Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Climate Change and Ecosystems: an Alaskan Cruise Class

On May 28 I set off to Seattle where I got in a full day of exactly what I wanted:  quality time with one of my best friends from high school while eating seafood at the Crab pot and exploring the fish throwing and fresh flowers of Pikes Place.  I bought some wine for the ship and that night I got gluten free lobster macaroni and cheese and enjoyed the views from my 20-something floor hotel room at the Renaissance.  That whole day I never noticed Mt. Rainier, it must have been hazy, or maybe the thunderstorms over the mountains clouded the view.   The next day I got to meet up with a great friend from Boulder who recently started a post-doc at the University of Washington and just had a little baby!  I got to experience the Seattle bus system, which, downtown is underground!!!  How smart!  We had breakfast at an adorable little shack on the river called Agua Verde.  So good!

Then I made my way to the dock via taxi where a giant cruise ship, the Jewel of the Seas, was waiting for me.  Their computer system broke down, but after an hour or so of standing with two heavy bottles of wine in my backpack, and a few students texting to see where I was at, I finally got on the ship.  I eventually started running into students and we passed the word around that we'd meet for dinner before our first class meeting.   Ashara and I toured the boat and she explained cruising to me since I was a novice.  A bunch of us found ourselves outside on the heli pad as we left the port of Seattle until the wind became too much for us dress-wearers to withstand.  We were all super excited for our trip!

As we sat down to dinner, all 14 of us, the ship began to really feel like it was swaying.  It was an odd feeling and we all tried to eat lightly, although I do remember still eating at least two desserts.  There were lots of gluten free options, something I'm not used to.  When we made it to our first meeting, it was in the back of the ship and we got some great views of the mountains, and my third dessert, some ice cream.  We also started to feel a little ill.  There were these pool tables that would stay level as the boat moved, which was pretty weird.  Luckily we were prepared with patches, dramamine, and ginger chews.  I'm a big fan of the patch, but it makes my mouth really dry, which is super annoying.

Saturday was a travel day, a gloomy one, but the only gloomy weather we really had the whole trip, so that's okay.  We met for class in the morning, grabbed some lunch, then went to a lecture on glaciers.  My students and I all agreed that any one of us could have given a more interesting talk and the idea of doing just that on cruise ships in the future seemed like an interesting occupation.  I think we lounged around at the pool before dinner, which was formal.  If my memory serves me right we got to sing some Karaoke and take note of some hidden talents, then we ended up at the dance club.  I think we were all so bored just waiting to get to Alaska that we took drastic measures.  I'm sure they can all agree that clubbing with their professor was probably not on their wish list, but I'm glad they let me enjoy their company.  Some of us have storm chased together, some have been my supplemental instructor, and others I had just met.  It was a great way to break any lingering ice.  (Pun intended.)

Juneau, Alaska
Sunday we arrived in Juneau around noon.  We had an excursion planned called Whales, Glaciers, and Rainforest Trails.  We met up with our guide, Skip, who bussed us to a harbor where we waited for his boat to pick us up.  While there we found a bunch of eagles.  Eagles are old news to me, they are pretty common in northern Wisconsin where I vacation, and apparently even more common in Alaska, but it's hard not to enjoy them.

We got on the boat and got our little safety talk while Skip taught us about the whales we were going to see:  the humpback whale.  This whalewatching was just so amazing.  Right away we found a whale and eventually we had a mom, baby, and a sea lion all playing together.  It was so neat.  The thing is, the scenery was just amazing.  Even without the whales, this place on the water was just beautiful.  Snowcapped mountains everywhere, the sun was out, the water a beautiful color, eagles around.  It was amazing, I couldn't seem to get over how perfect it was!

After a bit we headed back to shore and bussed to a hiking trail through the Tungass National Forest where we learned about moss, fungi, and things you wouldn't expect to exist in Alaska.  Eventually the hike opens to sand, a lake, and the Mendenhall glacier in all of its glory.  We were, again, just in awe.  We snapped as many pictures as humanly possible of the icebergs in the water, the waterfall happening off to the right, the glacier itself, and even a group picture before we had to head back to the bus for our trip back to the cruise ship.  On the way back we passed a little damned up area of a river (no salmon this
time of year) and saw the little beaver responsible.  This little pond made for a neat reflection of the mountains and glacier.  On the bus back to the ship Skip shared some of his photos of the glacier from a long time ago compared to today showing its retreat.

We got back on the ship and caught some buffet style dinner before calling it an early night.  We had another excursion early the next morning.  The ship left port for Skagway.

I'm finding this post as a draft almost 3 years later and am sad that I didn't finish my description of the trip before most of the details were forgotten.  Luckily I have some captioned photos around that remind me of some of the story.  Here's the continuation. 

Skagway, AK:  Davidson glacier canoe trip
Canoe to/from the glacier


Alex enjoying the Davidson Glacier

Density shift from glacial water to sea water

Tracy Arm Fjord and Sawyer Glacier:

Sawyer Glacier

Victoria, Canada:

Whale-watching trip.  We didn't see any whales, but enjoyed other wildlife on the rocks.  

Sea otter

Fata Morgana mirage being enjoyed while whale watching
Mt Rainier in the background of Seattle from the space needle.  

Space needle from inside the glass art museum.