Today we hiked from Pangboche to Periche, only a 2 hour hike.  Yesterday we hiked about 5 hours down to the valley floor, crossed the river, and then came back up, gaining only 200 m net elevation. From now on we’re going up so taking care to build in a little rest time. The plan is to acclimatize here in Pheriche (4240m) overnight then hike up to Pyramid (4970 m), the worlds highest meteorological station (I think). Well spend two nights there acclimatizing and then head to the Changri Nup base camp and start the data collection!

For reference, here’s the last part of our trek in. You can see Khumjung where we were 2 nights ago, Pangboche where we were last night, and Pheriche where I’m writing from. Pyramid Station is also labeled, near the ring finger in this pic.


Yesterday on the trail I saw one of my boxes of scientific gear go by! This box contains a 400 MHz ground penetrating radar as well as a few other instruments. Masters student Josh Maurer is on the left.


Pheriche in the distance

Pheriche in the distance

On the way to Pheriche this morning

On the way to Pheriche this morning

I’ve been enjoying the hike in (very different from taking a plane or helicopter to my field sites) and am looking forward to our day at Pyramid when we’ll be programming temperature sensors, etc. for the field.
Prof. Mike Dorais (BYU geology prof) has been teaching us about the geology along the way. The first night we all sat around a geologic map of Nepal and learned about how the Himalayas formed (and why there’s a yellow stripe of sedimentary rock at the top of Everest!). And he’s pointed out a few neat rocks along the trail.

I’ve enjoyed hiking and socializing with such accomplished scientists on the trek in and have been having very enlightening conversations about the importance of collaboration in science, why different people chose careers in glaciology, what the other grad students see as being next for them, etc.  Thanks for reading! Will update again when possible!

Alexandra is on her way to the remote field site in the Khumbu Region. She only has intermittent internet access and managed to email us some photos of her journey. Scroll down for a sight of Mt. Everest!

Morning in Khumjung

Morning in Khumjung

On the trail

On the trail

Another trail shot

Another trail shot

Me at our first view of Everest (on the left!)

Me at our first view of Everest (on the left!)




Update from Nepal

We flew to Lukla airport on Saturday, without any weather delays which are usually quite common. The plane fits about 12-15 people, two pilots, and one flight attendant who told us before taking off: “the flying time is 30 minutes and the weather is high turbulence.” But it was much smoother than I expected!


Waiting at bag check at Kathmandu airport on Sunday

Flying to Lukla from Kathmandu

Flying to Lukla from Kathmandu

Me at the Lukla airport

Me at the Lukla airport

From Lukla, we started on our trek to our field camp at changri nup glacier. We follow the trek to Everest base camp for several days but then diverge and go northwest instead of onto the Khumbu glacier.  Last night we hiked 3 hr from Lukla and stayed in Phakding (2610m).  

Phakding (where we stayed saturday night, 2610 m, 3 hr from Lukla)

Phakding (where we stayed saturday night, 2610 m, 3 hr from Lukla)

Today we hiked to Namche bazar (3440m) for lunch and we are staying in Khumjung (3780m) for the night.  

Namche Bazar (the biggest town on the trek, 3440 m, 5 hr from Phakding)

Namche Bazar (the biggest town on the trek, 3440 m, 5 hr from Phakding)

The towns in the Khumbu have lodges and restaurants as well as gift shops for tourists. It feels strange to be so far into the mountains with some amenities!  There’s no heating and the plumbing is pretty limited, but we’re sleeping in lodges every night with delicious food. And we’re having lots and lots of tea at tea houses en route.

Namche Bazar

Namche Bazar

We’re taking our time to acclimate to altitude. Our porters will meet us at the pyramid research station with our scientific gear and the rest of our cold weather gear (I’m carrying only about 40 lbs of gear now).  

Standing at the entrance to Khumjung Village with Sonam Futi Sherpa, the only other female member of the field team. Sonam is a second year masters student in glaciology at Kathmandu University. Khumjung is her home town; we're staying in the lodge her parents own and run.

Standing at the entrance to Khumjung Village with Sonam Futi Sherpa (left), where we’re staying Sunday night. Sonam is a second year masters student in glaciology at Kathmandu University and the only other female member of the field team. Khumjung is her home town; we’re staying in the lodge her parents own and run.

Namaste! I am writing from Kathmandu, Nepal, where I am preparing for my field season on Changri Nup glacier in the Khumbu Region. I arrived on Monday and have had a busy week so far. I will try to summarize it and share details on (A) meeting collaborators, (B) preparing instruments for the field, and (C) seeing a few of the sights here in the city.

Welcome sign at the airport.

To put all of this in context, I think I need to start with a bit of science and explain why I’m here in the first place. The high mountains of Asia contain more snow and ice than any area outside the Arctic and Antarctic, earning them the distinction of being called the world’s “Third Pole.” Glaciers comprise an active part of the water system, contributing melt to 10 major Asian river systems that supply 20% of the world’s population. For a variety of reasons including political instability, remoteness, and extreme terrain, few comprehensive or long-term studies have been conducted on the region’s ice. Consequently, large unknowns about glaciers, as well as the amount and timing of their river contributions, remain. This is a problem because many, many people depend on the water in this region.

Complicating matters, some regions of High Mountain Asia contain a large proportion of “debris-covered glaciers,” glaciers that are covered in rocks. The debris at their surface affects when and by how much they’re melting. Thin debris darkens the surface of the ice and snow and makes it melt faster than it would otherwise. But very thick debris acts like a blanket and keeps the ice and snow from melting as quickly. Thus, in addition to having the energy fluxes typical at a glacier surface (for example, the shortwave radiation from the sun), it is also necessary to contend with the conductive heat flux through the debris.

I’m interested in finding out how much debris-covered glaciers are melting and how we can model them effectively. We can’t apply the same models that we apply to clean glaciers since the debris has a significant impact on the energy balance. To calibrate the energy/melt model and also validate some of its results, we need data from the field. Starting on Saturday, I will join 11 others for a field season at Changri Nup glacier near Mt. Everest.

Prof. Mike Dorais and Josh Maurer, a masters student, are the other Americans on the research expedition and are both based at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. Josh is writing his thesis contrasting trends in debris-covered and clean glaciers from satellite imagery and is advised by my external committee member, Prof. Summer Rupper. Mike is a professor of igneous petrology with tons of high-altitude experience. The three of us are the only Americans on the expedition; we’re joining up with 2 Nepali scientists, 1 researcher from Canada, and 6 from France.

Prof. Mike Dorais of BYU and I checking out Patan Durbar Square after our arrival on Monday (photo cred: Josh Maurer).

I met Mike and Josh both briefly before departing for Asia, but we met the other field team members on Wednesday. Dr. Patrick Wagnon, leading the entire expedition, invited us to his home, where we packed all scientific gear, reviewed our itinerary, and got to know one another over a tri-lingual dinner.

Each sub-team has a specific aim, although they all complement one another. I am interested in developing a more accurate way to model the energy balance at the surface of debris-covered glaciers and hope to do that through expanding our knowledge of debris thickness and debris properties. In the field, we’ll be collecting surface temperature readings to compare with ones recorded by a satellite that NASA has kindly agreed to have take pictures of Changri Nup while we’re there. We will also be measuring the thickness of the debris cover via the physically-strenuous methods of digging holes and hauling ground penetrating radar (GPR) antennas across the debris. And, finally, we’ll be deploying temperature and humidity sensors in the debris to make measurements every 30 minutes until I (hopefully) come back to collect them in a year.

Mike and Josh testing and packing science equipment in our hotel.

The temperature and humidity instrument prep was relatively smooth; we had to ensure that all of the iButtons could be programmed using our software and that we had appropriate points on our GPS. But the GPR prep proved a little more difficult. In order to run the GPR in the mode we want to, we need to drag it on something flat. It’s common to drag the GPR antenna in a sled weighted by rocks, which keep it in contact with the surface. A $3 sled from WalMart seems like an absurd thing to check on an airplane, right? Especially since we had 5 days of prep in a major city where we could easily find a sled?

Wrong. There are no sleds in Kathmandu. If this is as perplexing to you as it was to me, consider this: it doesn’t really snow in the city. Furthermore, sleds are not used to haul gear in the mountains as they are in many other ranges because the mountains are just way too steep. After visiting countless gear shops in Thamel asking for “a plastic box to pull on snow,” we decided to follow a suggestion to visit Bhat-Bhateni, even though we didn’t know what it was.


A 20-minute cab ride, drastically increased heart rates, and 300 rupees later, we found ourselves at a Nepali department store. After inspecting every plastic suitcase for how easily it could be split in half and turned into two sleds, we went to the second floor and found plastic containers! Some were large enough to hold the 400 MHz and 900 MHz GPR antennas and had the smooth bottoms and curved fronts that we were looking for.

The closest thing to a snow sled in Kathmandu, Nepal? Baby baths. When we met up with the French group, we learned that they had completed ice GPR several years ago dragging a baby bath, as well!

The rest of the GPR prep went well; despite being inspected by China Southern Airlines in Guangzhou or Kathmandu, everything still works! And, as I write, it’s on its way up to the field camp with our sherpas.

The pictures can do this section better justice than words. In between work, we have made it out to see Patan Durbar Square, Swayambhunath, and Hanuman Dhoka Durbar Square.  We also plan to check out Boudhanath before we head to the mountains.

Patan Durbar Square, the royal square of Lalitpur’s Malla Kings.

Swayambhunath, known colloquially as “Monkey Temple,” is a Buddhist pilgrimage site and the site of a stupa, a monastery, and several temples (and a great view). There are monkeys everywhere; note the small one swinging down the rope on the stupa!

Hanuman Dhoka Durbar Square, a square with the buildings of medieval royalty.

My friend Kate Voss from the AMS Policy Colloquium is passing through Kathmandu after finishing up her season’s fieldwork on hydrology, land classification, and water management, so she showed me her favorite spot for open momos!

On Saturday, we will fly to Lukla and begin the trek from the Lukla airport up to Pyramid Research station. En route, we will stay in Pharping, Namche, Tengboche, and Pheriche. By the 21st, the hope is that the group is acclimated well enough to commence 10 days of fieldwork at Changri Nup (17,500 ft). Following that, a small group of us will continue on to the second field site at Mera Glacier and then return via Lukla in mid-December.


A quick re-blog about a paper published on my research on damselflies. (Yes, I do study things other than Arctic mosquitoes.)

Originally posted on Entomology Today:

Previous studies have shown that warming temperatures make insects eat more and grow faster. In fact, scientists often measure the effects of temperature on insect growth to predict how climate change will affect their distribution and abundance.

However, a new study from Dartmouth College indicates that other factors — in this case, fear — play a role as well, and some can actually decrease the rate of growth.

“In other words, it’s less about temperature and more about the overall environmental conditions that shape the growth, survival, and distribution of insects,” said Lauren Culler, lead author of the study, which was published in the journal Oecologia.

Culler and her colleagues looked at how fear, which typically lowers food consumption and growth rate, affects an insect’s response to warming temperatures. They brought damselfly nymphs into the lab and measured how much they ate and grew at different temperatures, and how…

View original 150 more words

A few weeks ago, I was setting up some curious equipment that looked like sunny-side-up eggs on wires. One hundred of them on the tundra overlooking a glacier.


They were for the Global Dryas Project, which is a collaboration among arctic scientists and residents to study pollination and seed production of Dryas flowers. The sunny-side-up eggs were pollinator sticky traps made to resemble these beautiful white and yellow flowers.


Dryas flowers

I wondered if pollinators around here would actually fall for the faux flowers.  They did! When I brought the “flowers” out to the study area, it was like bringing free pizza to starving grad students. Flies started landing on them before I even had a chance to set up the plots.


Flies on the faux flower sticky traps.

With the sticky traps, we now have a better idea of what insects visit and potentially pollinate Dryas in Greenland. These results and other data will be sent to the project organizers at the University of Helsinki in Finland.

It is great to squeeze as much as much science as possible out of a Greenland field season and to learn more about pollination across the Arctic. I look forward to seeing the results from the other participants.

More information about the Global Dryas Project:


http://www.sciencemag.org/content/345/6196/492.full (need Science subscription).

Flying South

One of the most incredible parts about spending an entire field season in Greenland has been getting to see how dynamic this landscape can be. We’ve watched icy lakes melt, flowering plants bloom, wither, and bear fruit, rivers rise and fall, mosquitoes swarm and dissipate, and nights darken. One of my favorite changes of all to watch was the progression of the breeding season of the Lapland longspur (Calcarius lapponicus).

Lapland longspur (male)

Lapland longspur (male)

Since the start of the season, these migratory songbirds have always been somewhere nearby in the tundra. When we arrived in early June, the male longspurs could dependably be found singing from their perches on willow branches. As Ruth and I were hiking in to one of her sites one day in early June, we flushed a female out of the shrubs a couple feet ahead of us. After our hearts settled a bit from the initial surprise, we took a closer look at the spot she had flown from and found a grass-lined nest hollowed out at the base of the shrubs. In it were 5 sort of olive-tan eggs dabbled with brown spots!

I couldn't find a photo of the first lapland longspur nest we saw, but here's another with three eggs.

I couldn’t find a photo of the first lapland longspur nest we saw, but here’s another with three eggs.

Over the following weeks, we all kept our eyes peeled for startled females and informally tracked the progress of the nests we found. By June 15, two of the eggs in that first nest Ruth and I found had hatched (though they weren’t yet particularly recognizable as birds).


By June 29, a group of five nestlings in a different nest were starting to really stretch their necks and beg, eyes still closed.


On July 6, Christine and I found a couple of oversized longspur nestlings staring back at us for the last time.


We liked to imagine that each bumbling fledgling we saw testing its wings was one of the ones we had seen in its earlier stages.

When it comes to birds, Greenland is primarily a place of part-timers. Of its 240 or so known species, only 60 of those are considered permanent residents; most fly south for the winter. The northern wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) — a bird that seems enchanted with our red truck, whether they’re hopping upon the mirrors to get a peek inside when it’s parked or springing up from the roadside bushes to perform acrobatics in front of it while we’re driving  — has a particularly impressive migration among the passerines. Wheatears have a huge breeding range that spans parts of Eurasia, Greenland, Canada, and Alaska but overwinter in sub-Saharan Africa, where they bulk up on insects to do it all again come spring. That means the Alaskan birds travel almost 9,000 miles twice a year! – not to mention connecting two extremely different ecosystems.

Northern wheatear (male and female)

Northern wheatear (male and female) – from arkive.org

As the summer draws to a close, in some ways I’ve been feeling a bit of kinship with the little guys. My journey should be a bit easier than theirs, though, even with customs.

To learn more about wheatears and how scientists are able to track their migrations: http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/17027565


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