Monday, April 23, 2012

Trip Journal: Flying ALAR from Alaska to Indiana!

Well, we finally made it back!  What a trip!  The weather wasn’t exactly perfect, like it was all the way to Barrow, and the whole time we were in Barrow.  The weather was really exactly the same in Barrow, every day - sunny, cold and winds from the northeast.  I think we got outta Dodge just in time!  Because of some problems with a relay on the master switch at low temperatures, we decided we would fly back through Fairbanks, so that our first overnight would be in a warmer climate (about 50F warmer in Fairbanks compared to Barrow).  
The view was fantastic, going over the Brooks Range!
On April 2nd, we stayed over night in Fairbanks, at Pike’s Waterfront Lodge.  Nice place!  Unfortunately, the area was socked in the next day, with a good chance of icing.  Since our airplane has no deicing equipment, we had to sit for a day.  This never happened in Barrow - it is too cold for icing!  So, Brian and I visited Everts Air Cargo.  They have a field full of classic airplanes, which they use for cargo jobs all around Alaska.  They seem to use lots of DC-4s.  They have an amazing maintenance staff at Everts.  Anyone want a job flying DC-4s?  I think they are looking for pilots!   Below is a pic of one of the airplanes on the field.  It is a Curtis C-46 most famous for flying the "Hump" over the mountains in China during WW2. 
The next day, April 4, we headed off for our border crossing into Canada, at Whitehorse, Yukon Territories.  See above below for a cool volcanic mountain on the way.
At Whitehorse, we got an in-person briefing from a nice guy, who told us, yes, you will now get into icing, on the way to Ft. Nelson.  But, you can follow the Alcan Highway, VFR, all the way, with multiple places to land, if you needed to (“we typically try to discourage people from landing on the road.  But…”).  So, this is what we did.  It was a great suggestion, we had a fantastic flight, once again with great views!  The picture below shows what it looked like following the road to Ft. Nelson.  We then landed at Ft. Nelson, where there is, well, nothing. 
From Ft. Nelson we flew to Peace River, Alberta (IFR), and, well, not much to see there, and it was late in the day.  When we got to Peace River, the weather turned bad, and we had to stay there an extra day.  Brian and I walked all the way around Peace River.  Peace River is nice, lots of ice all around the banks of the river.  A pretty cool looking ski area there, called “Misery Mountain Ski Hill”.  Sounds like fun, eh?  A pic of the ski area is shown below, from our hotel window. 
On April 6, we flew to Lethbridge, near the Montana border with Alberta.  It was time to cross the border back into the U.S., but the ceiling was low, and, again, there was a chance of icing.  So, we decided, after talking with some locals, to cross the border at Del Bonita, Albert/Montana.  There is a grass strip there, and the center “line” of the runway is right on the border.  The right side of the center line is Canada, and the left side of the center line is the U.S. (when you are landing to the west).  It was a 38mile trip.  We landed, and they seemed happy to have something to do.  In the U.S. customs building (turn left at the end of the “runway”; if you turn right, you are at Canada Customs), we signed in and they told us we were the second airplane to land there in 2012!  See the pic of the N762JT at “Wetstone International Airport”, below. 
We then tried to go a little further, but the weather got worse, so, we landed at Starr-Browning airport, in Browning, Montana.  This is a Blackfeet Reservation.  Interesting place.  Great views!  See Brian, standing next to 2JT and near the runway, looking west, below.  The nice man who owns the airport gave us a ride into town, and we stayed over night.  Dinner at the casino…. 
The next day the weather was fine.  We flew to Miles City MT, and then through South Dakota.  Hey, there’s no one down there at all!  Then Des Moines, through a light rain frontal system, and then, here is what we saw - ILS Runway 10, KLAF.  It is hard to tell you how good it felt to see that!  Brian!!!  We did it!!!
 Here's the full route, up and back:

- Prof. Paul Shepson

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Heading home in the footsteps of USNA!

After the US Naval Academy students left Barrow, they took a slight detour in Anchorage, so when our study got extended, we decided to follow their plan!  During our layover in Anchorage, Kyle and I headed out to Alyeksa Ski Resort for amazing views and some fun spring skiing!
Kerri and Kyle enjoying some fun spring skiing/snowboarding after the 8 week field study!
We found the USNA sticker outside the mid-mountain cafe!
Thank you so much to Ingrid and Bill for hosting our amazing visit to Anchorage!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Packing Up!

The time has come.  After an extremely successful field campaign, we are packing up and heading back to Indiana.  Kyle and I have been in Barrow since Feb. 18th.  When we arrived, sunrise and sunset were at 9:57 AM and 5:25 PM; now, the days are ~8.5 hours longer with sunrise and sunset today at 6:22 AM and 10:33 PM.  Spring has arrived in Barrow.  It is "warm" - currently 1F with a wind chill of only -15F!  In late February to early March, we got used to temperatures around -30F with wind chills reaching below -50F.
Celebrating by walking on the snow that I protected for 2 months for experiments (I was known by the logistics folks for insisting "Don't step on the snow!!!!!" in the winter in Barrow!)
Over the past couple days, we packed up all of our equipment and impressive number of compressed gas cylinders (21 + two 160 L liquid nitrogen dewers!) and took them to the airport to Northern Air Cargo for shipment to Anchorage and beyond. 
Kyle securing crates to a pallet at Northern Air Cargo.
The folks at Northern Air Cargo were incredibly helpful and even insisting on covering our pallets with lots of "Fragile" and "Don't Freeze" stickers in hopes of protecting our shipment!

Photo Request - A Family of Snowmobiles!

P.S. This isn't the last post!  Stay tuned for more!  :-)

Monday, April 9, 2012

ALAR returns to Indiana

Professor and pilot Paul Shepson and aircraft mechanic Brian Stirm flew the Purdue airplane (ALAR, Aircraft Laboratory for Atmospheric Research) back to West Lafayette, Indiana.  See below for their flight path to and from Barrow!  Stay tuned for a post about their trip!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Field Work can be Challenging

Complicated instruments don't like to be moved; nor do they like to operate under harsh conditions.  But, for some strange reason, I have a passion for taking complicated, sensitive instruments into the field, whether that be operating with outdoor temperatures of ~115F in the summer in Riverside, CA, flying on a C-130 through ice clouds, taking instruments up a ski mountain via snow-cat, or now operating with outdoor temperatures down to -36F (wind chills of >-50F) on the tundra.  When you do a field study, you expect problems; operating in the field takes patience and persistence under stress and great urgency.  So, when we had problems with a turbo-molecular pump on the mass spectrometer, I wasn't too surprised. The good news is that after my third trip in the last week to Alaska Airlines for their Goldstreak service, I now have the mass spectrometer up and running again!  This is quite exciting!  We have a short window of time to finish our experiments before heading back to Indiana next week (we extended our stay here due to these problems - thank you to NSF, CPS, and UMIAQ for accommodating this request!). 
Several tries and we have a functioning turbo pump controller!  Notice all of the "Must Load" Goldstreak labels!  (Alaska Airlines' Goldstreak service means that your package will fly on the next passenger flight, which means the fastest possible service)
The mass spec is collecting data!!!
We have many people to thank for this effort!  First, thank you to Ken Murphy, Jeff Morgan, and Dave Vincent at Agilent Technologies for sending the most recent V81 controller that is now my best friend!  Thank you to Prof. Bill Simpson and Steve Walsh at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks for receiving several FedEx priority overnight packages and taking them to Alaska Airlines for Goldstreak service to Barrow.  Thank you to Prof. Kim Prather and Lindsay Hatch at the University of California, San Diego for sending us a spare V70 controller "just in case"!  Thank you to Dave Tanner and Prof. Greg Huey at Georgia Tech for searching their lab for spare controllers and confirming my "diagnosis"!  And, thank you to our advisor Prof. Paul Shepson for trusting us and letting us not give up and stay longer!  We are so very thankful and feel very blessed for the everyone's help in making this field work a success.  Field research is definitely a team effort.  Thank you!!

In the previous post, I mentioned that the wind was picking up yesterday morning on the sea ice.  By the time I picked up the Goldstreak packages and we headed out to the lab (~10:30 PM), wind speeds were averaging ~30 mph with even higher wind gusts.  This meant low visibility, huge snow drifts on the road, and leaning into the wind as we walked across the drifting snow on the tundra to the lab!  Kyle, who usually has trouble cooling his gas chromatograph oven to low temperatures, was having trouble warming the oven to higher temperatures because of the high winds keeping his blower valve open!  So, it was an interesting (yet "normal") night of troubleshooting!  We parked even further than normal away from the lab because we were worried about the truck getting stuck in the large drifts that were forming at our normal parking spot on the side of the road.  Luckily the truck got us back to our hut when we finished up in the lab - of course, the truck then wouldn't start in the morning due to snow/ice accumulation because we drove through many several-foot-high snow drifts on the way home!  But, we have working instruments and are happy "campers"!  (Actually, our hut was compared to a fishing camp by our most recent visitors!)  We have been blessed with an amazingly successful field campaign with lots of data, and these extra days will be the "icing on the cake" at Cake Eater Lab!
Low visibility at the lab due to blowing snow
An interesting break in the clouds outside of the lab at ~midnight
Due to late sunsets (~10 PM now), Kyle has been doing nighttime calibrations and to catch the start of business on the east coast, I've been trading positions with him and heading out to the lab at 5 AM when he goes to sleep.  An advantage of this horrible schedule is that we get to witness the most beautiful times of the day out on the tundra - sunset, darkness, and sunrise.  Here are a few photos from recent days. 
Flare at the gas drilling station out on Cake Eater Rd.
Twilight out on the tundra
Sunrise at Cake Eater Lab

The True Meaning of Wind & Cold

Yesterday morning our outreach videographer (Derek Hallquist, Green River Pictures) and I (Kerri) snowmobiled out on the sea ice with our bear guard Justin.  We followed whaling trails in search of the lead (open water).  After a bit of ride and some confusion, Justin realized that the trail stopped where there had been open water the previous day.  Overnight a huge amount of ice had run into the shorefast ice.  We could see a huge mass of ice floating by in the distance, so Derek set up his camera for a time lapse.  Justin told us that we needed to keep a careful eye on the ice in front of us because it could change instantly if the floating ice mass in the distance ran into this ice.  This was a dangerous situation, particularly as the wind was picking up, so we needed to hurry to shoot the video and head back to safer ice.  Despite all of our down clothing, Derek and I managed to get extremely cold during our trip due to the wind chill out on the exposed sea ice.  Many folks have asked if I am cold (since I get cold frequently in the lower 48!).  However, except for during snow chamber experiments when my hands have gotten cold, I have been pretty warm up here...until yesterday.  It was pretty brutal trying to take photos and video in the cold.  I managed to take a few photos (with gloves on) before my hands were in pain.  You don't go through a chilled stage with the cold here - you go straight to pain!  Derek described it as feeling like his hands were in boiling water.  Unfortunately, he did end up with some frostbite on his cheek, but I expect that the video will be great!  Our snowmobile ride back back to NARL was quite something - riding ~50 mph into ~30 mph winds on the ice.  We were cold!!!
Derek's camera set up for a time lapse video of ice floating in the distance.
Derek interviewing our bear guard Justin.  Notice the flying camera strap on the left - it was ridiculously windy!  My job as the "camera assistant" was to try to keep the fuzzy mic out of the wind!
Our awesome UMIAQ bear guard for the day - Justin
Derek checking out the snowmobile trail through the pressure ridge.  The whaling crews starting breaking trail in February, and whaling will start very soon.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Flying ALAR to Fairbanks

Monday morning Professor and pilot Paul Shepson and aircraft mechanic Brian Stirm (Purdue Univ.) flew ALAR out of Barrow, heading back toward Indiana.  Johannes, Stefan, Kyle, and I (Kerri) ("research flight crew" from the Univ. of Heidelberg and Purdue Univ.) wished them the best of luck and watched them fly off into the distance.  Their first stop was Fairbanks, Alaska, from which they sent us some beautiful photographs of their flight over the Brooks Range!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Sunlight on the tundra

Out at CARL (Cake Eater Atmospheric Research Laboratory), we have a fine array of instruments measuring all sorts of things, from blowing snow to sunlight. Here’s a brief description on how we set these instruments up and what they actually do. (Post by graduate student Melinda Webster, Univ. of Washington)

To begin, we had to do some manual labor. We dug snow pits for placing two towers in to provide them with stability in the chance that it becomes really, really windy. We needed a place with level ground so that the anemometers (the instruments that measure wind speed and direction) wouldn’t give us weird measurements. You can imagine having a pinwheel facing the wind works better than facing sideways to the wind. Our snow pits ended up being ~70 centimeters deep. Here’s our dig:  

After digging, we set up the actual towers themselves. After bolts and pieces, running wires through freezing metal tubes, testing the instruments with success, we were good to go! Once we had the towers up and standing, we piled snow back into the pits and set up wires bolted between the towers and the ground (again, for stability).

Closest to CARL is our radiometer tower which measures the sun’s energy each day. It tells us how much shortwave (Gamma, Xrays, UV) and longwave (Infrared, Microwaves, Radiowaves) radiation reaches the Earth’s surface. This is a great way to count the number of sunny and cloudy days, which can then be compared to the daily changes in air temperature and air chemistry.
The second tower is the meteorological station. It tells us four very useful things: air temperature, humidity, wind speed, and wind direction. The tower provides continuous information on the local atmospheric changes, like if it’s getting windier and colder, or warmer or calmer. It also provides a great comparison for other meteorological data measured around Barrow. 

We also compare these measurements to data from the Surface Velocity Profiler (SVP) buoys and Thermocrons. The SVP buoys measure air temperature and air pressure at hourly intervals. The Thermocrons are these thumb-sized devices which measure surface temperature every 5 minutes.  They are used to validate satellite-derived surface temperatures.
Thank you to graduate student Melinda Webster (Univ. of Washington) for this great post!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Out On The Ice (OOTI)

The Canadians have landed on the ice to measure mercury and ozone!  Well that is not entirely true, our ice chemistry team consists of 3 Canucks - Sandy Steffen (author here), Ralf Staebler and John Deary (all veterans to Arctic research)- 1 Swiss who works in the US, Daniel Obrist (newbie to the Arctic) and 1 ‘Merican, Chris Moore (he says it like that not I).  The 3 Canadians are from Environment Canada in Toronto, Ontario and the “other” 2 are from Desert Research Institute, in Reno Nevada.

We arrived in Barrow March 10th and it took us almost a whole week to find our equipment, put it together and then deploy it to the ice.  We take our measurement instruments on sleds and set them up about 2.5 kilometres out on the ice. 
Taking our instruments out to the site - It's a rough ride for our delicate instruments!
The goal of our project is to understand how the changes in the Arctic Ocean sea ice affect the chemistry in the overlying air.  We do this by measuring mercury, ozone and a suite of meteorological information in order to assess how these chemicals behave over the sea ice.  We also are making measurements at the tundra site in order to observe the differences between the levels of mercury and ozone inland and on the ice.

As you may know, in the Arctic spring both mercury and ozone disappear from the air as a result of the sea salts, sunlight and cold temperatures.  The ozone is destroyed but the mercury doesn’t actually disappear but changes form and deposits on the sea ice or snow.  We are trying to understand the impact of this deposition and how much mercury is available to enter the Arctic Ocean.  
Setup of our instruments once we got everything going.  On the left is the intake for mercury and on the right for the ozone.  The mercury instrument requires 4kilowatts of power to run, so we have a generator on the site powering our equipment.
We did have one curious visitor to the site which added some excitement to our day!  See photo below for a shot of said visitor high tailing it out of “OOTI-town” when he realized we were there.  Last time we were in Barrow, this type of visitor took a bite out of my sample line and a lick off a telescope; no taste testing this time!
Polar bear!
We have been making measurements for 2 weeks and will be ending soon with some super data to bring home.  I love the Arctic and all it has to offer both in exciting science and wonderful scenery.  I have been working in the Arctic for 16 years and never tire of it.  I recommend to everyone, that they get the chance to see this sort of thing at least once in their life (see photo below).
- Sandy Steffen (Environment Canada)

Thank you Sandy for this great post!

Visit to Cake Eater Lab

Kerri and Kyle (Purdue Univ.) claim that their life at the Cake Eater Lab isn't exciting, but they are being modest! While at C.A.R.L. (Cake Eater Atmospheric Research Laboratory), I watched Kerri change the glass wool in the instrument halogen scrubber, take vertical profiles into the snow with the mass spectrometer, and clean the instrument inlet. We used a SWE (snow water equivalent probe) to bore a two inch diameter hole into the snow pack and put the insulated inlet tube down into the hole! Kerri constructed the insulated tube by nesting the regular teflon tube inside a copper pipe, coating it with heat tape, and making an outer layer of foam. We then used a fancy rigging of string and zip-ties to suspend it at our desired height. :) Measurements were taken at several heights above the snow and into the hole in the snow to investigate halogen activation from the snowpack.
Graduate student Erin Gleason (Univ. of Alaska, Fairbanks) using the SWE probe to make a nice hole in the snow
Excited to be helping out at the Cake Eater Lab! (Graduate student Erin Gleason, Univ. of Alaska, Fairbanks)

Measuring the height of the sampling inlet above the snow (Graduate student Erin Gleason, Univ. of Alaska, Fairbanks)
Thank you Erin for this great post and for helping us out at the lab!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Student Questions from Kingsley, Pennsylvania!

Questions from Mr. Roger Thomas' 7th grade science class at Mountain View Jr./Sr. High School, Kingsley, Pennsylvania

1. How are your emails transported (wired, line of sight radio, or satellite)?
Emails and cell phone service are transmitted out of Barrow via satellite.

2. Why is it cold on Mt. Everest if heat rises?
Warm air is buoyant, so it does rise (like you might observe in your house).  However, pressure decreasing with increasing altitude (like up Mt. Everest).  A parcel of air expands as it goes from higher to lower pressure (increasing altitude).  When air expands, it cools.  Therefore, temperature generally decreases with increasing altitude.

3. How often do you see the northern lights?  What is your and everyone else's favorite color?
From early to mid-March, we saw the northern lights, mostly green in color, nearly every night out at our lab on the tundra.  Recently we haven't seen the northern lights that frequently.  The days are getting much longer now (sunset at 9:19 PM tonight, compared to 5:25 PM when we first arrived in Barrow in February), and there have been fewer solar events recently. 

4. Do you work inside or outside more often?  Do you go inside a lot when you work outside?
When we are at our lab on the tundra, we spend most of our time inside where it is warm (~70°F).  When we go outside, we make sure to put on our hats, gloves, snowpants, parka, etc. because wind chills often go down to ~-50°F!

5. We see that you use electricity to power the warm water, your tools, and the town.  Where is the electric generator located?  What powers it (fuel source)?
Natural gas from nearby gas fields is generally used to heat homes and generate electricity.

6. Has the engine of your plane ever frozen?  Is it too cold for cell phones and i-pods?
It is really important to keep the engines warm!  When the engines are not running, electric heater blankets are placed around them to keep the engines warm.  As for cell phones, cameras, and other devices with batteries, they work as long as you keep warming up the batteries.  When we took snowmobiles onto the sea ice, I kept my camera battery inside my parka to keep it warm!

7. Do you have protection in case any animals attack?
When we go out onto the sea ice on snowmobiles, a bear guard comes with us in case a polar bear might attack.  However, often polar bears are scared away by the sound of snowmobiles or just gun shots in the air.  Shooting a polar bear would be a last resort for protection.

8. Can you or the Eskimos go ice fishing, or is the ice too thick?
Near the shore, the undeformed level ice is 5-6.5 feet thick!  However, where there are pressure ridges (hills of sea ice rubble), the ice can be extremely thick (see photos of the sea ice)!  We haven't seen anyone ice fishing.  The main "fishing" activity here is whaling, which starts in April and is where sealskin boats are used to paddle through open water between patches of ice (see whaling post).  The US Naval Academy researchers took a video of the water below the sea ice, which you can watch at this link!

Thank you to the students at Mountain View for great questions!  We hope that you enjoy reading our research blog!

Announcement to other teachers: Kyle and I leave Barrow on April 6th, so please send any remaining student questions ASAP if you'd like them answered while we're in Alaska!  Thanks!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Adventures on the sea ice!

Saturday Kyle and I had the adventure of a lifetime exploring the sea ice with our bear guard and scientist Dr. Tom Douglas (U.S. Army Cold Regions Research & Engineering Lab), graduate student Ross Lieb-Lappen (Dartmouth College), graduate student Melinda Webster (Univ. of Washington), and graduate student Erin Gleason (Univ. of Alaska, Fairbanks).  We took the snowmobiles ~1 mile out onto the sea ice to measure and collect brinecicles - salty icicles that form below uplifted chunks of deep blue sea ice.  Here are a collection of photos from our adventure!
Graduate students Kyle Custard (Purdue Univ.) and Erin Gleason (Univ. of Alaska, Fairbanks) arriving at the sampling site
Exploring the sea ice! (photo courtesy of Kyle Custard)
Watching for polar bears - our bear guard Dr. Tom Douglas (U.S. Army Cold Regions Research & Engineering Lab)
Graduate student Ross Lieb-Lappen (Dartmouth College) exploring the sea ice with clouds over the lead (open seawater) in the background (photo courtesy of Kyle Custard)
Graduate student Kyle Custard (Purdue Univ.) exploring the sea ice
Brinecicles! (photo courtesy of Kyle Custard)
Graduate student Ross Lieb-Lappen (Dartmouth College) collecting brinecicles
Graduate student Ross Lieb-Lappen (Dartmouth College) testing the salinity of the brinecicles!
Graduate students Kyle Custard (Purdue Univ.) and Ross Lieb-Lappen (Dartmouth College) drilling an ice core

Sun dog in the sky from the refraction of light off ice crystals aloft
Polar bear tracks!
Wandering polar bear tracks