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.