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WIU Student Participates in Juneau Icefield Research Program

November 18, 2004

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MACOMB, IL - - Patrick Ray, a senior geology major at Western Illinois University, was among an elite group of 20 undergraduate students from across the nation who participated in the July 1-Aug. 24 Juneau Icefield Research Program expedition, which conducts research that contributes to the study of global warming and other scientific, economic and environmental concerns.

The expedition of some 40 researchers, professors and master’s and doctoral students from Norway, Chile, Canada, Germany and the U.S., was led by renowned geologist Maynard M. Miller, who began the Juneau Icefield Research Program (JIRP) in 1946. The Juneau program, part of the Foundation for Glaciological and Environmental Research, is the longest continuous research program of an icefield system in the world. The 84-year-old researcher serves as the director of the Glaciological and Arctic Studies Institute at the University of Idaho, where he is a professor emeritus of geology and former dean of the College of Mines and Earth Resources.

“This man is an inspiration because of his experience and determination to continue this research and allow us to experience this expedition,” Ray said. “It was one of the best experiences of my life. We were all peers, working together. The only difference was our level of experience.”

For two months the group stayed in tents and shelters on the icefield, secluded from the outside world except for radio communication and weekly helicopter runs for food, supplies and mail.

”My work in the Gilkey Trench involved surveying markers that I placed into the ice to measure the velocity of the Vaughan Lewis Glacier, the Gilkey Glacier and the medial moraine in between the two glaciers,” Ray explained. “We also dug mass balance pits all over the icefield, which involved digging 2-7 meter deep pits into the previous year's snowfall to measure the water equivalent of the snowfall.

“It was not uncommon for us to ski or walk 20 to 30 miles a day to collect data,” he added. “We had to learn how to mountain climb, ski, hike and survive in a completely different environment.”

Ray learned about the expedition through a mailing to Western’s Geology Club, which he serves as president.

“I am hoping to return to the Juneau Icefield in Summer 2006 as a graduate student to continue my research that I began this summer in the Gilkey Trench, possibly using this research for my master’s thesis,” said Ray, who plans to go on for a doctorate and teach at the college level.

Ray is a 2001 graduate of Dundee-Crown High School (Carpentersville, IL), where he participated in Envirothon, North America's largest high school environmental education competition.

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