museum and getting a feeling of what gold rush Alaska might have been like before continuing our way along the Copper River. We stopped to observe some salmon wheeling and were pleasantly surprised to find a fisherman, Mike Sullivan, who was more than happy to show us the ropes. He gave us a brief description of how the salmon wheel works while he filleted freshly caught red salmon. I asked if he would mind if I gave it a try and gladly taught me to fillet a salmon. Then he unloaded about six 40-pound king salmon from his salmon wheel and had us try the fish eggs. Long story short, a little salt would have been nice. We said goodbye to Mike, but not before he supplied us with six red salmon as well as the fillets that I had cut, which made for an unbelievable dinner when we finally reached Squirrel Creek. We’re leaving early tomorrow morning for Valdez where we’ll be able to finally shower and do laundry and explore the city before catching the ferry to Cordova. Phew! I finally made a decent length blog entry. Alright, it’s getting late and I need to sleep off this salmon so until next time, you stay classy Planet Earth!


Hey Again!  So a lot has happened since I last wrote two days ago.  After we left Donnelly Creek we set out for Tangle Lakes.  This was a really nice campsite.  We had our tents set up on a hill tucked in behind a small tree line right along a small stream/ river.  It was incredible falling asleep to the sound of running water not 20 feet away.  Tangle was significantly different from our last campsite.  Here we were above the tree line, so the only trees we could see were the ones which were by our campsite and a few others spread out around the massive area of land behind us.  Tangle Lakes is located on (you got it) Tangle Lake, which was great for fishing and just relaxing.  It was beautiful.  After our first night at Tangle we got into three separate groups and set out to do something called ground truthing.  We did this in order to make sense of these air photomaps we had of the area.  After we walked around the area we colored in these air photos depending on what kind of topography and vegetation was located in various places on the map area.  This assignment was a lot of fun mostly because it gave us a chance as students to be on our own and do our thing by ourselves since the groups consisted only of the students on the trip.  We had a few possible bear sightings but they all turned out to either be a bush or a porcupine.  After the mapping project we woke up the next morning and set out for Squirrel Creek, which is where I am writing from right now.  On our way here we acted like tourists and stopped at a few small museums and lookouts which overviewed the new river plain we were entering.  We mostly followed the Copper River on the way to Squirrel Creek, and the views were absolutely incredible.  We got a chance to look at the Wrangell St. Elias mountain range and see a Shield Volcano (Mt. Wrangell) on our way up.  Before we got to our current camp we stopped at a salmon fishing spot where fishers used baskets to catch the salmon running along the river.  They used these ferris wheel like things which periodically dipped into the river and occasionally caught a salmon or two.  We got a chance to spend some time with a fisherman who was very kind and gave us 7 fresh Red Salmon which I can smell cooking as we speak.  The weather here in Squirrel Creek is awesome, Tangle Lakes was beautiful but it rained a lot.  Here it is sunny and the most rain we have gotten has been an occasional sun shower.  Izzy and I may go for a swim later, since this is the first spot that we have come to where swimming may actually be enjoyable and not painful.  Unfortunately we are only here for tonight and then tomorrow we are going to be moving on to Valdez where, thank god, we are going to get to shower and do some laundry (I can’t even imagine how bad we all must smell at this point haha.  A lot of us are excited to see Valdez because we have heard a ton about it since the pipeline ends here after its 800 mile journey from Prudhoe Bay in the north.  I have to admit I miss home a bit, but so far this trip has been more than I could have ever imagined.  I know home will always be there, but I am only gonna be in Alaska for so long.  I miss everyone at home and I hope wherever you are everything is going great.  I’ll write again soon, probably after we leave Cordova and Child’s Glacier.  Until then, stay safe!

- “Fancy” Ed Milde

p.s. 16 Moose, 3 Bald Eagles, A ton of weird Squirrels, 1 Caribou and 0 Bears (For Now)


Howdy Ya’ll…TOMORROW IS SHOWER DAY! It’s been a little over a week since we’ve taken hot water showers so when we go to Valdez tomorrow we’ll get to experience a long overdue washing. However, camping has been great so far and it's almost better to wake up every morning with bit of yesterdays grime on you. I can hardly believe that the trip is a third over; Time flies by so fast! The past few days were spent at Tangle Lakes and the group split up into three teams to map out an area of the campground. Each group had an air-photo and a designated area to hike through to help distinguish the different geological areas. Because Garver and Cockburn did not accompany us on the individual trips, the groups were given bear mace and a ‘bear banger’ (flare to scare bears) and a walkie-talkie just incase. There were no dangerous encounters, but one group saw a porcupine. The overall deduction (after the data was collected from each team) was that the campground sits on an old delta, and the present active channel is cutting down into it because of a sudden lowering of Lower Tangle Lake. The other areas have a dimpled texture as well as high unevenly distributed peaks, due to stagnant ice melting. The topography of the Tangle Lakes area was definitely affected by glacier ice melt draining. The field experience was great, but the best part of the day was probably eating at the Tangle Lakes Inn (deluxe burgers with fruit of the forest pie [a pie that has raspberries, strawberries, rhubarb, apples and blackberries]); it was delicious! Today was spent mostly in cars driving toward Valdez. The best stop we made was at Copper River, where there were people fishing salmon, using salmon-wheels. Can you believe that, if you are a resident of Alaska, you can catch salmon by picking them up out of the water with nets! We spend a few hours watching Mike Sullivan catch and filet King and Red Salmon. I just finished dinner (fresh Red Salmon, courtesy of Mike) and now have to complete my map of Tangle Lakes and its geologic areas (therefore short blog). We also get to take a ferry tomorrow so hopefully we’ll see a lot of marine life, or more exciting, a bear, once at Cordova.

Loving every minute of it,

-       Liz

Taylor LaBrecque

Hello again! It hasn’t been long since our last blog but we’ve definitely done a lot. Yesterday was the first day that we went off without the Professors to do group work. We set our tents up at Tangle Lakes campground and spent two nights there. The first day we arrived we took a hike to get an idea of the general area that we would be mapping the following day. Near the end of the hike we managed to find one of the only patches of snow in the campground and had a great time sliding down the very steep incline. Unfortunately the landing wasn’t quite as soft as we had imagined but repeated the process several times anyway. When we woke up in the morning we split up into three groups, each of us assigned to different portions of the Tangle Lakes area. The goal of the project was to take notes on both the vegetation and the different types of sediments that appeared throughout our hikes. We had to design our own paths to follow and unfortunately our group had a lot of swampland to cover. Although our rubber boots got waterlogged and received dozens of bug bites, we still had a great time. Our group consisted of three girls and Alex; I’m pretty sure after that hike he knows the lyrics to every Taylor Swift song. We sang the entire time and jingled our bells just to be sure that there wouldn’t be a bear encounter. We identified a lot of the same vegetation throughout most of the stops we made. This was mostly lichen, northern labrador tea, and specific species of willow and birch. The wetter parts and the peaks of the mountains had shorter trees. It was interesting how most of the ridges were covered with rocks instead of shrubs of vegetation like the sloping sides. Our group was accountable for the southeast corner, which was farthest from the campsite and the river delta. One of the reasons for doing the project was to see the differences in vegetation and relative altitude.  The area around the current delta used to be covered in water and we could see this by looking at the overall picture of Tangle Lakes. The entire lake has decreased by a couple meters and the river running into it adapted to the change by cutting into the sediment. We were actually camping on a portion of the old river delta. We learned a lot at Tangle Lakes; it was hard to take down the makeshift tent we put up above the picnic table and pack up camp. We spent most of today in the car traveling south. We stopped in a big fishing area that is known for its large numbers of salmon. We met a very friendly guy who ended up showing us about the spin wheel that many of the Alaskans use to fish. We got to see him filet some king salmon and he sent us off to cook seven fish for dinner. Best dinner yet! Tomorrow we get to explore Valdez and take showers. None of us can hide our excitement!

Can’t wait to shower!

-       Taylor LaBrecque

Alex Connell

Hey again! We have done a ton of fun stuff since we last talked. After packing up from Donnelly Creek we headed for Tangle Lakes Campgrounds, which has beautiful glacial topography and crystal clear lakes and streams. On our first night we went for a hike to get an overview of the land. The next morning we were split into 3 groups to survey the land by ourselves. This surveying is known as groundtruthing. It was really cool to actually do geological work to get a feel for how geologists construct a story about how different land formations are created and how these processes will affect the future of the land. Our group consisted of Taylor, Izzy, Shabana, and myself and our field area varied from tall hill peaks to low swampy areas. It was really fun and exciting trudging though the swamps and hill slopes singing songs and being loud so the local wildlife would stay away. Our group looked at the sediment, rock types, and vegetation to get an idea of how the different areas formed. I also was able to find a lot of carrioubu and moose bones incluing half a caribou antler! Once we finished that we combined all of our data to create a story of how the Tangle Lakes area was formed. Right now I am in the process of creating a map of the area showing how different areas of the land were formed. Also Tangle Lakes had great fishing and I caught my first fish on a fly rod with some guidance from Garver. Tell Granddad I caught 7 graylings so far. Also a couple of us brewed tea from the leaves of the Labrador plant that we found at the campgrounds that smelled and tasted great.

Today we left Tangle lakes and moved south towards Squirrel Campgrounds where we will be staying the night. Along the way we stopped at a local fishery that used fish wheels to catch massive king and red salmon. We met a fisherman named Mike Sullivan who was such a great guy. He showed us how everything was done at fish wheels from the catch to the filleting of the fish. I was able to try salmon cavier for the first time ever it was almost as fancy as Ed. He even let Tyler filet one of the fishes. Not to forget that we gave us 6 10 lb salmon! We ate like kings tonight, thank you Mike. Tomorrow we head out again to Valdez to catch a ferry to Cordova. I got to get back to my mapping I’ll talk to you again in Cordova!


PS Mom I get to shower tomorrow so I am not completely filthy.

Ben Carlson

We’ve reached just over a week into our amazing journey and yet it feels like we’ve been here for weeks already, which would make sense considering how much we have packed into our time here. We left Donnelly Creek two days ago in appalling weather, encountering snow, yes SNOW, on our drive to Tangle Lakes, significantly reducing our ability to be view the terrain surrounding us. However, upon reaching Tangle, we found a beautiful set of lakes flanked by ridges and a burbling creek that ran through the campground. Our first day consisted of a small hike along one of the ridges that ran by the edge of Lower Tangle to a small snowpack that remained from the winter where we sledded down on our butts with a group of kids from a student group repairing and cutting new trails through the bush. The big news of the last few days came yesterday, where we were set free (the professors amazingly trusted us with flare guns and pepper spray!) to map the topography and vegetation of the area surrounding the campground. Ed, Liz and I set out on our own for almost 5 hours recording vegetation, sediment characteristics and other elements of the terrain eventually allowing us to map out distinct sections of the landscape on our own. This trip was the first time we were set free to work on our own and really gave me a look into how this element of field geology would be practiced in an occupational setting. As time goes on I am finding myself more and more drawn to the field of geosciences and I may well be wrangled into their cult (you think I’m kidding). After two nights in Tangle Lakes, we took a day of travel to get within 80 miles of Valdez where we will get our first showers and do laundry in this busy oil port. We drove back down the Richardson highway through the “Hub of Alaska” (Glenallen) and on to the tiny old gold rush village of Copper Center which consisted of a VERY small museum, a little in, a garage and that’s about it. As you can tell, it has fallen pretty from its heyday of the early 20th century. We then drove to the banks of the Copper River, one of the biggest rivers in North America and the biggest un-dammed river in the continent. We ran into a local fisherman who runs a “fish-wheel”, a water-wheel-like contraption that spins with the river current and catches salmon running up stream in large baskets. He ended up giving us about $200 worth of fresh-caught salmon and I tried caviar (fish-eggs) for the first time. As described by Tyler, “it’s like a weird-tasting gusher that dissolves almost instantly”. It was strange for sure, an acquired taste I guess. Tomorrow we finally get clean (which is a good thing I guess) before getting on a ferry to Cordova and Childs Glacier (which I CAN’T WAIT FOR). There is much yet to come and it looks like its only gonna get better. Talk to ya’ll soon (looks like all that country music we’re listening to thanks to Garver is getting to me)!


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