We Blogged It!
Jan 22, 2012
Temp: -33° C (-29°F)
Wind Chill: -48.8° C (-56° F)
Tish sent an email yesterday (Sat.) She wrote: “The weather is getting worse again. It’s much colder and windier. We are supposed to sample again tomorrow. I hope so, since this is the last hurrah! Then the packing frenzy begins!”
Her Research Assistant Colin Williams is on his first trip with the ArcticNItro team. I asked him to share some thoughts on the trip so far. He responded:
“My first time on the ice was an experience that I will remember for the rest of my life. Taking a snow mobile out over two miles across a freezing expanse of ice was certainly an interesting journey. The actual ice was not smooth or flowing like I had seen in programs on TV or in movies. Instead there were large ridges and jagged mounds of ice that were a result of wind and water currents causing ice sheets to crash and collide together. Some of these ridges were taller than the snow mobile I was on! It was also incredibly cold out on the ice. Since there are no mountains or trees (especially in the winter) the wind is allowed to blow across the ice sheets at great speeds with gusts up to 30mph.”
“Even though I don't really like the cold I can still appreciate the natural beauty of the environment in Barrow, Alaska. On the ride back to camp I looked out over the frozen ocean and saw the Aurora Borealis shimmering over the ice in sheets of blue and green. It stretched across the entire sky and reminded me how truly unique this place is.”
Unique indeed Colin! However awesome the ambience, it’s still a dynamic, changing field site on the ocean that reminds us daily about who has the upper hand! According to Marc, so far the Ice has!
Conditions continued to force the team to make changes in their game plan for the second sampling, specifically trying to find a safe, stable location to sample from. Several sites were proposed and each had it’s own drawbacks: either too shallow (to the North) or too much movement (to the South). The team had been sampling in the Chukchi Sea near Point Barrow where 3 currents converge, leading to a lot of ice instability. After strategizing with the logistics team, the decision was made to go to the North.
After the day’s work, the team decided to get in a good hot meal before the next day, and headed to Pepe’s, North of the Border- a Barrow favorite.
This Mexican restaurant has been in business for over 30 years run by proprietor Fran. Marc says “ Fran was originally from Seattle and came to the North Slope over 40 years ago as pipeline engineer. She stayed, eventually settling in Barrow, and is still active at the youthful age of 82.”
The sampling the next day (Thursday) proved to be still another challenge.
Marc reports “Well fed and rested we were ready for another day on the ice. Because of all the uncertainty surrounding the ice conditions we are all trying to make the most of the opportunities we get. Today, in addition to collecting our normal samples the Bronk team (Stephen and Rachel) are planning on staying a bit longer to collect ice cores and Niko was going to attempt to collect samples for his methane studies. It’s a lot to do and necessitated rather intricate planning so that we always have enough snow machines, sleds, drivers, guides, and bear guards. Everything started out smoothly. “
“We all set out about 11:00 as the dawn twighlight began (still no sun, but some light) and headed north. First we headed north over the frozen tundra and then out onto the ocean. The ice at our new location was very jumbled and rough which made for a bit of a bumpy snow machine ride. However, the rough ride was reassuring since it meant the ice was probably quite stable. The roughness in the ice and the formation of pressure ridges is largely due to wind moving the ice around and piling it into the shore. Eventually, with enough pressure it becomes locked in and grounded to the bottom.”
“Once at the site we set about setting up the camp. Since it was a new camp we had to drill new ice holes and situate the tents over them. We also set-up propane heaters in each of the tents, and unloaded all our gear. It was a cold morning but absolutely spectacular to be out on the frozen Arctic Ocean. Everything was going smoothly. Victoria and I deployed our Manta water quality instrument to measure the water column and then the Bronk group took over. That’s when disaster struck!”
“While moving one of their very heavy sample boxes Debbie’s foot slipped into the ice hole and she fell. Her hand hit the propane heater and her down coat touched the hot chimney and melted. Feathers went everywhere, Debbie screamed. It was chaos. But no one panicked. Debbie was quickly pulled to her feet and besides a nasty burn on her hand (and the destroyed coat) she was fine.”
“We turned the heater off and when the feathers settled were able to continue. But, we thought it best to get Debbie back home so that someone could look at her burn. So while Debbie was escorted back the rest of us finished-up sampling and then followed her in.”
“Once back we all got busy in the lab processing the precious water samples that we had collected. We all realized how lucky we all were today and grateful to be back safely. I for one slept well!”
The ArcticNitro team had one last sample day left- stay tuned for the report on that!