Early in the morning of 7 June 2022, 28 glaciology students from around the world convened at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) for the sixth biennial International Summer School in Glaciology.
After a short welcome and introduction of the instructors, we lost no time and quickly got onto vans to start the long but very scenic drive to the small village of McCarthy, Alaska, where the programme would take place. After a bumpy 12 hour journey, we arrived in McCarthy and immediately fell in love with this unique and remote place. The village is a holdover from the copper boom of the early 20th century, surrounded by the largest National Park in the USA, Wrangell–St. Elias National Park. It can be accessed only by plane or by a footbridge at the end of a 60-mile dirt road. We students stayed in tent-city, set up in a wide grassland area a few walking minutes away from ‘downtown’ McCarthy.

Tent-city, our home during the summer school. © Johanna Klahold, all rights reserved

After we pitched our tents, we were warmly welcomed by the staff of the Wrangell Mountains Center (WMC), where we would spend most of our time during the next days. The WMC served not only as our working space and social club, but also as our dining hall. Our lectures were held in a log cabin called the ‘Porphry Place’, former home of glaciologist Edward LaChapelle.

Porphry Place, our lecture hall. © Johanna Klahold, all rights reserved

Each morning started with four hours of lectures covering a variety of glaciological topics, ranging from remote sensing techniques, glacier mass balance and meteorology, glacier dynamics, surging and tidewater glaciers, glacier hydrology and geology to ice-sheet modeling and inverse modeling. During our first afternoon, we covered the walls of the WMC with research posters of our PhD projects and held a small poster session to get to know each other’s research.

The remaining afternoons were dedicated to consolidating the material that was presented during the morning lectures through 2-hour long hands-on exercises. The rest of the afternoon was spent working on group projects. Groups of two students each were assigned one mini research project supervised by one of the course instructors. My project for example dealt with modeling subglacial hydrology of a mountain glacier. At the end of the summer school, each group presented their project in a small conference – it was impressive to see how much everyone had achieved in such a small period of time!

A highlight of the course was the one-day excursion onto the Root glacier, where we admired and examined various glacial features such as meltwater channels, moulins, and sediment covered ice structures that marked the position of former moulins. At the western margin of the Root glacier, there is a lake that forms annually and is dammed by the glacier. This year, the lake had drained just a few days prior to our arrival, which allowed us to explore the ice cave that had been formed by water cutting underneath the glacier.

The summer school also offered evening public lectures: Mark Vail, who has lived in McCarthy for several decades, talked about the history of McCarthy and Kennecott and the nearby glaciers, and course instructor Martin Truffer gave a talk about the future of Malaspina Glacier, ‘the big pancake on the other side of the mountains’. On other evenings, we would either gather in the WMC to play cards or make music together, play in the weekly Friday night softball game organized by McCarthy’s residents, or run the traditional glaciology summer school soccer game. On our last evening, we had a banquet dinner with delicious food and chose the winners of this year’s photo and video contest.

Finally, after a short night and quick pack in the morning, we had to leave McCarthy and begin our long journey back to Fairbanks, with minds full of new knowledge, new friends from around the world, and lots of happy memories to share.

Group picture of summer school participants and instructors on Root Glacier. © Johanna Klahold, all rights reserved

Johanna Klahold is a PhD student at the Institute of Earth Sciences, UniL. Her participation in the International Summer School of Glaciology was financially supported by the SPI.

Header photograph: Group picture of summer school participants and instructors on Root Glacier. © Johanna Klahold, all rights reserved