Category Archives: Arctic

This is from our trip May 13-23, 2011 to Barrow, Alaska to measure the electrical properties of sea ice.

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


Barrow — Our First Day of Testing

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.

Breakfast with Russell

Breakfast with Russell -- Ken Golden, David Lubbers, Russell the Ram, Hajo Eiken.

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.

Ken & Christian coring ice.

Ken and David with an ice core.

Field testing. The grey sky is called 'water sky', because it appears over open water (the ocean), not far from the ice where we are testing.

Algae -- the stuff at about the bottom of the food chain -- on the bottom of the ice core!

Glen Roy, our Native Alaskan Polar Bear Hunter. Glen Roy has lived in Barrow all his life.

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.

Bow-head whale bones. They are a pretty arch way, but mostly I just wanted to touch one.

More Pictures from today:

More about Barrow:,_Alaska

Wiggly Rivers


Wiggly river near 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.

A wiggly (meanderaing) river from our flight.

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?

Hint: Look in the top right corner!

To see more pictures of the flight click  below.

Hello, Barrow!

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.

Welcome to the Ukpik Nest!


Flying out of Seattle

Well, we are on our way!  We left Salt Lake City tonight at 5:55 pm, flew to Seattle, and then on to Fairbanks.   The mountains outside of Seattle were tipped with sunset, and it was incredibly beautiful.  When we arrived in Fairbanks, Alaska, about 11pm, it was just starting to be sunset again.  It is midnight now, and still very light outside, like evening in SLC.  As we flew in over Fairbanks, there were hundreds of miles of pine or fir trees, huge rivers, high mountains, very very beautiful.  I wish we could spend more time here. I like it.  Tomorrow morning we will take another plane to Barrow, Alaska, where we will be staying for the next week.

We are going to Barrow to measure sea ice.  When sea ice freezes, the pure water freezes first, leaving behind the extra-salty brine in little pockets throughout the ice.  Gravity pulls those pockets downward, creating little channels of salty brine.  When the ice melts, it creates ‘melt ponds’ of water that sit on top of the ice.  Melt ponds absorb heat from the sun, because they are dark colored.  Ice and snow reflect heat from the sun, because they are light colored.  Water from the melt ponds can percolate down through the ice to the ocean below, thus draining the melt pond.  The more brine channels there are in the ice, the more draining can occur.  So … freezing and melting ice is important in climate change models, and we are therefore very interested in the channels in the ice.

We can effectively measure the channels two ways.  One way is by measuring the fluid flow.  We take a core out of the ice and see how fast the water comes up in the hole.  That is the percolation rate of the water.  The other way is by measuring the electrical properties of sea ice (the more brine channels, the more they are connected, the higher the conductivity, the lower the resistance of the ice).  So, by measuring the electrical properties and correlating them with the fluid transport (percolation) properties of the ice, we can tell something about how quickly a melt pond might drain in that area.

Who is going?  Our team is made up of Dr. Ken Golden, professor of math at the University of Utah; Dr. Cindy Furse (that’s me), professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Utah; Christian Sampson, PhD student in math; David Lubbers, undergraduate-now a new Masters’ student in electrical engineering.  And Russell the Ram, from St.Xavier School in Kansas, is coming along with us again.

What do we hope we see? Some really great sea ice, to start with!  Check out this webcam of Barrow, Alaska, to see where we will be.  And besides ice,  I wish I could see a sled dog team running fast over the ice.  I don’t know if that is a possibility, but I think that would be really great!  I am not quite as sure if I would like to see a polar bear running fast over the ice.  I will have to think about that one a little more.

How cold will it be?  Here is information on the temperature and ice thickness near Barrow.   Wunderground reports that today it was 18 F , and a low overnight of 9 F.  Tomorrow’s high is expected to be 25F.  That is actually pretty warm, and I might not need all the warm coats I brought.  Fortunately, we all brought lots of layers, so we can put them on and take them off depending on how warm it is during the day.

If you are interested in following this blog, mark your calendar and set your alarm for KSL Outdoors with Tim Hughes.   We plan to call in to that show next Saturday, from the ice, and share some of the adventure.

Arctic Research: Barrow, Alaska — Here We Come!

The countdown and preparation begins!  We are getting ready to go to Barrow, Alaska to repeat tests done in Antarctica on the opposite pole of the world.  Dr.Ken Golden (math), Dr. Cindy Furse (electrical engineering), PhD student Christian Sampson (math), and undergrad-turned-masters student David Lubbers (electrical engineering) are heading out May 13-23, 2011.

We will be measuring how fluid moves through the ice and its electrical properties and trying to correlate the two.  Our previous results from Antarctica look very interesting and promising, and we are hoping to see similar good stuff in the Arctic.

We have some other great news this week — Dr. Ken was just honored as a new ‘Fellow’ of the SIAM mathematics community.  This is a tremendous honor, and we are proud of him!

He will be giving a talk on the Frozen Ocean and Climate Change next Wednesday, April 14, 2011 at the Gould Auditorium of the Marriott Library.

How Does Sea Ice Effect our Climate?

Here is a recent blog from wunderground that describes why it is sooooo  brrrry cold tonight and why it will warm up next week, and how SEA ICE is involved in all of that =)  CLICK HERE