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UMIAQ Tent Rescue

01/19/2012, 12:00 AM by Lollie Garay
UMIAQ team poses by rescued tents.<br/><br/>Credit: Marc Fischer
UMIAQ team poses by rescued tents.
Photo Credit: Marc Fischer

Jan 19, 2012

Temp:  -21°C (-6°F)

Wind Chill:  -31°- (24° F)

Conditions: Clear

 In this post, Marc relates what happened on Tuesday (Jan 17). As you read in the previous blog, they were running a little behind schedule as they dealt with the ice.

 We woke up a little late this morning after yesterday’s late night.  Victoria and I met to go over plans for the day and to discuss the details of the experiment that we plan to start today.  The experiment is a component of SSU graduate student Zac Tait’s thesis project.  Zac couldn’t come this time because he is about to be a father.  His daughter, who they will name Iris, is due on 4 February!  Zac gave me and Victoria extensive notes and prepared all the supplies but we’ll run his test.”

 “The goal of his experiment, as in previous ones, is to test the hypothesis that Arctic Ocean bacteria can use the carbon locked up in the humic material that makes up the permafrost, but doing so will require them to acquire more nitrogen.  The most abundant source of nitrogen in the water is found in the mineral form of nitrate (NO3).  One of the major questions of our project is whether the release of the carbon stored in the permafrost will set-up increased competition for NO3 between the photosynthesizing autotrophs (phytoplankton) and the CO2 respiring heterotrophs (bacteria). “

 “The idea is that the more organic carbon that gets released into the ocean the more bacteria activity will occur.  However, that increase in activity will be at the expense of nitrate resources that the phytoplankton need in the spring (when the lights come back on) to grow.  If there is less nitrate available there will be less phytoplankton and therefore less fish, seals, whales etc that depend on a food web whose base is the phytoplankton.  So it’s somewhat of a counterintuitive idea; add more nutrients and get less out.”

‘“The real excitement happened on the ice today.  Because we are so concerned about the stability of the ice the UMIAQ crew went out to check our ice camp which we had left standing.  When they got out there they realized that the ice was moving a lot and that large cracks were beginning to appear.  The crew was scared enough that they just came back leaving the tent behind.  But Brower thought they could get it and made a heroic trip back out with Tony and Glenn.  They ripped the tents out of the ice leaving the stakes behind, quickly lashed it on two sleds, and hightailed it back jumping cracks with open water.  We heard some of it on the radio.  The whole situation has us pretty nervous and thinking very carefully about safety.”

 “Either way tomorrow we won’t go out.  We’ll re-group and re-evaluate.”

 I asked Barrow SMORE teacher Deb Greene to weigh in on the conditions there to get a sense of what the team was facing. Here’s her response:

 “The sun will be returning to Barrow in a few days (Jan 23rd).... But we are heading into what are traditionally the coldest months of the year. Winds are averaging about 20 mph, which bring the feel of our minus 15-25 degree temps down to about minus 50. School and life continues as usual unless the mercury actually hits minus 40.... Then schools are closed."

 “Even though it’s cold up here, we are considered a desert. Snow covers the ground, but we don’t get feet and feet of snow like Cordova or Valdez get. People are out snow machining every day and night. Kids wear frostbite on their faces like a ‘badge of courage’. We come to school in the dark.... And leave in the dark. For fun we go walking out on the ocean! But it gets scary when you keep on crossing polar bear tracks. “

 “Skis are a good way to travel this time of year. It’s easy to ski across the tundra as well as all the frozen lakes. It is especially fun if you can follow snow machine tracks! Since it gets windy up here, sometimes the snow blows onto the road. Then, when plows pile it up we end up with snow mountains that sometimes reach up to 40 feet high. They make great sledding hills!”

Doesn’t sound as scary when SHE talks about it!!

Lollie

 

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