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!


  1. Uh, Sandy, it's "Mar-uh-kin".

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