Monday, April 23, 2012

Trip Journal: Flying ALAR from Alaska to Indiana!

Well, we finally made it back!  What a trip!  The weather wasn’t exactly perfect, like it was all the way to Barrow, and the whole time we were in Barrow.  The weather was really exactly the same in Barrow, every day - sunny, cold and winds from the northeast.  I think we got outta Dodge just in time!  Because of some problems with a relay on the master switch at low temperatures, we decided we would fly back through Fairbanks, so that our first overnight would be in a warmer climate (about 50F warmer in Fairbanks compared to Barrow).  
The view was fantastic, going over the Brooks Range!
On April 2nd, we stayed over night in Fairbanks, at Pike’s Waterfront Lodge.  Nice place!  Unfortunately, the area was socked in the next day, with a good chance of icing.  Since our airplane has no deicing equipment, we had to sit for a day.  This never happened in Barrow - it is too cold for icing!  So, Brian and I visited Everts Air Cargo.  They have a field full of classic airplanes, which they use for cargo jobs all around Alaska.  They seem to use lots of DC-4s.  They have an amazing maintenance staff at Everts.  Anyone want a job flying DC-4s?  I think they are looking for pilots!   Below is a pic of one of the airplanes on the field.  It is a Curtis C-46 most famous for flying the "Hump" over the mountains in China during WW2. 
The next day, April 4, we headed off for our border crossing into Canada, at Whitehorse, Yukon Territories.  See above below for a cool volcanic mountain on the way.
At Whitehorse, we got an in-person briefing from a nice guy, who told us, yes, you will now get into icing, on the way to Ft. Nelson.  But, you can follow the Alcan Highway, VFR, all the way, with multiple places to land, if you needed to (“we typically try to discourage people from landing on the road.  But…”).  So, this is what we did.  It was a great suggestion, we had a fantastic flight, once again with great views!  The picture below shows what it looked like following the road to Ft. Nelson.  We then landed at Ft. Nelson, where there is, well, nothing. 
From Ft. Nelson we flew to Peace River, Alberta (IFR), and, well, not much to see there, and it was late in the day.  When we got to Peace River, the weather turned bad, and we had to stay there an extra day.  Brian and I walked all the way around Peace River.  Peace River is nice, lots of ice all around the banks of the river.  A pretty cool looking ski area there, called “Misery Mountain Ski Hill”.  Sounds like fun, eh?  A pic of the ski area is shown below, from our hotel window. 
On April 6, we flew to Lethbridge, near the Montana border with Alberta.  It was time to cross the border back into the U.S., but the ceiling was low, and, again, there was a chance of icing.  So, we decided, after talking with some locals, to cross the border at Del Bonita, Albert/Montana.  There is a grass strip there, and the center “line” of the runway is right on the border.  The right side of the center line is Canada, and the left side of the center line is the U.S. (when you are landing to the west).  It was a 38mile trip.  We landed, and they seemed happy to have something to do.  In the U.S. customs building (turn left at the end of the “runway”; if you turn right, you are at Canada Customs), we signed in and they told us we were the second airplane to land there in 2012!  See the pic of the N762JT at “Wetstone International Airport”, below. 
We then tried to go a little further, but the weather got worse, so, we landed at Starr-Browning airport, in Browning, Montana.  This is a Blackfeet Reservation.  Interesting place.  Great views!  See Brian, standing next to 2JT and near the runway, looking west, below.  The nice man who owns the airport gave us a ride into town, and we stayed over night.  Dinner at the casino…. 
The next day the weather was fine.  We flew to Miles City MT, and then through South Dakota.  Hey, there’s no one down there at all!  Then Des Moines, through a light rain frontal system, and then, here is what we saw - ILS Runway 10, KLAF.  It is hard to tell you how good it felt to see that!  Brian!!!  We did it!!!
 Here's the full route, up and back:

- Prof. Paul Shepson

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Heading home in the footsteps of USNA!

After the US Naval Academy students left Barrow, they took a slight detour in Anchorage, so when our study got extended, we decided to follow their plan!  During our layover in Anchorage, Kyle and I headed out to Alyeksa Ski Resort for amazing views and some fun spring skiing!
Kerri and Kyle enjoying some fun spring skiing/snowboarding after the 8 week field study!
We found the USNA sticker outside the mid-mountain cafe!
Thank you so much to Ingrid and Bill for hosting our amazing visit to Anchorage!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Packing Up!

The time has come.  After an extremely successful field campaign, we are packing up and heading back to Indiana.  Kyle and I have been in Barrow since Feb. 18th.  When we arrived, sunrise and sunset were at 9:57 AM and 5:25 PM; now, the days are ~8.5 hours longer with sunrise and sunset today at 6:22 AM and 10:33 PM.  Spring has arrived in Barrow.  It is "warm" - currently 1F with a wind chill of only -15F!  In late February to early March, we got used to temperatures around -30F with wind chills reaching below -50F.
Celebrating by walking on the snow that I protected for 2 months for experiments (I was known by the logistics folks for insisting "Don't step on the snow!!!!!" in the winter in Barrow!)
Over the past couple days, we packed up all of our equipment and impressive number of compressed gas cylinders (21 + two 160 L liquid nitrogen dewers!) and took them to the airport to Northern Air Cargo for shipment to Anchorage and beyond. 
Kyle securing crates to a pallet at Northern Air Cargo.
The folks at Northern Air Cargo were incredibly helpful and even insisting on covering our pallets with lots of "Fragile" and "Don't Freeze" stickers in hopes of protecting our shipment!

Photo Request - A Family of Snowmobiles!

P.S. This isn't the last post!  Stay tuned for more!  :-)

Monday, April 9, 2012

ALAR returns to Indiana

Professor and pilot Paul Shepson and aircraft mechanic Brian Stirm flew the Purdue airplane (ALAR, Aircraft Laboratory for Atmospheric Research) back to West Lafayette, Indiana.  See below for their flight path to and from Barrow!  Stay tuned for a post about their trip!

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

The True Meaning of Wind & Cold

Yesterday morning our outreach videographer (Derek Hallquist, Green River Pictures) and I (Kerri) snowmobiled out on the sea ice with our bear guard Justin.  We followed whaling trails in search of the lead (open water).  After a bit of ride and some confusion, Justin realized that the trail stopped where there had been open water the previous day.  Overnight a huge amount of ice had run into the shorefast ice.  We could see a huge mass of ice floating by in the distance, so Derek set up his camera for a time lapse.  Justin told us that we needed to keep a careful eye on the ice in front of us because it could change instantly if the floating ice mass in the distance ran into this ice.  This was a dangerous situation, particularly as the wind was picking up, so we needed to hurry to shoot the video and head back to safer ice.  Despite all of our down clothing, Derek and I managed to get extremely cold during our trip due to the wind chill out on the exposed sea ice.  Many folks have asked if I am cold (since I get cold frequently in the lower 48!).  However, except for during snow chamber experiments when my hands have gotten cold, I have been pretty warm up here...until yesterday.  It was pretty brutal trying to take photos and video in the cold.  I managed to take a few photos (with gloves on) before my hands were in pain.  You don't go through a chilled stage with the cold here - you go straight to pain!  Derek described it as feeling like his hands were in boiling water.  Unfortunately, he did end up with some frostbite on his cheek, but I expect that the video will be great!  Our snowmobile ride back back to NARL was quite something - riding ~50 mph into ~30 mph winds on the ice.  We were cold!!!
Derek's camera set up for a time lapse video of ice floating in the distance.
Derek interviewing our bear guard Justin.  Notice the flying camera strap on the left - it was ridiculously windy!  My job as the "camera assistant" was to try to keep the fuzzy mic out of the wind!
Our awesome UMIAQ bear guard for the day - Justin
Derek checking out the snowmobile trail through the pressure ridge.  The whaling crews starting breaking trail in February, and whaling will start very soon.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Flying ALAR to Fairbanks

Monday morning Professor and pilot Paul Shepson and aircraft mechanic Brian Stirm (Purdue Univ.) flew ALAR out of Barrow, heading back toward Indiana.  Johannes, Stefan, Kyle, and I (Kerri) ("research flight crew" from the Univ. of Heidelberg and Purdue Univ.) wished them the best of luck and watched them fly off into the distance.  Their first stop was Fairbanks, Alaska, from which they sent us some beautiful photographs of their flight over the Brooks Range!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Sunlight on the tundra

Out at CARL (Cake Eater Atmospheric Research Laboratory), we have a fine array of instruments measuring all sorts of things, from blowing snow to sunlight. Here’s a brief description on how we set these instruments up and what they actually do. (Post by graduate student Melinda Webster, Univ. of Washington)

To begin, we had to do some manual labor. We dug snow pits for placing two towers in to provide them with stability in the chance that it becomes really, really windy. We needed a place with level ground so that the anemometers (the instruments that measure wind speed and direction) wouldn’t give us weird measurements. You can imagine having a pinwheel facing the wind works better than facing sideways to the wind. Our snow pits ended up being ~70 centimeters deep. Here’s our dig:  

After digging, we set up the actual towers themselves. After bolts and pieces, running wires through freezing metal tubes, testing the instruments with success, we were good to go! Once we had the towers up and standing, we piled snow back into the pits and set up wires bolted between the towers and the ground (again, for stability).

Closest to CARL is our radiometer tower which measures the sun’s energy each day. It tells us how much shortwave (Gamma, Xrays, UV) and longwave (Infrared, Microwaves, Radiowaves) radiation reaches the Earth’s surface. This is a great way to count the number of sunny and cloudy days, which can then be compared to the daily changes in air temperature and air chemistry.
The second tower is the meteorological station. It tells us four very useful things: air temperature, humidity, wind speed, and wind direction. The tower provides continuous information on the local atmospheric changes, like if it’s getting windier and colder, or warmer or calmer. It also provides a great comparison for other meteorological data measured around Barrow. 

We also compare these measurements to data from the Surface Velocity Profiler (SVP) buoys and Thermocrons. The SVP buoys measure air temperature and air pressure at hourly intervals. The Thermocrons are these thumb-sized devices which measure surface temperature every 5 minutes.  They are used to validate satellite-derived surface temperatures.
Thank you to graduate student Melinda Webster (Univ. of Washington) for this great post!