Mendenhall iceberg makes its way to Washington

Posted: Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Thousands of people will have the chance to view a roughly 1,500 pound Mendenhall iceberg later this month in Washington, D.C.

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Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

The Juneau Economic Development Council's STEM SpringBoard program leaders learned this week that it's not so easy to wrangle an iceberg. The U.S. Department of Defense encouraged them to participate in the USA Science and Engineering Festival and Expo on Oct. 23 and 24. So the group, which focuses on educating youth about science, technology, math and engineering decided to showcase the unique sciences Alaska works with - its cryosphere.

Mary Hakala, education coordinator for the SpringBoard K-16 STEM initiative, and JEDC director Brian Holst will be manning a booth on the National Mall, along with three scientists from the Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory. It will feature not only the 200-plus-year-old chunk of ice, but also will show video from Extreme Ice Survey and their time lapse sequences of Alaska glacier movement, a quadrant of tundra and permafrost from Fairbanks, sea ice cores, a wall-sized photo backdrop of the Mendenhall Glacier ice cave and an assortment of photo slides. The scientists include Matthew Sturm, a snow expert and Don Perovich and Jackie Richter-Menge, experts in polar sea ice.

Hakala said this event is unusual for JEDC, but it fits in with their mission to engage students in math, science, engineering and technology.

"We realized that it does make sense for us to be there because Alaska has some amazing science to share with the nation," she said.

Hakala said she is a little daunted by the expected crowd of 6,000-10,000 visitors to their booth between the two-day event.

"It will be somewhat overwhelming for us small-town people," she said.

But she is excited to see what students from in and around Washington think.

"What I'm looking forward to seeing is the kids faces as they touch that ice," Hakala said.

The 'berg is 6 feet tall and 3 feet wide.

"It's unlike any other ice these kids will have ever had the chance to experience," she said. "The crystals are large and globular. They're amazing; they're different; they're unique."

Snagging an iceberg proved tougher than Hakala expected. The U.S. Forest Service approved the removal of the iceberg and Eran Hood from the University of Alaska Southeast brought out a skiff and helped snag two icebergs, Plan A and Plan B. The 'bergs were tied up on the edge of Mendenhall Lake in brayler bags. Hakala planned to put the icebergs on a commercial fisherman's flatbed, but when she came back the next day, she found a puddle and about an 8-inch long piece of ice. She suspects the warmer water from the lake and the rains are what caused them to melt so fast.

"I was flummoxed," Hakala said. "We had a great berg and a back up berg. ... We found them almost totally melted the next day and it was so surprising."

So, a third iceberg was lassoed from the lake, loaded onto the flatbed, rushed to Taku Smokeries and put into cold storage. Taku chainsawed part of the iceberg off to fit in a shipping box and is shipping the crate in one of its freezer vans to Seattle. The barge the van is on left for Seattle Monday.

Once it gets to the Lower 48, it will travel by refrigerated truck to Washington. Hakala said the last step will be the most challenging. The glacial ice will be stored for two days in a refrigerator/freezer truck, but getting it off a pallet and into the booth will be the biggest trick.

Hakala said she is appreciative of all the efforts made to help move the iceberg - including the usage of hipwaders, ice screws, forklift, brayler bags, flat bed, transport, technology and man power.

"There's been a lot of people who have contributed," she said.

"Part of our whole goal is to pique kid's interest in science, and one area Alaska is at the forefront of research is in science related to the cryosphere - the portion of the planet where water is in frozen form," Hakala said. "Changes are happening more rapidly in Alaska than elsewhere. We're bringing some of that science to kids on the National Mall."

The iceberg is expected to last longer than the two-day event, so Hakala is trying to find a place in the nation's capitol that could benefit from it, like the Smithsonian. If not, she would find it fitting for the ice to melt on the National Mall and returned to the water cycle.

Hakala is hoping this event will initiate something broader for Alaskans as well. She said they will be perusing the other booths at the festival trying to find exhibitors who would be willing and able to come to Alaska for a similar, albeit smaller interactive showcase.

JEDC communication specialist Larry West said they host CryoConn at the Chena Hot Springs every year for teachers and help them incorporate Cryosphere activities in their classrooms.

For more information on the festival and expo, go to: http://www.usasciencefestival.org.

For more information on CRREL go to: http://bit.ly/9l6DKq.

And for more information on JEDC's SpringBoard involvement with the cryosphere go to: http://bit.ly/9KpVDM.

• Contact Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com.



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