Research at the Wrangell Mountains Center




Ogives and Compression in the Root Glacier

Working with Professor Mike Loso of Alaska Pacific University, Nate Anderson came to McCarthy to study the Root Glacier as part of the work on his senior thesis. He joined us at the Wrangell Mountains Center for the summer of his research, contributing some part-time work in exchange for room and board. His research contributed to the first study of ogives on the Root Glacier. Ogives are topographical and banded ice waves that typically occur below large ice falls. Nate used a Heuke Drill to drill down into the ice, measured melt and velocity, and looked for evidence of compressing and folding where the icefall meets the lower portion of the glacier. 

Small Mammals

Karen Mager and three of her Earlham College students partnered with NPS to monitor the small animal populations in and around McCarthy. The Wrangell Mountains Center provided a base for their work, and the visiting researchers engaged the community with their study and even participated in local events such as the 4th of July Parade. Their research seeks to address an important question: what can voles tell us about environmental change? Because of their rapid lifecycles and high reproductive rates, these populations of small mammals are noticeably affected by changes in their environment, such as the availability of particular plant foods. In a study that worked within the national park’s goals of long-term monitoring, Karen Mager and her team set 200 live traps in two football-field sized grids and checked traps three times per day for four days at each site. Sampling locations included bog, shrub-tundra, and riparian forest, as well as the vicinity of the WMC headquarters at the Old Hardware Store. Throughout their summer of research, the team captured 428 voles and shrews. They hope to continue engaging with the WMC community and college students on future research. 


Kennicott Glacier Hydrology

William (Billy) Armstrong returned for his third summer in McCarthy in 2014, continuing work begun by his advisor, Bob Anderson, in 2000. A PhD candidate at the University of Colorado, Boulder, Billy Armstrong is collecting data on the Kennicott Glacier. During his stay, he engaged the local community with a presentation on the hydrology of the glacier. 

Rock Glaciers

Glaciologist Jack Holt brought a team of researchers from the Texas Institute for Geophysics to study the area’s rock glaciers. They stayed here at the Wrangell Mountains Center for a short time as they made aerial surveys to collect data on regions in and around the rock glaciers. 

Human-Bear Interaction in the Kennicott Valley

Leanne Phelps, an alumna of the Alaska Wildland Studies program, joined us in McCarthy for her masters degree research with University College London. The WMC offered her a work-trade agreement to cover a portion of her room and board during her research, and she spent the summer with us conducting interviews and surveys with local residents and visitors. From her research “Human-bear interaction in the Kennicott Valley: Conflict, attitudes, and bear safety,” Leanne Phelps created a series of informative films. 


Local Narratives in Wrangell Saint Elias National Park

Margot Higgins came to McCarthy to conduct research for her dissertation as a 4th year PhD candidate in Environmental Science, Policy and Management Department at UC Berkeley. Her experience in the Wrangells began in 2004, and her return to conduct her PhD research will help fill the research gap in the social sciences. Through interviews, archival research, and participant observation, she examined the role of local and national narratives in molding management conflicts in Wrangell Saint Elias National Park and Preserve. Her research also explored the role of the park’s local residents in monitoring changes in these lands. The WMC supported her work by providing housing for her research assistant, access to historic and primary source documents, and opportunity for community dialogue. 


Glacial Sliding

Tim Bartholomaus, Bob Anderson, Suzanne Anderson, and Jimmy Vonesh joined us from the University of Colorado’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research to study the movement of the Kennicott Glacier. Their study investigated the relationship between the annual drainage of Hidden Creek Lake and the sliding movement of Kennicott Glacier. The Wrangell Mountains Center provided the researchers with a base for their work as well as housing for two of the visiting scientists. During their stay, the researchers placed five GPS sensors in a line along the Kennicott Glacier and tracked its speed over the course of the summer. The also monitored the level of the Kennicott River and four ice-dammed lakes, including Hidden Creek Lake. Notably, they found that especially high rates of glacial sliding occurred in the days immediately preceding the draining of Hidden Creek Lake, suggesting the possibility of using this as an indicator of impending flooding.