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

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