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

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Geezer Posting (written by Prof. Paul Shepson)

Kerri loading samples into the snow chamber
Things are going very well up here in Barrow!  Kyle and Kerri are working like lunatics; not sure I have ever seen anything like it.  But I like it!  Warms my heart!  They have been doing cool snow chamber experiments, and getting great data on the tundra, where there seems to be a lot of chemistry action.  And who doesn’t like good chemistry!?  Shown to the right is a pic of Kyle in his natural habitat.  On that day, March 23, they did a snow chamber experiment with snow from the sea ice, provided by the venerable Dr. Tom Douglas (U.S. Army Cold Regions Research Lab).  Thanks Tom!  Shown is a picture of Kerri loading up and sampling from the chamber.  It was very cold!


The flights have also been going great.  A couple days ago the “Barrow Lead” (a long thin crack in the ice, along which the Bowhead whales migrate.  The Inupiat eskimos stand at the lead edge on the ice, to hunt the whales.  You can read about this through the great book, “Whaling Season”, by Peter Lourie) opened up.  We flew a couple times up to the lead edge, and got some great pics.  The University of Heidelberg MAX-DOAS allows us to sample the air over the lead (for BrO) without having to fly over it!  We just fly up to the edge with the MAX-DOAS camera pointing forward, and it can see several kms forward of the airplane.  Doing this at multiple altitudes allows us to get vertical profiles over the lead.  Now, all we need is for the lead to freeze over, and we’ll get some frost flowers, so we can test the impact of frost flowers on bromine activation.  For those who want to know about frost flowers, I like the paper by Alvarez-Aviles in JGR in 2008 (JOURNAL OF GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH, VOL. 113,D21304, doi:10.1029/2008JD010277, 2008).  See below some pics of the lead.  “Wish you were here!”

- Professor Paul Shepson (Purdue University)


Thursday, March 22, 2012

Flying over sea ice!

Today started with a beautiful sunrise at the Cake Eater Lab...
Photo courtesy of graduate student Stephan General (Univ. of Heidelberg)
...Which was followed by an absolutely amazing flight with Professor Paul Shepson!
Take-off! (photo courtesy of graduate student Stephan General (Univ. of Heidelberg))

Several leads (open water channels) have opened up to the west of Barrow!  Now BROMEX is in full swing!  We are investigating the impacts of these openings in the sea ice on the atmosphere.

Flying over NARL (former Navy Arctic Research Lab)

Cake Eater Lab!
Two happy scientists! (Post-doc Dr. Kerri Pratt and pilot Prof. Paul Shepson, Purdue Univ.)
Excited after the flight! (Post-doc Dr. Kerri Pratt, Purdue Univ., photo courtesy of graduate student Stephan General (Univ. of Heidelberg))

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

3rd grade on the tundra!

Yesterday Ms. Jenn Wallace's 3rd grade class from the Fred Ipalook Elementary School (Barrow, Alaska) took a field trip to visit us on the tundra at the Cake Eater Lab!  The students learned about snow, meteorology, and air sampling.  One of their favorite activities though was running in and out of snow pits!  The field trip was organized by graduate student Ross Lieb-Lappen (Dartmouth College) with help from graduate students Melinda Webster (University of Washington) and Erin Gleason (University of Alaska, Fairbanks)!  We all had a lot of fun with the kids!
Learning about the temperature buoys from graduate student Melinda Webster (Univ. of Washington)
Learning about measuring wind speed and temperature from graduate student Melinda Webster (Univ. of Washington)
Learning about snow chamber experiments from graduate student Kyle Custard (Purdue University)
Learning about our snow chamber shelf and going to visit the "whooshing" sound of the mass spectrometer inlet with post-doc Dr. Kerri Pratt (Purdue University)
Learning about the flow tube air sampling inlet from graduate student Kyle Custard (Purdue University)
School bus at the Cake Eater Lab!
Thank you very much to Ross Lieb-Lappen (Dartmouth College) for organizing this great field trip, and thank you to Jenn Wallace and her awesome 3rd grade class!

Town of Barrow, Alaska

The town of Barrow consists of ~4,500 residents, over half of which are Iñupiat Eskimo, according to the North Slope Borough's website.  Kyle and I have been here for over four weeks now and have been able to explore a bit of the town.  Here are some highlights!

Alaska Airlines one-room check-in, terminal, and baggage claim!
Town of Barrow with the sea ice in the distance - The buildings are built on stilts that extend into the permafrost.
Heavy duty shop!
Light duty shop!
The AC - where the town does the vast majority of their shopping!  (Sea ice in the distance)
One stop shopping at the AC - furniture, snow machines, clothes, toys, tools, and groceries!
So, milk is a little expensive...$7 for a half gallon!  Everything "fresh" has to be flown up here in the winter, and it's difficult to keep things from freezing here!
Barrow High School - Home of Whalers basketball!  (and the gym that Kyle and I frequently visit)
It's a little expensive to fill up the truck!

Ilisaġvik College (local college right next to our hut)
View of the sea ice from the road next to the "beach"