Monday, February 27, 2012

Photos of the Day

View out the newly-drilled hole in the wall for sampling air

Dave Tanner from Georgia Tech arrived today and showed us his solution to dealing with glasses in the cold!

Sunset on the tundra

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Learning about the Iñupiat Whaling Tradition

Thursday night UMIAQ called a meeting of the Barrow Whaling Captains’ Association to discuss and ask for permission for the upcoming scientific research projects near Barrow.  Whaling season starts in early April, so cooperation between scientists on the sea ice and the native community is of utmost importance.  Kyle and I were honored to attend this meeting and excited to learn about Iñupiat whaling, which is endangered due to loss of Arctic sea ice.  At the meeting we met a humble whaling captain Herman Ahsoak who invited us into his home to learn about whaling.  To start learning about Iñupiat whaling, we first visited the Iñupiat Heritage Center, a U.S. National Park Service site in Barrow.  
Iñupiat Heritage Center
Painting at the Iñupiat Heritage Center
Friday night Kyle and I visited Herman Ahsoak’s home, where he explained how his family and community hunts for whales and how this way of life is in danger due to thinning sea ice.  Subsistence hunting for bowhead whales is a tradition in the Iñupiat Eskimo community.  Herman explained to us that the International Whaling Commission allows Barrow Iñupiat to strike and harvest ~21 whales per year.  There are ~57 whaling captains in Barrow, with whaling crews consisting of families with children getting involved young to pass along the cultural traditions.
Whaling crew preparing an umiaq (Photograph, Iñupiat Heritage Center)
For the spring whaling season, whaling crews break several miles of trail manually using picks.  The trails are for snowmobiles from the coast to the lead (open “river” of water) over the course of several weeks leading up to whaling season (April-May), which is gradually getting earlier due to the loss of sea ice.  The thinning sea ice is also making this process even more dangerous for the whaling crews.  The whalers then camp on the sea ice and watch the water waiting for bowhead whales to surface.  When a whale is spotted, the whalers climb into an umiaq (seal-skin boat) and paddle quietly to approach the whale.  These boats are made from bearded seal skins and sew together in the weeks approaching whaling season using caribou sinew.

Herman shows us his umiaq, made from 5 bearded seal skins
Once close to the whale, the harpooner throws a harpoon, aiming just behind the blowhole.  Herman showed us his harpoon that was made of driftwood (see below).  An anchor hook penetrates into the whale is connected by line to a float for tracking the whale once struck.  Upon striking the whale, a penetration trigger is pushed backward so that a bomb (black powder encased in a brass shell) enters the whale, breaking a matchstick and causing a weight to hit a pin on a 6 second fuse, igniting the black powder.  Following this initial hit, a brass whaling gun can be used to shoot additional bombs if needed for a quick kill.

Herman shows us his whaling gear
Kyle holding an empty whaling bomb
Kyle holding a brass whaling gun
Whaling anchor hook, harpoon, & bomb
Kyle holding Herman's harpoon

Before celebrating, the crew first says a solemn prayer of thanks for the whale, which will feed the community.  Motorboats from several whaling crews then tow the whale to ice.  Herman explained to us that most harvested whales weigh ~40 tons and are ~40 ft in length (~1 ton per foot of whale).  The community then pulls the whale up onto the ice and butchers it.  Afterward, the head is pushed into the sea to feed life in the ocean.  The whale skin and blubber, known as maktak, is most liked by Herman’s family after fermenting for several days.
Sketch, Iñupiat Heritage Center

Photograph of butchering a whale (Iñupiat Heritage Center)

“Sharing: Aviktuaqatigiigñiq
Don’t hold back when it comes to sharing.  It is important to make sure everyone in the community has a bit of the whale.  None is saved for the captain and crew when it is your first whale. – Jane Brower, Barrow, 2002” (Iñupiat Heritage Center)
Blanket toss (Photograph, Iñupiat Heritage Center


The community again celebrates the whaling harvest in June during the blanket toss, when the sealskin from the successful whaling crews’ boats is used to make something like a trampoline.  If the Barrow Iñupiat do not fill their quota in the springtime, then motorboats can be used to hunt whales in the fall during their second migration.  Leftover whale following initial celebrations is served in community churches at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Whale ear drum at Herman's house
Walrus tusks at Herman's house

While at Herman’s house, he showed us a National Geographic video about the Iñupiat’s hunt for whales and this way of life is in danger due to the changing climate.  A clip of this video can be seen at:

Thank you Kyle for helping write this!

More equipment arrives!

The arrival of half of our shipment was delayed, so we were quite excited to hear Saturday that more equipment had arrived on the Friday night Northern Air Cargo flight from Anchorage.  This time Kyle (Ph.D. student in the Shepson Lab) got to drive the snowmobile and sled to deliver our equipment out to the lab!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Getting ready to go outside...

Many folks have asked: "What do you wear to keep warm?".  So, here's our demonstration!

 Attire for inside the hut - it's warm!                               Baselayer: Coldgear tights, heavy ski socks, shorts,
                                                                                 Coldgear long-sleeve shirt, t-shirt (no cotton!)

Adding on: Fleece jacket, gloves, balaclava,                Final layers: Arctic boots (rated to -150F), Arctic
wool hat                                                                   down snowpants with suspenders, Arctic down
                                                                               parka, ski goggles, Arctic mittens

Thank you to Chelsea for all of the great suggestions before we left Indiana!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Welcome "home"!

We are staying at a hut outside of Barrow at the former Naval Arctic Research Laboratory (NARL), now run by UIC (Ukpeaġvik Iñupiat Corporation).

Welcome to hut 164B - our new home!
It's so cold here that whenever we're home, we have to plug in our truck to keep the battery charged! 
Welcome to our hut!  It's so hot (mid 70s) in here to keep the pipes from freezing that we sit around in shorts and t-shirts!
Well-equipped kitchen!
One of two bedrooms - we have great accommodations!  Thank you Eric!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Setting up our lab on the tundra

This weekend we started setting up our instruments in the lab on Cake Eater Road outside of Barrow on the tundra near the Barrow Environmental Observatory ("undisturbed" land). 

View toward Barrow from the tundra
Sunrise on the tundra
View from the road toward our lab
Unloading crates from the back of the truck and onto the sled to take them to the lab.  Thank you to Eric, Tony, and Glenn Roy for all of your help!
Loading the chemical ionization mass spectrometer onto the sled

Cake Eater Lab (aka our new home)
Inside the Cake Eater Lab
Bonus Photos!
Tonight we had baked trout, brown rice, and broccoli for dinner in our hut.  The baked trout, prepared by Kyle, was super yummy!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Live from Barrow, Alaska!

 Welcome to the northernmost town in the US - Barrow, AK!

Graduate Student Kyle Custard

Postdoc Kerri Pratt

Flying to Alaska

Yesterday Kyle and I flew to Alaska to officially begin our adventure!  The flights were an adventure themselves - Chicago, Illinois to Anchorage, Alaska to Fairbanks, Alaska to Barrow, Alaska!  We left Purdue (West Lafayette, Indiana) in the dark (5:30 AM local time) and arrived in Barrow in the dark (9:30 PM local time)!  Here are a few photos from our layover in beautiful Anchorage, AK:

An Introduction to BROMEX

From mid-February to mid-April 2012, Professor Paul Shepson’s research group at Purdue University (West Lafayette, Indiana) is participating in a field research campaign in Barrow, Alaska.  The small town of Barrow, far north of the Arctic Circle, is the northernmost point in the United States, allowing “easy” access to Arctic sea ice.  Over the past few decades, the amount of sea ice in the Arctic has decreased dramatically, and this loss is predicted to continue due to the warming climate.  The atmosphere in the Arctic is impacted by the presence of sea ice and snow, which provide surfaces for reactions of atmospheric trace gases.  These chemical reactions impact greenhouse gases, as well as toxic pollutants that accumulate in the snowpack, tundra, and Arctic animals.  We are funded by the National Science Foundation and NASA to perform ground- and aircraft-based measurements in Barrow during the NASA field campaign BROMEX (Bromine, Ozone, and Mercury EXperiment).  This study involves ground-, aircraft-, helicopter-, and satellite-based measurements to identify the impacts of Arctic sea ice loss on the troposphere, the lowermost portion of the Earth’s atmosphere.

BROMEX brings together scientists from 4 countries and 10 institutions: Purdue University, University of Alaska at Fairbanks, University of Washington, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory, National Ice Center, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, University of Bremen (Germany), University of Hamburg (Germany), Environment Canada, and Natural Environment Research Council (UK).   

Participating from Purdue University are Professor Paul Shepson (Professor of Chemistry and Earth and Atmospheric Sciences; pilot of the Purdue Aircraft Laboratory for Atmospheric Research (ALAR, or a fun name for our Beechcraft Duchess airplane)), Dr. Kerri Pratt (National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow in Polar Regions Research), Kyle Custard (2nd year chemistry Ph.D. student), and Brian Stirm (our amazing aircraft mechanic, part of the Purdue Department of Aviation Technology).  We will be making measurements of atmospheric trace gases and particles on the airplane and at a ground-based location, as well as investigating chemical reactions of gases on the snowpack surface.  

Thanks for listening!  We hope that you'll enjoy reading about our adventures!  

If you are an educator, please email me (Kerri, kapratt 'at' your students' questions!  With your permission, I'd like to post and answer students' questions!  Questions about being a scientist, field research, the Arctic, atmosphere-sea ice interactions, climate change, chemistry, etc. are encouraged!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Shipping from Indiana to Barrow!

Our ground-based equipment is now on the way to Alaska!  Kyle (grad student) and Kerri (postdoc) had an exciting time packing the equipment for shipping!  Thank you to Suzy and Lanie for helping arrange our shipment and Max for his excellent job preparing our crates on the pallets!
Shipping "the lab" to Barrow!

Pallet with our special snow shovel in the center!

Our special gas cylinders

To all the wonderful shipping folks - please don't break our glassware!