We Blogged It!

Last Trip to Barrow

01/14/2012, 9:06 PM by Lollie Garay
The frozen Arctic Ocean.<br/><br/>Credit: Lollie Garay
The frozen Arctic Ocean.
Photo Credit: Lollie Garay

Jan 14, 2012

Temp: -29°C (-21°F) -51°

 The ArcticNitro team is back at the top of the world for their last sampling trip on the frozen Arctic Ocean. I received an email update from Dr. Tish Yager last night as she made her way from the southern end of Alaska to Barrow.  She reported that the sun was bright on the horizon, but overcast as they were landing in Fairbanks. Last year I posted pictures about what it looked like from the plane as we moved from “day “ to “night” in Barrow.

A little later she wrote: “We just walked through -51°C (-60°F) to board the plane in Fairbanks.  Glad I wasn't wearing Crocs!   ;)” That was little dig at me, who arrived in Barrow last year in -43.3°C (-46°F) unprepared for the outdoors walk from the plane to the terminal- I WAS wearing Crocs!

 I’m not with the team this trip but will be blogging for them from warmth of Houston! I have work to do here with the SMORE team of teachers and students who are following this expedition from Houston TX, Hinesville, Ga, and Barrow Alaska! Drs. Yager and Marc Frischer are mentors to this project that will be doing their own winter sampling in their respective communities. Learn more about SMORE at www.smoretexas.blogspot.com and follow the links to participants in Georgia and Alaska.

 Over the next several blogs I’ll share questions that students have posted for the team along with the most current news from the Arctic Ocean!  These first ones come from SMORE Georgia students:

S: Could the Arctic still exist with a little bit of a warmer/ higher climate? If so, how would the animal, sealift, and environments change?

  What is the Arctic Ocean's exact temperature? Can we as humans swim in it, or would we die of hypothermia?

 From Dr. Yager:  “One of the major questions in polar science right now is about what the high latitude ecosystems are going to look like in the future.  We don't know for sure, but we have some certainty about sea ice disappearing, and we know that many Arctic animals depend on sea ice for their livelihood.  It's hard to imagine how they are going to cope.  Most of us expect that new animals that are used to open water conditions (that currently live in the North Pacific, for example) may move in to the area.  We are already seeing some species of NE Pacific fish, like Pollack, moving into the Chukchi Sea, for example.   The animals that depend on the ice may need us to create refuges for them in the same way we do now for some animals that live in other endangered areas (like Mountain Gorillas). “

 “As long as there is sea ice present, the surface water temperature in the Arctic is about -1.8 degrees Celsius.  Can you convert that to Fahrenheit?  That's the coldest temperature that seawater can get before it freezes.  If sea ice is present, it will absorb any added heat as the "latent" or "hidden" heat of melting before any temperature change in the ocean can occur.  Once the sea ice is melted, the water can then warm up under the sun's rays. “

 “Try this for yourself:  fill up a dish basin or bathroom sink with ice cubes.  Add about a quarter cup of rock salt (like you would to an ice cream maker) and cold water.    Stir with your hands.  See how long you can hold your hand under that water! I have seen hearty and healthy Navy divers go scuba diving with dry suits in Arctic waters for up to about 15 minutes at a time.  When they come out, they are numb and very uncomfortable.  If they have any kind of leak in their glove or their dry suit, it’s even less time than that.  Personally, I once jumped into a melt pond (open to the sea on the bottom) and was shocked at how cold it felt.  I don't think any of us could last very long in those waters. “

 J: How is it possible for the salt to leave the frozen sea? When the water un-freezes will the salt then return to the water?

 Is it possible for any other "active biology" to live below the ice besides algae? What about bacteria?

 From Dr. Yager:  “It might be easier to think about this upside down, from the perspective of the ice rather than of the ocean.  It is the sea ice that doesn't have room for the salt molecules when it freezes.  The water molecule, H2O, makes a beautiful organized lattice structure (like lace) when it freezes, forcing the sodium, chloride, and other salts to leave.  The only salt in sea ice is in the "brine" which can forms channels that flow between ice crystals like water through a cellulose sponge.   (If you get stranded, you can drink melted sea ice.) “

 “When the sea ice melts, the fresh water goes back into the ocean.  It tends to "float" at the surface since it is less dense than the salty seawater below, but if it's stormy (windy) the fresh water will mix the fresh water with the seawater (just as if you were shaking up oil and vinegar together) and lower the overall salinity of the ocean surface layer.  “

 “Yes, microbes (especially phytoplankton) live very well below the ice as long as it has light.  They do best when there is not very much snow on top of the ice (snow prevents light from penetrating).  Ice itself transmits light pretty well (think about shining a flashlight through an ice cube), so the ice alone is not enough to turn off the lights or the productivity in the surface ocean. “

 “Most of the microorganisms that live under the ice are cold-adapted, so they are active at sub-zero temperatures.  Some of them get more active if you warm them up a little, but most would die if you brought them to typical indoor "room" temperatures (or Georgia coastal temperatures!).  The fish and the marine mammals are cold-adapted too.   In fact, a polar bear is more likely to overheat from exertion than get frostbite!” 

 I asked Marc (Dr.Frischer) about ice conditions this morning. According to our good friend Brower (UMIAQ) they were expecting some shifting today due to 30mph winds blowing through, calming on Sunday.

 We'll see what happens tomorrow!



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