One of my five housemates is an intern for the geology department at Mount Rainier. As part of the imminent threats team, Ian collects water samples from glaciers around the park to build comparative data for the prediction of glacial outburst floods.
Glacial outburst floods occur when water accumulates behind the thinning walls of a glacier. The walls eventually break and release the water. Glacial outburst floods are of concern within the park because they damage infrastructure and shape the landscape.
The research project has been running for five years. Water samples are tested for iron content, turbidity, total dissolved solids (TDS), oxidation reduction potential (ORP), electrical conductivity (EC), pH, and temperature.
The project’s goal is to have base data to compare to when the next glacial outburst flood occurs. Through comparison of the chemical signature of “normal” water versus “glacial outburst flood” water, park scientists can build a model that tracks these water changes and better predict when these flood events will occur.