Monday, October 20, 2014
PLACERVILLE, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Sailing through stunning landscapes for science

By
July 11, 2013 |

Each year at this time thousands of tourists embark on cruises along Alaska stunning coastal waters. If they are lucky, the tourists experience dry weather, relatively calm seas, and breathtaking vistas. In some places the ships can get up close and personal to dramatic scenes of glaciers “calving” ice that breaks off and falls into the ocean. Although I’ve hiked up to glaciers in the Rockies and walked across them, I’ve never seen them entering the sea. I’d like to do that and have the notion recorded on my “bucket list” of things left to do ere I die.

The landscape visible to cruising tourists each summer is actually quite dynamic. If we could go back in time several hundred thousand years, the Alaskan coast would be a bit different than it is today. Glaciers do their work slowly by human standards, but over geologic time scales they impact whole landscapes.
This summer a scientific research vessel is plying the Alaskan waters along with the ships carrying tourists. The JOIDES Resolution is an ocean drilling vessel that will study glaciers and their effects on mountain-building processes. The ship left Victoria, B.C., in late May and will finish its work at the end of July. It will sample sediments from five places around the Gulf of Alaska. The plan is to study long-term climate change, the influence of such change on major glaciers, and the glaciers’ impact on mountain-building processes.
As we’ve known since around 1840, glaciers can move large amounts of rock and thus shape whole landscapes. The man who first really understood this effect was Louis Agassiz, who studied alpine “rivers of ice” in Switzerland.
Today we know that because they remove large quantities of rock from whole regions, glaciers can trigger uplift on relatively fast time-scales (at least fast to a geologist, on the order of a million years or less).
“Mountains grow when numerous faults thrust layers of rock on top of each other,” said Sean Gulick of the University of Texas at Austin in a press release from the National Science Foundation. “We’re asking whether this increases in locations with lots of erosion, such as beneath Alaska’s glaciers.”
Southern Alaska is a perfect place to study the ideas in question because of its large glaciers and rapidly rising mountains.
Some scientists on board the research vessel will study ocean floor sediment to look at changes in ocean circulation patterns over time. Such circulation may affect the carbon cycle of our planet as the Earth experiences repeated ice ages punctuated by warmer times.
Modern scientific research is often a complex business, involving teams of researchers, complex laboratory equipment, and sometimes even ocean-going drilling vessels like the JOIDES Resolution. But through such research we are learning a great deal about the history of our planet and how climate, glaciation, and mountain building processes are intertwined.
Now if only I could figure out how to get a berth on board a research ship headed to Alaska’s stunning coastal waters.
Dr. E. Kirsten Peters, a native of the rural Northwest, was trained as a geologist at Princeton and Harvard. This column is a service of the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University. 

Comments

Subscription Required

Thank you for reading the MtDemocrat.com digital edition. In order to continue reading this story please choose one of the following options.

Current Subscribers
If you are a current subscriber and wish to obtain access to MtDemocrat.com, please select the Subscriber Verification option below. If you already have a login, please select "Login" at the lower right corner of this box.

Subscriber Verification

Special Introductory Offer
For a short time we will be offering a discount to those who call us in order to obtain access to MtDemocrat.com and start your print subscription. Our customer support team will be standing by Monday through Friday, 8am to 5pm to assist you.

Call and Save! (530) 344-5000

If you are not a current subscriber and wish not to take advantage of our special introductory offer, please select the $12 monthly option below to obtain access to MtDemocrat.com and start your online subscription

Help?

E. Kirsten Peters

.

News

King Fire salvage operations continue

By Dawn Hodson | From Page: A1

 
Camino manhunt ongoing

By Cole Mayer | From Page: A1 | Gallery

Psychiatrist: Winkler has disorders

By Cole Mayer | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
Motorcycle fatal on Omo Ranch Road

By Cole Mayer | From Page: A1

 
McClintock fired up over fire and water

By Chris Daley | From Page: A1 | Gallery

Planning Commission halts Town Center apartments

By Julie Samrick | From Page: A3

 
Officials warn of jury duty warrant scam

By News Release | From Page: A3

.

Opinion

The balancing act: Figuring out the ballot

By Larry Weitzman | From Page: A4

 
Belltower: Oakland Aviation Museum

By Michael Raffety | From Page: A4

No to Prop. 45

By Mountain Democrat | From Page: A4

 
.

Letters

A double-edged opportunity for Cameron Park

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5

 
Kirk Smith for City Council

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5

Measure K

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5

 
Measure K goes too far

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5

Vote Penn for smart economic development

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5

 
Disappearing signs

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5

A bully

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5

 
.

Sports

Roundup: Oct 17, 2014

By Democrat Staff | From Page: A6

 
Union Mine jumps back in the saddle

By Scott Warden | From Page: A6

Cougar boys keep it rolling

By Mark Devaughn | From Page: A6 | Gallery

 
Golden Sierra runs out of time

By Cody Holliday | From Page: A6

Volleyball: El Dorado sweeps Griz

By Jerry Heinzer | From Page: A6

 
Schedule: Oct. 20-25, 2014

By Democrat Staff | From Page: A6

 
Oak Ridge drops third straight; playoffs in peril

By Jerry Heinzer | From Page: A7

Bruins’ 4th quarter lead slips way

By Mike Bush | From Page: A7

 
.

Prospecting

Dedication unites two kindred spirits

By Pat Lakey | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
New CD celebrates a life in Placerville

By Mike Roberts | From Page: B2 | Gallery

Juvenile Service Council is holding a golf tourney

By Juvenile Service Council | From Page: B2

 
As we were: All shook up

By Ken Deibert | From Page: B2

Food bank to hold hunger walk

By Food Bank Of El Dorado County | From Page: B3

 
High school district delivers 21st century classrooms

By El Dorado Union High School District | From Page: B3

Old Sac continues Day of the Dead celebration

By Old Sacramento | From Page: B4

 
Fantasy glides on the ice

By Disney On Ice | From Page: B10 | Gallery

 
.

Essentials

Crime Log: Oct. 7-11

By Cole Mayer | From Page: A2

 
Correction

By Cole Mayer | From Page: A2

Building permits 10/6-10/2014

By Michael Raffety | From Page: A2

 
.

Obituaries

.

Real Estate

.

Comics