Check out the Radio Show with Tim Hughes! HERE (about 2/3 of the way through this link)
Check out the Radio Show with Tim Hughes! HERE (about 2/3 of the way through this link)
Ok, so when I decided to be an electrical engineer, I didn’t exactly think, ‘Wow, I think I want to go on a Polar Science Expedition, I guess I’ll be an electrical engineer.’ I confess, ‘Adventure’ and ‘Engineering’ didn’t really link up in my mind. I wanted to make a difference in the world, and make it a better place. But sometimes, to make that difference, you really do have to go to the ends of the earth. And that is what we have done.
In November 2010, we went to Antarctica to measure the electrical properties of southern polar sea ice. Our team consisted of Dr.Ken Golden (Professor of Math), Dr. Joyce Lin (postdoc in Math), Dr. Cindy Furse (Professor of Electrical Engineering) and David Lubbers (undergrad in electrical engineering). We camped on the ice for nearly 2 1/2 weeks, in a field camp with scientists from New Zealand and Germany. In May 2011, we went to the Arctic to measure the electrical properties of northern polar sea ice. We worked with scientists from University of Alaska, Fairbanks. Here we needed a polar bear guard (I guess a penguin guard was not needed in Antarctica, because penguins don’t eat people.). What an adventure this year has been! I’ve always found engineering exciting, fascinating, and never ever boring … but I hadn’t exactly planned on this much adventure. Wow! Electrical Engineering is definitely NOT your average desk job!
While we were in Barrow, Alaska, we met another really cool (and famous) electrical engineer. Fran Tate got her degree from the University of Washington in 1960. She was one of 3 women in the entire college of 1500 men. She worked in the oil and gas industry, and her company needed engineers in Barrow, Kenya, and Greece. She chose Barrow, when it was quite a wild and wooley outpost. She loved it. When her job finished, and she was offered the chance to go to Anchorage instead, she chose to stay, and dug out her entrepreneurial spirit. She started Pepe’s Mexican restaurant, which as far as I can tell is about the furthest Mexican restaurant from Mexico that you can find, and she also started a water delivery and sewage pick up system (that’s about as complete a food life cycle as you can come up with). Just proof, once again, that electrical engineers really do make the world go ’round’.
More about Fran:
Yesterday was another very interesting day of testing on the ice. We testing on ‘multiyear’ ice which means it has been partially melted and then refrozen, and the area has not been completed thawed in the past few years at least. This generally means that the salty brine has drained away leaving nearly pure water ice. The ice was much more resistive (doesn’t conduct electricity) than the first year sea ice we were previously measuring, often so resistive that it was beyond the range of our meter (effectively an ‘open circuit’ or a great insulator). This was really interesting to see the different kinds of ice.
This multi-year ice was only a short distance (less than a mile) from our original site, but it was very different in appearance. There were several small ridges of ice, from the freeze-thaw and pressure cycles, and with the snow on top of them, it was kind of like a frozen fairy land.
Our original test site seemed nearly devoid of animals. But just a short distance away at this site, we saw several animals. First, there were several large flocks of King Eiders (like 200-300 birds) . They flew overhead with a great whirring sound. We also saw one that was dead in the snow, a brightly colored bird the size of a typical duck. We also saw some snow buntings, and we heard tundra swans but couldn’t see them in the deep fog.
David saw something moving in the snow, and we think it was an arctic fox.
Coming back, Glen Roy noticed polar bear tracks. He had been watching out for them all day. Because of the fog, he had to watch more closely, since he wouldn’t be able to see them at a great distance. The tracks were from the day before, and we hadn’t noticed them on the way in. He thinks they were from a young female, since the front tracks were noticeably smaller than the back tracks. These tracks were not very far from where we had been measuring the day before, but would have been out of sight. We saw tracks our first day here too, and we saw bears in the far distance also.
Meet Glen Roy, our bear guard. I think he has one of the coolest, most unusual jobs I’ve ever heard of! He is officially certified as a mammal hazer — polar bears.
Hello again from Barrow! Today we were a lot faster in getting out on the ice, and were able to take 11 cores. We worked on measuring the horizontal & vertical electrical properties of the ice separately, and found values that seem to make sense, but we will definitely need additional data collection and analysis before we know for sure. We are excited to go out on the ice again tomorrow, and look forward to another great day.
The kindergarten class at St. Xavier school sent us several questions, so I will try to answer some of them to give you an idea what we are doing up here at the ‘Top of the World!’….
How deep is the sea ice up there?
Here is a cool website that gives up to date reports of the sea ice thickness, temperature, etc.: http://seaice.alaska.edu/gi/observatories/barrow_sealevel
Right now the sea ice is 1.56 meters deep (that’s 5’1″). That is deep enough we can walk on it, and drive snow mobiles on it, without worrying about it breaking up.
Is it as cold as Antarctica?
No, it is a lot warmer! it is spring time in the Arctic. The snow is clearly melting. Much of it is dark with leftover dirt from the winter. It is frozen in the morning when we get up, but by afternoon, there are a lot of big puddles and mud. It is always light, there is no ‘night time’ darkness.
Today it was -4 °C, which is 25 °F. Here is a site that will give you the moment-by-moment weather where we are. Click here.
Have you seen a polar bear, or any baby animals (since it is spring)?
No, we haven’t, but other groups of scientists have! We saw polar bear tracks on our first day here. We have a polar bear guard, Glen Roy, who watches out for us. He leads the group on a single snow mobile when we head out to the ice field. He has a rifle that hold flares and buckshot to scare bears away. He has field glasses to watch the horizon for bears. And he is used to watching for them, because he has lived here all his life. Apparently there are a lot of bear around Barrow right now, because of the whaling, but they are shy, and we haven’t seen them. Here is a sign that is up in most public buildings that reminds us to be aware and watchful for the bears:
Nope, not yet, but I’ll keep my eyes open for them!
How deep is the water?
We haven’t actually seen the ocean yet. We are on the ice, and still rather far from where the ocean opens up.
What are you eating? How many meals do you get to eat?
We are eating in the college cafeteria and local restaurants. We eat a big breakfast at the cafeteria and then we go out on the ice for the day. That is a few miles from Barrow. We bring snacks (like nuts and jerky) and maybe a sandwich for lunch. We come back about 4 or 430, and are really, really hungry. We clean up our equipment, put the batteries on the chargers, and go out to a local small restaurant to eat. My favorite treat so far was some really good local blueberry pie!
How long was the plane ride?
First we rode from SLC to Seattle, which took about 2 hours. Then from Seattle to Fairbanks, which was about 3. We stayed overnight in Fairbanks, because there was no flight to Barrow that night. The next morning we flew to Barrow, which took another couple of hours. On the plane that doesn’t seem so far from home, but it is definitely a different world up here. We are thoroughly enjoying our time here.
What kind of penguins are you going to see?
No penguins this trip. They are in Antarctica which is on the south (or ‘bottom’ of the earth). We are in the Arctic (north, the ‘top’ part of the world).
What kind of special vehicles do you get to use? Do they need the special kind of gas too? Do you need special wheels on your vehicles to get around on the ice?
We use snow mobiles towing sleds. One person drives the snow mobile, and the other rides on the back of the sled, sort of like a dog sled. It is a lot of fun, even when it is bumpy. The bear guard uses one snow mobile (without a sled) in the front. The rest of us follow up with 2 or 3 other snow mobiles and sleds. In the pictures below you can see our snow mobiles. You can also see something really neat called ‘water sky’. This is the dark sky near the horizon. This sky forms above water — above the open ocean — as opposed to the lighter clouds above the ice and land. It is really deep gray and shows you where the open water starts.
Snow mobiles don’t have tires, they have tracks or treads that help them stay up and keep moving in snow. They take regular gasoline like a car.
What kind of snow gear are you wearing? Do you have the same boots with the rubber bottoms?
It isn’t as cold here as it was in Antarctica, so our clothes are a little simpler. We all brought our own this time (as opposed to last time, when it was assigned to us). Starting at the bottom … on our feet we wear a pair or two of wool socks and winter boots. Then we wear polypro long underwear, fleece, and a water proof pair of snow pants. For coats, I wear almost the same thing as in Antarctica — polypro or wool shirt, a fleece vest, fleece jacket, over jacket, and another big parka over that. We all wear at least one hat, and often a baklava (the thing that covers your whole face). I like the fleece neck gaiter, and when it gets windy, I put my hood up. We wear a glove liner and gloves and have to change them several times in a day, because they get wet working on the ice.
How cold is the water?
Gee, I really don’t know. We haven’t been close enough to even see the water. It is still out away from shore. The area we are working is all frozen into ice.
How deep is the snow?
Is the snow sharp?
The snow is warmer and wetter here, so even though it is often quite windy, the wind doesn’t seem to pick up the snow and blow it into our face like it did in Antarctica. But check this out! Today it snowed just a tiny bit. And look what the snow was shaped like ….. tiny snow slivers! It wasn’t sharp-feeling, but it was certainly sharp-looking!
I’m really tired tonight, so I will answer the rest of these questions hopefully tomorrow night with more pictures … tune in ‘next time’ for the ‘rest of the story’…. Good night for now! Cindy
Today we spent most of the day on the ice. We collected data from 7 ice cores, and Hajo and Marc collected several of their own.
We started out by loading 3 sleds with our experimental gear, covering it to keep it dry, and tying it down tightly so it wouldn’t bounce or slide. Then we rode out to the site of Hajo’s mass balance data collection, and chose a patch of ice that is hopefully very uniform — the same snow cover, thickness, etc. It is first year sea ice, which means it was open water last summer. It is about 1.5 meters thick, and there is a bit of algae at the bottom next to the sea water. Then we took cores, and did electrical measurements.
Glen Roy came with us (in fact, he led the way), to watch for polar bears, while we were too engrossed in our testing to be much help. If he saw one, he would first show flares and buckshot to try to scare it away. He does carry slugs in case the bear can’t be dissuaded. Part way to our testing site, Glen Roy stopped and showed us the polar bear tracks from last Thursday. It was one large and one young polar bear. He says there are a lot of polar bears here this year, because of the whaling.
More Pictures from today: http://www5.snapfish.com/snapfish/thumbnailshare/AlbumID=6512844008/a=21299206_21299206/
More about Barrow:
by Christian Sampson
Well we have had our very first day in Barrow Alaska and it has been a busy one! We spent all day unpacking all of the tools and equipment we will need on the ice both to keep warm and to make our measurements. With all that work we were all very hungry by the end of the day, so we went out to a place called Arctic Pizza here in Barrow and ate lots of pizza and had tons of fun! We also had fun on the flight from Fairbanks to Barrow watching all of the scenery go by out the windows of the plane. Alaska is beautiful with lots of different types of places and geology.
One of my favorite things that we saw when flying to Barrow are what are called meandering streams. Meandering streams are wiggly rivers that sort of zig zag and curve back and fourth and all over the place as they flow. Sometimes they can even curve so much that they cut their own flow off and have to find a new path, leaving behind what is called an ox-bow lake.
Why do they wiggle? Well as streams and rivers flow they carry lots of big and little rocks down hill with the water in the current. Sometimes a river will flow through a place with something that might slow it down like vegetation. When this happens some of the rocks slow down and even stop because the river is no longer moving fast enough to carry the heavier rocks along. This makes a kind of pile of rocks in the way of the river. Eventually this pile can get so big that it diverts the river and the water turns to flow more easily.
Once a river starts to turn it can start to meander. The water at the inside of the turn moves slower and deposits even more rocks on the pile while the water on the outside of the turn is moving faster and erodes the ground making the turn even bigger!
Eventually This turn becomes so sharp that the river almost flows back on itself this is when it cuts itself off and finds a new path leaving behind what is called an ox-bow lake.
Can you see any ox bow lakes in the picture we took below?
To see more pictures of the flight click below.
Early this morning we took another flight to Barrow, Alaska. Our collaborators, Hajo and Marc, joined us. The flight was beautiful! I’m going to let Christian tell you more about it…
Today we collected and unpacked our gear. We have 4 huge shipping boxes of stuff. We will be taking some of it out on the ice with us. Other stuff is left in the lab (plugged in, for instance, charging overnight). Still more (clothes) are here in the hotel with us.
Here is our hotel in Barrow. It is great to have a warm shower and comfortable bed! It is 2 hours earlier here than it is in Salt Lake City. It is 1:13 am at my home, and 11:13pm here. I might not be sleepy in Barrow, but I am in SLC, so I am going to sign off for the night and catch a little shut eye before we get up to start our first day on the ice.