The Juneau Icefield Research Program
North America’s Largest Climate Classroom
Jeffrey Barbee interviews JIRP Alumni, Christine McCabe.
The Juneau Icefield Research Program (JIRP) has kept a continuous scientific eye on one of the largest source areas for glaciers in North America for more than sixty years. It is the longest running glacial-climate record in the western hemisphere, and because of that a valuable place for understanding climate change. The project brings university students and faculty face to face with expeditionary field science, nature, and ultimately themselves.
Every northern summer from June to August a group of students and staff hike and ski across this vast source area of glaciers 180 km to Canada. They carry their own gear, they struggle, and they learn how glaciers work and understand what field science is all about. The program is renowned globally for producing top-notch field researchers and expedition members.
Christine McCabe joined the program as an undergraduate student in 2014 and is now working on her Master’s degree at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. Journalist Jeffrey Barbee, an alumnus of the program and former staff member caught up with her on an internet chat.
So what is your biggest lesson from the program?
JIRP taught me I was capable of doing pretty much whatever I set my mind to. It introduced me to new cold alpine environments that allowed me to hold my own wandering around on the glaciers of Svalbard, Norway.
But not everything about JIRP is related to geology or arctic/alpine environments.
Through JIRP I found comfort in remoteness; something that has opened many career opportunities. It has also provided me with a track record of subsisting on some pretty basic food, something I think helped win me my next position as a teacher on a remote island in Micronesia.
What advice would you give other young people who are thinking about working in a career in field science related to climate change?
This is something I was told many times, particularly on JIRP, but I didn’t take seriously, and it came back to bite me in the bum many times…take more math early on in your academic career. I would also suggest computer programming…but more math is key.
I was always one of those people who were terrified of math and delved into field science to avoid it, but I have come to realize it is actually not impossible. If you sit down and practice it, you will eventually be able to do it.
Why is math so important?
It opens up endless opportunities and interdisciplinary versatilities in your work. It also opens up new ways to look at the data, and the larger world.
Any other thoughts about how the JIRP program changed or influenced you?
I have been on many adventures in my life, from traveling to Antarctica to living in a sailboat amongst the polar bears in the high Arctic, but JIRP represents my proudest accomplishment. When I am sitting at the Explorers Club and someone asks me what I have done to qualify me to be there, JIRP always gets mentioned before Antarctica. That’s how proud I am of the program.
This program is where I honed the key life skills of self-reliance, perseverance, and ingenuity. I cannot recommend it enough. Anyone who is willing to put in the physical effort to cross the Juneau Ice-field will reap endless rewards in their personal and scientific development.
Learn more or apply for the Juneau Ice-field Research Program here.