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!

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