24 hour sampling? Yes we did!

Our most epic sampling adventure yet began at 10am on August 24th. Usually, we sample the Athabasca Glacier every morning at about 10am. Keeping a consistent time allows us to accurately compare outflow and chemistry day-to-day and be sure what we observe are seasonal changes, not simply artifacts of a different sampling time. It seems logical, on a surficial level, that as daily temperatures get colder less of the glacier will melt, and subsequently the outflow will contain less water. If one day we measured outflow at 7am, then the next day at 3pm, the larger volume we measure could be due to time of day, or to day of year. As scientists, the goal is to definitively say why things happen, so we keep measuring at a consistent time.


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That said, there’s naturally some curiosity as to what happens during the other parts of the day! To answer that question, we devised a relatively simply sounding, yet path-through-Dante’s-inferno feeling, experiment: we would take measurements and samples every two hours for a 24-hour period. We tackled this from 10 am August 24th through 10 am August 25th, collecting water samples for preservation and chemical analysis ever 2 hours, in addition to collecting meltwater discharge measurements.

Every two hours, all three of us would hike up the hill to the melt channels. One person would collect 12 litres of water, carry it back to our “lab” in the van, filter and preserve it. One person would put on waders and measure the discharge across the melt channel. The third person would hold the safety rope of the person in the stream. Each 2-hour period, there was about a 5-15 minute break for everyone but the chemistry person, then it was back up the hill to rotate positions and do it all again. 

It was exhausting, tedious, COLD, and ended with field notes that read: “Midnight. Rather dark. No clouds, see stars. Water looks black. Everything looks black. Cannot see glacier. Water level down. No breeze to speak of. Coffee = mandatory.” FYI – the second one down is a night time “selfie.” Doesn’t it look great?

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But we were successful! We have 13 samples: 10am to 10am, all three of us survived!

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There were some rough patches: I want nothing more than sleep from 2-4am, Emily wants nothing more than sleep as soon as the sun comes up, and Anna prefers to avoid chemistry when things get stressful but we made it! Now there’s one more 24 hour sampling adventure to come in October. Check back to see how that goes!


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