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Science by Moonlight

WWU Geology Associate Professor Doug Clark, co-researcher Eric Steig of University of Washington and other colleagues have twice spent weeks on a remote glacier near the top of Mount Waddington, the highest peak in B.C.'s Coast Range, using a 4-inch core drill to extract blue cylinders of ice. Photo by Doug Clark

Clark and fellow researchers atop remote Mount Waddington must receive their supplies via helicopter. Photo by Doug Clark

The 4-inch core drill extracts cylinders of ice which intricate detail of years' worth of climate data. Photo by Doug Clark

"The ice in that glacier is like a time capsule:' Clark says."It records climate change and weather events precisely, year by year and, in some cases, event by event. On the West Coast, we've only got about 100 years of instrument-supplied weather data. The information locked in that ice field could multiply our known data by an order of magnitude." Photo by Doug Clark

The most recent trip yielded about 460 feet of ice- only about 50 years' worth, Clark says. But it revealed such incredible details about climate and air quality that Clark and his colleagues are determined to return, with a better drill, to get at the deeper, compacted layers hundreds of feet down, where they believe the ice is centuries old. Photo by Doug Clark

This avalanche didn't make it to the drill site, but a snow-dust cloud from a later avalanche did. So the researchers placed their sleeping tents far away from the col, Clark says. Photo by Peter Neff

The research on Mount Waddington is funded with the help of the National Science Foundation and the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Science. The work will not only help us understand the history of climate in the Pacific Northwest, but the future as well. Learning about how our region's climate has responded to past events, such as El Nino, may help us predict future effects of climate change. Photo by Doug Clark