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

Friday, July 3, 2009

Update from Cordova - June 29 - July 3

Palin announces her resignation at the end of July - the town's a buzz!!

Another update!  We are in Cordova for the afternoon to investigate the aftermath of the 1964 Earthquake - they had to relocate the harbour.  The students have a reported on their first few days on the Copper River Delta -very exciting stuff!  Keep the comments coming -they are very popular.

Liz Morgan

What a crazy past few days this has been. Since I’ve last blogged, we’ve been spending our time on the Copper River Delta, exploring it in all its majesty. As we were leaving the campsite from Childs Glacier we saw two U.S. Geological Survey workers collecting data from a station on bridge 340; they were measuring stage (height) of the Copper River as it travelled past the bridge. The one man, Tim Brabets told us that since 1970 the river has changed route and bridges that once had a lot of discharge now have nearly none. Other bridges now have more discharge than they know what to do with. This posses a threat of under cutting the bridges that were not designed to uptake that much stress. Tim took us through a cornucopia of steps on how the stream is gauged and how those measurements are calculated through conversation standards, which in turn are published in professional papers by the USGS. The gauge itself weights 150 lbs, about 100 times more than the instrument we use at school during labs to measure local rivers and creeks! Both men were wearing really cool hats. People in Alaska are really polite and almost always ready to strike up conversation. We’re going into town tomorrow and then off to another ferry. This trip gets better and better every day.

Tyler Izykowskis

Well well, we meet again… So after we left Squirrel Creek Campground, we travelled to the city of Valdez. We visited the original location of Valdez, which was destroyed in the 1964 earthquake by a local tsunami, before arriving to the new relocated city of Valdez to catch a ferry to Cordova. On the three-hour long ferry ride, I caught some Z’s and then helped the United States Forestry Service Ranger teach little kids about glacial processes. It seemed a bit over their heads but the ranger gave me an "I heart the Chugach" pencil and a lollipop so it all worked out. We anchored in Cordova and drove along the Copper River Highway where we saw our first bear, a huge grizzly bear chilling on the side of the road, before arriving at our campground directly across the river from Child’s Glacier. This was most excellent because the glacier calved what seemed like every five minutes and echoed through the campground as massive chunks of ice sheered off into the Copper. We spent the next day mapping the substrate composition of the glacier and old Copper River basin. We had an awesome dinner of quesadillas down by the river and watched the glacier continue to calve. Definitely a memorable experience! The next day we pulled up stakes and left the campground for the McKinley Trail Cabin about 30 miles away. We looked at the Million Dollar Bridge on our way and talked about how it was misaligned when it was restored 40 years after it was destroyed in the 1964 earthquake. It’s been pretty sweet so far here at the McKinley Lodge, stuffing 10 people into a four-person cabin like some kind of cornucopia of geoscience love. We spent today looking at stratographic sequences and taking tree core samples in the Alaganik Slough to understand the response of the landscape to seismic uplift and subsidence. We’re spending part of the day tomorrow in the town of Cordova and then leaving Saturday for Whittier. Woo, it doesn’t get any better than this!

Taylor LaBrecque

Since the last time we blogged… I SPOTTED THE FIRST BEAR!  We were on our way to Child’s glacier campground and were told to keep our eyes open because we were in “bear country”.  Sure enough about a half hour from the campground we saw our first bear, which was so much larger than I ever could have imagined. It sat patiently across the lake as we took pictures and videos of it. It was definitely one of the most exciting events on this trip so far, because bears are by far my favorite animals. Child’s Glacier also turned out to be pretty amazing. Our group spent hours watching it calve off into the Copper River. In 1993 there was such a large piece of ice that fell from the glacier that it created a 30 ft wave. This wave took out most of the campground we were sleeping on. Watching the calving glacier consistently mesmerized us for hours each night before we retired to our sleeping bags. It was tough to leave that campsite, even though the mosquitoes were so threatening that I had to bring out my mosquito mask. Today we spent our entire day in the Alaganik Slough taking a cornucopia of tree core samples. This was really interesting; from the cores we could get insight into how the trees in the area responded to seismic events such as uplift and subsidence. It was really cool to be able to compare the cores to see how the 1964 earthquake affected the trees differently. I’ve been learning so much on this trip and I can’t wait to see what’s up next.

Ben Carlson

After a fun and fantastic few days since our last blog, I’ve got a lot to catch up on. On our way to Childs Glacier, we spent a day in Valdez (yes the same Valdez of the famous oil spill in the late 80’s) before taking a ferry to Cordova and onto Childs. Despite Valdez being a huge oil port, the town is nothing of note, a typical medium sized town that relies heavily on fishing. You really get a sense for how small the Alaska population is (~600,000). Upon reaching Childs Glacier, we completed our second mapping project by mapping different sediment deposits left by the Copper River. We found that the river’s banks used to extend far beyond their current reaches and that runoff from the top of the glacier had created its own river channels after the Copper had shrunk; all this from looking at dirt! Both on our drives and campsites, the cornucopia of wildlife continues to amaze. We saw our first grizzly bear, which, despite its cuddly looks, was one of the most impressive creatures I have ever laid eyes on. We’ve also seen a number of bald eagles (as Garver says, they’re like crows up here) and the fish continue to fly, at least at Garver’s lure J. It seems like just yesterday that I was thinking how many awesome days I have ahead yet I’m already wishing it would never end. I’m still itching to get to Kodiak and there will be more adventures than I can count to come for sure. But until then, I’m just lovin life in the great north!

Isabel Zellweger

Hi! Hi! There have been many things we have done since our last blog. After Squirrel Campground we traveled down to Valdez. On the way we stopped at Old Valdez, which was pretty cool to see. Old Valdez was a city that was destroyed by a local tsunami caused by the 1964 earthquake. In Valdez, before we got on the ferry to Cordova we got to take our showers and do laundry…very nice. After an enjoyable 3 hour ferry ride we arrived in Cordova and drove to Childs Glacier. Being at Childs Glacier was pretty remarkable because we got to watch the glacial processes of caving. Childs Glacier actively caves because the Copper River erodes into it. The Childs Glacier advances about 200 ft per day, so this caving is pretty important or else our campground would have been covered by ice. The next day we did a mapping project on Childs Glacier dealing with the past route of Copper River. On Wednesday we left Childs Glacier and had a short drive to McKinley Cabin on the Alaganik Slough. Today we explored the Alaganik slough and took many tree core samples to see the effects of the 1964 earthquake on the growing patterns of sitka spruce trees. Also, thanks to Taylor we saw our first bear! Very exciting! 

PS- I’m learning a cornucopia of new country songs! HOT DIGITY DAWG!

Alex Connell

Hey again, I have been having a great time since we last talked. We have moved south to Cordova. During the trip we crossed over the beautiful Chugach Mountain range. This range has risen over millions of years from the pacific tectonic plate subducting beneath the North American plate. This subducting also creates massive earthquakes in excess of 8.0 approximately every 300 years. This last happened in 1964 during the great Alaskan Earthquake, this massive earthquake created a cornucopia of problems for Alaskan residents from tectonic shaking, to massive tsunamis. The effects of this earthquake really hit home when we went to old Valdez, which was completely destroyed by a tsunami created by the 1964 earthquake. Seeing the foundations of the buildings was quite spooky and made me realize the serious geologic dangers Alaskans face. We are now on the Copper River looking at soil horizons and tree cores in order to understand how these tectonic events affect the landscape and vegetation in this area. Next time I talk to you I’ll be in Kodiak!

Ed Milde

Hey Guys!  The trip has only gotten better since the last time I wrote.  So far we have made our way down south to the shore.  We took an awesome ferry from Valdez to Cordova.  We passed by the Exxon Valdez spill site, which was a little sobering to see even though the effects weren’t visible anymore.  We spent two nights at the Childs Glacier campsite.  This was easily my favorite part of the trip, mostly because on our way into the site we spotted a grizzly bear across a pond chilling along the rode.  We got incredible pictures and must have watched it for 10 minutes before it finally walked into the woods.  Then we set up camp right across the river from Childs Glacier.  This glacier is special because it terminates directly into the Copper River.  So as the glacier flows out daily huge chunks of ice calve off of the glacier as the quickly flowing river eats away at the constantly advancing ice face.  Spent hours just watching humongous faces of ice slam into the Copper River right before our eyes.  When we went to sleep there was one so big that our tents shook.  We had to set up camp further inland instead of camping right across the river from the glacier because apparently in 1993 the calving ice created a wave 30 feet high.  As you can see the trip has been incredible, and it just keeps getting better.  I am getting to know everyone very well, and I love sharing this cornucopia of experiences with such a great group of people.  Like always I hope everything I going well wherever you may be.  I’ll talk to you again soon when we are on Kodiak.  Later guys!

p.s.  18 Moose, 8 Bald Eagles, 1 Caribou, and 1 BEAR!  haha (For Now)   

Shabana Hoosein

Oh hey there guys! Everything is great here in Alaska! We’re going on our 14th day tomorrow. These past days have been pretty intense in terms of learning. We’ve worked on our second mapping project at Childs Glacier and today we spent the whole day coring trees. Its so surprising to see how different all of these places are in Alaska. We’ve only been to two different campgrounds on the coast so far, but they are distinctively different. Child’s Glacier was…well, a glacier! Regardless, it had a lot more rocks than I had expected. There was a crazy amount of mosquitoes on the campgrounds too. Right now we’re by the Alaganik Slough, which still has a good amount of mosquitoes (not as many as before though). The land composition is swampier and muddy/clay-like here. Its swampy here because its experiencing interseismic deposition. So basically, the land jerked up during the 1964 earthquake and it is now slowly subsiding. As it subsides water gets drained back into the soil, making it more like clay and less likely for vegetation to survive in it.  Both places are still absolutely breath taking. I’ve never seen anything like it before. Child’s Glacier was calving approx. every 15 minutes and the swampy waters of the Alaganik Slough are bright turquoise. I’m so glad that I have the opportunity to come out here and really indulge in the simple, but true beauties of the world. I know that there is a cornucopia of great beauties to come! Next stop Kodiak Island!

-Shuh Bang, Shuh Bop Bop, Shabana J

Tyler Willey

Hey all! So I am currently out of breath after outrunning a park ranger in the woods with Ben for our expired/lack of fishing licenses.  Don't worry we were successful in finding Garver who showed us some new findings that related to our tree coring exercises we did today along the Alaganik Slough, and by the time the ranger found us and talked to Garver she didn't even question about our licenses. So, we are currently staying in a (very small) cabin along the Alaganik Slough and spent the day coring trees to see if the uplift caused by the 1964 earthquake put stress on the tree growth, or if it allowed for new habitats to be formed.  Besides coring the trees we also examined sediment layers to see the periods of uplift (coseismic events), and periods of subsidence (interseismic events). Our days before arriving at the Alaganik Slough were spent mapping how Child’s Glacier and the Copper River have interacted together and changed over the years.  Child’s Glacier was way different then the other glaciers we have visited in the sense that it sounded like we were getting a constant thunderstorm at our campsite due to huge chunks of ice calving and crashing into the river. Upon climbing the glacier for mapping there were huge crevasses and it proved difficult to walk very far onto the glacier around these cracks. The only downside to the beauty and fun we have had at these sites is the cornucopia of mosquitoes and gnats that are constantly biting you inside and outside the cars and tents.  Well, only 2 more nights of these intense bugs before we finally head off to the highly anticipated Kodiak Island (Big Fishing supposedly!!).

Catch y’all laters!

-T-Dubs Willey

Marisa Kwoczka

Greetings everyone! So far I have been having a blast here in Alaska! I can’t believe we have been here two weeks! After our group left Squirrel Camp ground, we arrived at Child’s Glacier at the Copper River. We were able to observe the glacier caving right in front of us! Every time a chunk of ice fell, it sounded like a tremendous thunderstorm. Child’s Glacier moves about 200 feet a day but the Copper River runs through it preventing the glacier from entering our campsite. On Tuesday we hiked part of the glacier and did a topographic map of the surrounding area. We left Child’s Glacier on Wednesday and made our way towards the Alaganik Slough and the Chugach National Forest cabin. Around here, we have been taking tree ring samplings and have continued to study the after affects of the 1964 tsunami. We have come across a cornucopia of insects while being in the Copper River Delta, the Alaganik Slough, and the Chugach National Forest. The mosquitoes are killer! I am really excited to go to Kodiak in a couple of days so talk to ya when we are on the ferry!


  1. "Cornucopia"- a word used by all of you in the latest blogs and a perfect descriptor of so many aspects of your trip! I love it. I wonder if what the next common word in your blogs will be. Here's to many more adventures! (Corona raised).

  2. I too enjoyed the "cornicopium" (more than one cornicopia?) of descriptions of your latest adventures. The sense of excitement and fun really comes through and brought me a cornicopia of smiles. Stay safe.
    Jackie's Mom

  3. Hey Alex
    The heck with all this work how about more fishing! Tell your instructors you need more free time to catch one of those big King Salmon. I told you I should have come along with you I could have been your fishing guide. Going to the Sox game tonight with your rents only one game up on the yanks but Pedroia, Bay, Youk, Beckett, Pap and best of all Wake made the all star team!!

    Uncle Allan

  4. I was glad to get back from our sunny weekend here in Maine (yes sunny) and find a new blog. What is up with the Cornucopia word? Sounds like the trip is really going well. I can't wait to see all the pictures you have when you guys get back. Sounds like a good thing we packed that bug net Tay!!!!

    Keep up the good work and can't wait to see you.

    Clare LaBrecque