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On Ice!

01/28/2011, 03:08 AM by Lollie Garay
The Team on Ice<br/><br/>Credit: Marc Fischer
The Team on Ice
Photo Credit: Marc Fischer

Jan 26

Temperature: -26° F (-32.8 ° C)

The lab is humming with the sound of work. Last minute preparations are being done to make sure we have everything we need ready for the first samples we'll soon take on the ice. There's a mixture of serious focus and eager anticipation in the air. Although this project has conducted sampling here in Barrow at the end of April and August already (2010), this is the first time its been done in January at these temperatures. So the question is: what challenges await?? I'll continue this story later in the day!

Around 10AM:

Boxes and tubs are packed and ready for loading onto the trucks. Time to put on the warm clothes! Unsure exactly how we would withstand the cold, everyone packed on as much clothing as possible. There could be no exposed skin, especially on the ride out on the snowmobiles. The temperature "warmed" up to about -26° F today, but I found out that it doesn't take much wind to drop that dramatically!

We loaded up the trucks and headed for Bldg.36- the staging area.

Once there, extra outerwear was put on. I had on 3 layers of clothing under the stiff orange mustang suit. The suits are submersible so it's all one snug, airless jumpsuit. There was some debate as to whether I would be warm enough. Some of the UMIAQ support team told me I should wear a parka over it, just to be sure. Problem was, my parka didn't fit over the mustang suit. So, they found another that would. I remembered Rachel 's words earlier: "I feel like an overstuffed Oreo!"

Around 10:45 AM:

Snowmobile crash course and last minute instructions. We gathered around the Ski-doo to listen to Alice (UMIAQ) explain how to operate it. I had already designated myself as a rider rather than a driver (I do have some sense, especially after hearing how bumpy the ride could be!) Added to that, the snowmobiles would be pulling sleds loaded with the supplies and samples. Later, I was very glad I had made that choice!

11:00 AM

Engines are revving- excitement level is high. I partnered up with Alice and took my place standing behind the sled. I had no peripheral vision because of the parka hood, goggles, and baklava wrapped on my head, but I could sense the smiles on everyone's face. Then, we were off!!

The ride behind the sled was bumpy but I had a tight grip that I'm sure was turning my knuckles white if I had been able to see them J

We had only gone a short distance when Alice stopped. She got off and came toward me. (Had I done something wrong already??) But she smiled and said that it was going to get bumpier and she thought I'd be better off riding behind her. I was not going to question her wisdom!!

And bumpy it was. I may have bruised her with the death grip I had around her. I had on so many thick layers and gloves that hanging on to her was difficult, so I just squeezed with my whole arm.

I wasn't scared, just wanted to make sure I didn't fly off (mustang suit is also slippery). But one thought overrode all others: I'm on the frozen Arctic Ocean!!!

Around 11:45

It was a short ride out to the ice camp. Once there, all the equipment was off loaded. UMIAQ team members Brower, Reynolds and Alice all helped immensely. Propane heaters were set up inside the tents as the work began. And the most important person out there took his place:

The Bear Guard!

Everyone got to work quickly. I only managed a few "work" pictures because I was in the smaller tent helping Karie and Tara collect samples.

They were using a single Niskin bottle (like the ones on a CTD) to collect samples from 4 different depths, the deepest being 7m. The hole had been drilled on the day before and was iced over. Before they began to break up the ice with a pick, the water began to bubble- seal! We were hoping to see it poke its head up but it never did. So, work began.

The first thing was to take a measurement of the depth, found to be a little over 10 m.

In our tent, Karie lowered the Niskin bottle for Yager's samples manually into the hole using a rope measured off in m. A weight attached to another rope was then released to close the caps on the bottle. As soon as it was brought up, samples were taken. They collected 2-50mL centrifuge tubes and 1-2L bottle for each depth. Samples were stored in an ice chest with warmers next to the heater to keep them from freezing. We also added snow to insulate them during the transport back to the lab.

In the larger 10x10 tent, the Fischer and Bronk teams used a submersible pump to collect water. At the end, Debbie Bronk said her team had worked efficiently to collect 72 bottles at 4 depths adding different isotopically labeled nutrients and humics to each.

After 2 hours, work was complete and the uploading of samples began.

After working in the relatively warm environment of the tents, stepping out into the coldness was a jolt. We took time for a few quick pictures then began the trek back to the labs. Timing is important –getting the samples back before they freeze!

The ride back proved to be challenging than we anticipated. A combination of the snow and ice and the weight of the sleds with all the water samples made it difficult to maneuver the ski-doos up and over the banks. We had to stop several times to upright the machines (didn't lose any samples!) and to retrieve a couple of researchers that flew off!!

No one was hurt, but it made for good stories in the evening :)

All in all, it was considered a very good day! So, what did we learn about sampling in that kind of cold?

1. Eyelashes, beards, and nose hairs freeze.

2. A momentary touch to a metal pole with wet gloves is all it takes to get your fingers stuck.

3. GPS, cameras, and like- equipment freeze up quickly

4. Even protected samples can freeze and can't be used. (Rachel carried a partially wrapped sample between buildings upon our return and it froze up before her eyes in 2-3 minutes!)

5. Zippers freeze.

6. Pipettes and Niskin bottle nozzles freeze.

Thursday is for processing samples (already begun). Our next trip to the ice is Friday.

Staying warm,

Lollie

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