Mathematicians, Physicists, and Engineers in Barrow

Our Team -- Dr. Ken Golden, Christian Sampson, David Lubbers, Dr. Cynthia Furse, Glen Roy

Our Team -- Dr. Ken Golden, Christian Sampson, David Lubbers, Dr. Cynthia Furse, Glen Roy

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.:

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:

Have you seen a snow frog yet?

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.

(Front to back): Glen Roy (our bear guard), Christian, David, Marc. I'm taking the picture, and I usually ride standing on the back of one of the sleds.

Ken and Christian on the snowmobile with part of our gear.

The sleds are great for carrying gear (in our shipping boxes), and a rider. I usually ride on the back of a sled, too. It is kind of like skiing!

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.

Christian covered up for our snow mobile ride.

David getting ready to test ice cores.Marc with a great ice core he just finished drilling.

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?

about 3-4″
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!

Snow Slivers

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


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