Wrangell Mountain Alaska Summer Field Study

Summer 2017 quarter (Full Session)

Taught by

Aliette Frank
Sustainabilty, environmental biology, nature writing
  • UG

This interdisciplinary expedition in Alaska’s Wrangell-St. Elias Mountains will help students understand geophysical, biological and cultural change in a rapidly evolving setting situated in the United States’ largest national park. With glaciers flowing from 16,000-foot peaks, canyons deeper than Yosemite, and spruce-forested valleys, the Wrangell-St. Elias study area is in the middle of the world’s largest international complex of protected wilderness lands. Glaciation, volcanism, erosion and ecological succession are exposed and active, making Wrangell-St. Elias an ideal natural laboratory in which to explore Alaska’s landscape of extremes. In one and three-week backpacking trips in rugged, trail-less Alaska wilderness, including camping and hiking on glaciers, students will investigate the politics of Alaska’s protected lands and inquire into personal roles in wild lands preservation and conservation. This program considers geologic time and geomorphic process questions such as, “How did the Wrangell Mountains form and what is the history of the glaciers they support?” Hiking up from the valley floor, we ask questions such as, “What are the successional changes in fluctuating glacier-edge environments?” “What are the ecological characteristics of unique alpine habitat where Dall sheep, brown bear, and mountain goat overlap?” Using square meter plots we will count vegetative species and discover how botanical diversity is scale-dependent. We will uncover how there can there be areas with more spiders than there is food for spiders to eat. Throughout the program we will also study adaptations of species to the stresses of sub-arctic existence, and see first-hand the effects of climate change on the landscape. Following in the footsteps of Darwin and Linnaeus we will keep a daily natural history field journal, including Grinnell Technique, writing and drawing our observations for a permanent personal record of our time in the Wrangells.

Classes include lectures and discussions, course readings, field activities, visits with local experts, encounters with ongoing park research, extended backcountry excursions, and field studies through individual students projects. The program generally progresses from faculty-led instruction in the beginning (i.e., more lectures and readings) to student-led critical evaluation, analysis, and synthesis.

Learning Objectives:

-Describe the ecosystems of South-central Alaska in terms of flora, fauna, and ecological processes, including threats, conservation, and ongoing change.

-Explain geologic history and processes at work in the Wrangell Mountains on multiple

spatial and temporal scales, including glacial processes and range formation.

-Summarize the cultural, political, and management history within the Wrangell-St. Elias region, including indigenous Native and homesteader perspectives, policies governing use (federal, state, local), and local community involvement.

-Design a field research project, collecting field data, managing, synthesizing, and

presenting interpretations of this data to peers, faculty, and the public both in writing

and oral presentations.

-Read critically, discuss, and evaluate primary literature in ecology, geology,

and social science.

-Apply theoretical concepts of wildness vs. wilderness, management vs. preservation, and sustainable development vs. sustainability, to real world conservation initiatives.

-Learn field observation and note-taking skills, including methods for documenting and sharing findings in diverse formats.

The Alaska Wrangell Mountains Field Quarter is suitable for any adventurous student in good physical condition; all necessary skills will be taught and previous backpacking experience is not required. As the program’s overarching goal, students will employ skills and extensive knowledge about the Wrangell-St. Elias region — emblematic of dynamic and fragile landscapes— to understand ecological, geophysical and cultural change from scientific, social scientific, and humanity perspectives. Students will depart better able to critically evaluate the role of humanity in stewarding mountain wildness/wilderness in other places worldwide.

Program website and application information: http://www.wrangells.org/fieldstudies

Program Details

Fields of Study

anthropology geology natural history


Summer Signature

Location and Schedule

Campus Location


Time Offered


Advertised Schedule

7 week intensive: June 22 - Aug 9

Online Learning

No Required Online Learning


Total program cost (including tuition) is $7516 plus round-trip airfare and other personal field expenses.

A $100 application fee is paid directly to Wrangell Mountain at the time of application. A $1600 deposit is due to the college April 21st. The balance of the student fee ($1800) is due June 1st, and tuition ($4016) is due June 30th.