The birds chirp a dawn chorus and the winter rain has diminished. The disparity between the snowy alpine and the verdant lowlands is increasingly stark. Stubborn patches of snow make the rugged forest road impassable and the snowmobile crew has jerry-rigged a winch system to pull their burly trucks and sled trailers across. We giggle at their innovation as we attach skins to our skis, complete a most unusual gear check (Duct tape? Steam drill? PVC pipes? Avalanche gear? Snacks?) and finish our coffee.
We are here to begin the fieldwork for my master’s thesis at Western Washington University. For my research, I am comparing the decades old “ablation-stake method” against a new method for quantifying glacial change. By combining aerial drone imagery and new software, this method could drastically increase the spatial extent and resolution of these measurements, as well as the ease of data collection. I am also linking the retreat of the Easton Glacier, on the south side of Mt. Baker, to streamflow dynamics in its two outlet creeks. In short, my study has the potential to substantially improve our ability to monitor glacier changes and understand downstream effects.