Posts Tagged ‘arctic ocean’

UGA Skidaway Institute scientist stands atop the globe

September 14, 2015

University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography researcher Chris Marsay is on top of the world—literally.

UGA Skidaway Institute scientist Chris Marsay at the North Pole, with the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy in the background.

UGA Skidaway Institute scientist Chris Marsay at the North Pole, with the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy in the background.

Marsay arrived at the North Pole in early September. He is taking part in the US GEOTRACES Arctic Expedition on board the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy, a polar icebreaker.

The project is part of an international, multiple icebreaker effort to conduct geochemical sampling of the Arctic Ocean. The cruise arrived at 90 degrees north on Sept. 5 in what is the first occupation of the North Pole by an unaccompanied U.S. surface ship—submarines usually follow ships below the ice. While at the pole, the Healy rendezvoused with the German ship conducting the German leg of the GEOTRACES Arctic program.

Marsay is working with UGA Skidaway Institute professor Cliff Buck and scientists from Florida State University and Rutgers University. The research team has been funded by the National Science Foundation to collect samples from the atmosphere, precipitation and surface water from melt ponds during the cruise.

Chris Marsay collects samples at the North Pole.

Chris Marsay collects samples at the North Pole.

“Our research goals are to describe the chemistry of atmospheric deposition to the region and quantify flux rates,” Buck said. “These data will then be shared with the scientific community to better understand biogeochemical cycling of trace elements and isotopes in the Arctic Ocean.”

Stubbins joins Arctic cruise

June 19, 2012

Skidaway Institute scientist Aron Stubbins has spent the last couple of months working in Germany. He reports in on a cruise he is about to join.

I’m off to the Arctic on Germany research vessel Polarstern.

I will be collecting samples to determine the export of dissolved black carbon from the Arctic to the Atlantic Ocean. The cruise will transect Fram Strait, the major gateway for the exchange of water and dissolved material between the two ocean basins. Today we will leave Bremerhaven in Germany, site of the Alfred Wegener Institute which houses the R/V Polarstern.

In a few days we will reach Svalbard and begin a transect from there towards Greenland following 78.5 degrees north. During this transect we will first cross the West Spitsbergen Current (WSC) which carries warm Atlantic waters north into the Arctic Ocean. This is the northernmost extent of the Gulf Stream that originates in the Gulf of Mexico and travels past Georgia and Savannah at the edge of the Georgia shelf.

We will then transit west towards Greenland, breaking ice as we go. In this part of the cruise we will collect water samples from the East Greenland Current (EGC). This carries cold, polar water south into the Atlantic Ocean. A figure of the currents is shown at

My work will look at the amount and type of dissolved organic carbon that these two massive currents carry north (WSC) and south (EGC). Our progress can be followed in real time at This site will also post weekly updates about life and science aboard R/V Polarstern.

The cruise will end in Longyearbyen on Svalbard where I will collect some samples to continue ongoing investigations into the sources and nature of glacier carbon (

Barrow — January 17

January 19, 2012

17 January 2012

We woke up a little late this morning after yesterday’s late night. Victoria and I met to go over plans for the day and to discuss the details of the experiment that we plan to start today. The experiment is a component of SSU graduate student Zac Tait’s thesis project. Zac couldn’t come this time because he is about to be a father. His daughter, who they will name Iris, is due on 4 February. Zac left me and Victoria with extensive notes and prepared all the supplies but we’ll run it.

The goal of this experiment, as in previous ones, is to test the hypothesis that Arctic Ocean bacteria can utilize the carbon locked up in the humic material that makes up the permafrost, but doing so will require them to acquire more nitrogen. The most abundant source of nitrogen in the water is found in the mineral form of nitrate (NO3). One of the major questions of our project is whether the release of the carbon stored in the permafrost will set-up increased competition for NO3 between the photosynthesizing autotrophs (phytoplankton) and the CO2 respiring heterotrophs (bacteria). The idea is that the more organic carbon that gets released into the ocean the more bacteria activity will occur.  However, that increase in activity will be at the expense of nitrate resources that the phytoplankton need in the spring (when the lights come back on) to grow.  If there is less nitrate available there will be less phytoplankton and therefore less fish, seals, whales etc that depend on a food web whose base is the phyotoplankton. So it’s somewhat of a counterintuitive idea; add more nutrients and get less out.

In previous experiments we found generally that this hypothesis is true, but that the carbon-rich humic material we collected directly from the tundra is used very slowly which makes the question hard to address given the practical constraints of our time here. Because our time is short and the temperatures are cold which slows everything down, we decided on a new twist for these experiments. This time, we are using humic material that has already been broken down some by exposure to sunlight. This process is called photo degradation. Photo degrading complex carbon molecules occurs naturally (It’s reasonable to expect that humics derived from melting permafrost will be exposed to sunlight on their trip to the ocean.) and it increases its availability to bacteria as a nutrient source. So, prior to the trip Zac exposed humics in a solar simulator for 0, 5 and 15 days resulting in increasingly degraded humic materials.  Amazingly, after 15 days of simulated exposure to sunlight the brown humic material was almost completely colorless. The carbon is still there but since it has been broken into smaller and less condensed molecules it doesn’t absorb as much light, thus it appears lighter in color.

Photo degraded humics used in our bioassay experiment

Our experimental design is relatively simple. We use 4 liter (1 gal) milk jugs (actually they are a special nontoxic plastic but they look like milk jugs) to incubate bacteria with the humics and allow them to grow.  Over the course of the week we’ll be here we take samples to watch the bacteria grow track the dynamics of the carbon and nitrogen. Our hypothesis will be supported if we see the bacteria grow and the carbon disappear in coordination with the disappearance of the NO3.

After 9 hours of filtering and rinsing we finally got the experiment set-up and running. We’ll sample it daily (or every other day) for the time we’re up here.

Zac’s experiment running


But the real excitement happened on the ice today. Because we are so concerned about the stability of the ice the UMIAQ crew went out to check our ice camp which we had left standing. When they got out there they realized that the ice was moving a lot and that large cracks were beginning to appear. The crew was scared enough that they just came back leaving the tent behind. But Brower thought they could get it and made a heroic trip back out with Tony and Glenn. They ripped the tents out of the ice leaving the stakes behind, quickly lashed it on two sleds, and hightailed it back jumping cracks with open water. We heard some of it on the radio. The whole situation has us pretty nervous and thinking very carefully about safety.

[Picture –

Brower and Glenn standing by the rescued tents.

Either way tomorrow we won’t go out.  We’ll re-group and re-evaluate.

Barrow — Jan 16

January 19, 2012

16 Jan 2012

Ice conditions are still unstable.  Our UMIAQ support team spent the morning doing reconnaissance of our intended sampling sites. After yesterday’s efforts they suggested that since it might be dangerous, it wasn’t a good idea for anyone on the science team to accompany them. Because the ice is still forming and the ocean is a powerful force, the ice can break-up pretty quickly. The team first scouted out our near shore site, but it was inaccessible due to a major crack between it and our ice trail. We use a trail cut through the ice to guide us on a safe snow machine run over it. They continued on to our second site located further out into the ocean and to the north. The ice in that area seems to be more stable. They liked what they saw and decided that it would be safe for us to set up camp there.

Brower Frantz, UMIAQ logistics leader proudly stands by the ice camp.

After making this decision the team came back, loaded up the camp gear (tents, generators, heaters, ice augers, etc) and went back out. This time Steven Baer from the Bronk group went with them to help orient the tents and make some basic measurements. Before starting we need to know the ice thickness, water depth, and usually how far light penetrates. In this case there basically isn’t any light but hey, we’re scientists. Measuring zero’s (or close to zero) can be just as important. Its data!

Meanwhile, back on the NARL campus where our labs are, there was a flurry of activity as we all checked and prepped our gear. Finally, around 3pm the camp was set-up and we were ready to go. I was pretty worried about how late it was getting, but because we have such a short time up here and the ice was deemed safe now we needed to push a little bit. Who knows if we’ll even get another chance given the dynamic condition of the ice.

The ride out was relatively uneventful. The ice was remarkably smooth compared to our previous trips.  As was explained to me, when the ice first forms it is relatively flat and it only gets jumbled up later as storms, wind, currents, and tides push it around. Flat ice generally means that it is new ice.  That is what was worrying everybody. We know the ice is still forming and moving a lot. Hopefully it won’t move while we’re on it! After about 30 min of driving we made it to our camp. Having well established sampling routines by now, this is our 6th expedition, we all got to work unloading our gear and starting to sample. The Yager group occupies their own tent (the smaller one) while the Frischer and Bronk group occupy the larger one.

Ice Camp 16 January 2012

In the Frischer tent I got started right away making measurements of the water column. We are using a new instrument that lets us measure depth, temperature, salinity, oxygen, chlorophyll, pH, and turbidity. It’s a pretty nice instrument but a bit delicate and the computer software is not straightforward. We transported it as if it was a delicate infant wrapped in blankets with warm water bottles and hand warmers to make sure it didn’t freeze on the way out. I think we overdid it! When I unwrapped it in the tent it was positively hot. The instrument worked well and we got a good look at the water conditions. As expected the water temperatures was -1.8 deg C, salinity was around 33 PSU (normal for the Arctic coastal ocean), there was almost no chlorophyll in the water (no light no algae in the water). Most importantly the water column was well mixed which means that we could sample at one depth and be reasonably assured that it would be representative of the whole water column. We decided to sample at 2 meters below the bottom of the ice.

Graph of water data from the MANTA, Eureka Environmental

After I was finished measuring the water the Bronk group got rolling. They rinse and fill what seem like a million small bottles to which they add a very small amount of nutrients enriched in their stable isotope concentrations. Stable isotopes are non-radioactive form of elements (atoms) that are slightly heavier than the normal form. For example, the normal atomic weight of Carbon is 12 (meaning it has 12 protons) while the stable isotopic form has a weight of 13. We refer to it as 13C.  Because 13C  is slightly heavier than 12C, it can be measured on a mass spectrometer. By measuring how much of it goes into cells during an incubation, the rate of uptake can be calculated. The Bronk group is making some of the first ever measurements of nutrient uptake rates by microbes in this region of the Arctic coastal ocean.

The process went pretty smoothly but since it was so cold, even in the tent, the pipettes which they were using to inject the stable isotope into the samples were freezing and slowing the process.

Dr. Debbie Bronk injects stable isotope labeled nutrients into seawater.

Meanwhile in the other tent the Yager group were having even more problems with freezing. They are collecting water samples to make measurements of the carbon chemistry and general activity of the microbes, so it is especially important that their samples do not freeze and are not exposed to the atmosphere which can contaminate the dissolved gas content of the seawater. Unfortunately, their samples were freezing.  However, after getting them off the ice floor of the tent and placing them into a seawater bath (a cooler filled with seawater) they seem to have solved the problem and were able to collect most of the samples they needed.

Dr Tish Yager and Colin Willams collecting water.

When the Bronk group was finished it was our turn.  Our sampling is probably the most straightforward, but we need to collect a lot of water.  We’re collecting enough water so that we can extract DNA and RNA from the bacteria in it.  We collect about 140 liters (about 40 gal or 310 lbs). Using a specially designed submersible pump we collected water in seven 20 liter carboys wrapped in neoprene and then place them in a cooler of snow. Believe it or not, the snow actually keeps the water from freezing. But, as simple as it sounds, we had our problems too. The generator that was running our pump ran out of gas.  Actually, the generator had a gas leak so it’s lucky it just ran out of gas and didn’t explode. But, because of excellent planning on the part of the UMIAQ team we had two generators on site. However, that meant the Yager group was without lights in their tent. We solved that problem by moving two snow machines so they pointed at the tent and the headlights provided enough light.

Finally we were all done and got all our gear and samples loaded back onto the sleds.  It was unbelievably cold and windy and we were all tired and ready to get back. The trip started off smoothly until I managed to get my sled stuck. It’s really tricky pulling a very heavily loaded sled. I had to slow down over a series of small ridges because the person in front of me slowed, and that was all it took for the snow machine to sink a little too much into some soft snow and lose traction. With all of us helping we disconnected the sled and managed to lift the back end of the snow machine out of snow, enough to get it moving. Then we were able to push the sled back to some more level ice and reconnect it to the snow machine. It was exhausting! But the fun wasn’t quite over. As we started moving again Debbie, in an effort to make it over the hole I had dug with the snow machine, went a little too fast over the area and bumped into Rachel and Jenna who were on the snow machine in front of them. No real harm though. Jenna fell off the snow machine but it was into soft snow and she wasn’t hurt. The brand new snow machine Deb was driving suffered a cosmetic crack in its fairing. Without further incident we all made it back safely to campus and quickly rushed our samples to our respective labs for processing.

Victoria and I spent the next 5 hours in our cold room filtering all that water we had collected. We had hoped to start another humic addition bioassay that is a component of Zac Tait’s thesis research, but it was just too late so we decided we’d do that first thing in the morning. After all the filtering was done, our samples put away safely, and all our gear cleaned-up it was time for some well deserved rest. I felt weary and frozen to the bone but pleased with the progress we had made.

Even though the sun won’t shine, tomorrow is a new day.

Day 2 in Barrow

January 18, 2012

Marc Frischer continues his account of his and Victoria Baylor’s research trip to Barrow, Alaska.

15 January 2012

Today we again woke up early and began setting up our labs. Actually day and night are surprisingly similar around here.

Good morning, Barrrow!

Victoria spent most of the day setting up our molecular lab in the BARC building. It is in this lab that we will extract RNA, DNA, and preserve other samples from the bacteria we collect from the Arctic Ocean. One of the questions we are addressing in this project is whether Arctic bacteria are competing with Arctic phytoplankton for nutrients (specifically nitrogen) and whether when more organic carbon from melting permafrost reaches the Arctic coastal ocean if this competition is intensified. We suspect that an intensified competition between bacteria and phytoplankton (algae) for nitrogen will lead to a less productive Arctic food web in a future warmer Arctic ocean. One way to address this question is to measure how actively bacteria are using the most prevalent form of nitrogen in these waters, nitrate (NO3). By looking for this gene and measuring how active it is, we are learning about how this critical nutrient cycling function is controlled.

Victoria setting up lab in BARC.

While  Victoria was setting up the lab I was setting-up the lab (walk in freezer) where we will be filtering water and conducting a bioassay experiment (more on that later). I also spent some time making sure our sampling gear was organized and functional. The pump we use to collect the water from under the ice had seized but luckily with the help of Lance Bennett (part of the CPS team) we got it running. We also brought with us a relatively new instrument to measure water conditions that I am not too familiar with. Initially I couldn’t manage to get the instrument to communicate with its hand held computer, but after a long struggle I finally got it to work. Hopefully I’ll be able to remember everything when we are actually out on the ice.  It’s a cool instrument though, it measures water depth, temperature, salinity, pH, turbidity and the concentrations of chlorophyll and dissolved oxygen all in real time.

Eureka Manta water quality instrument

While we were setting-up, our logistics team accompanied by Steven Baer (VIMS) as a representative of the science team was scouting our sampling sites. For those of you who may not be familiar with our sampling plans, when the ocean is frozen the way we sample is to set-up a camp on the ice, drill holes, and collect water through them. To safely do this we need to be on well secured and thick ice. This time of year the ice is pretty dynamic as it is still forming and major storms can move it around quite a lot. In advance of our trip this year we had identified several possible sampling locations that were consistent with our science needs, but they need to be checked every day. So this morning the UMIAQ team checked. Unfortunately its seems as our original site developed a major crack in the ice and is moving so we had to switch to a different site a few miles northward where the ice appears to be thicker and is more securely grounded (frozen to land). However, even there the ice seems to be moving a lot. So the camp didn’t get set-up and the plan is to revaluate tomorrow morning. That means we wait, but it’s much better to be safe than to risk everything. If there is one thing I have learned during this project it is to be patient and to trust the support we are getting from our local logistic support team.

We’ll just have to see what tomorrow brings. The weather is predicted to be pretty mild.

[Picture- weather forecast for 16 January 2012]

Marc Frischer talks about climate change on WSAV

November 14, 2011

Dr. Marc Frischer was on WSAV’s Coastal Sunrise program this morning to talk about his upcoming talk on climate change. If you missed it, you can see the replay here.

Back to Alaska!

August 19, 2011

Hello from Barrow, Alaska! This is Victoria Baylor and Zac Tait, members of the Frischer lab at Skidaway Institute. We are here to collect our final summer season samples and perform some experiments. We arrived safely in Barrow on August 11th after spending most of the 10th traveling and spending a night in Anchorage. The trip is so long, that we had to spend the night in Anchorage AK. We stayed at our usual place, the Holiday Inn Express in Anchorage and enjoyed fine dining at Simon & Seaforts. We have to admit the food was exactly spectacular and with a good nights rest we were ready to head off to Barrow on the 11th.

We made it safely to Barrow and were met by Dylan and Glenn Roy, two of the UMIAQ  Logistics personnel, and Rachel Sipler from the Bronk lab at Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS.) The first thing we noticed as we walked off the plane in Barrow, Alaska was all of the snow and ice was gone. The ice was just beginning to melt on the roads at the end of the last trip in May but now the landscape was transformed into a gravelly, boggy mud-puddle. We left with Rachel, then checked into our hut and were surprised that our entire group plus Karl Newyear , Chief Scientist of UMIAQ, would be occupying the same space. That’s 8 people in one hut…..and only one bathroom.  It was our first group housing experience.

Victoria and the "welcome sign"

After getting settled in, we decided to set-up our labs. We pulled all of our supplies down from storage and distributed them to the Barrow Alaska Research Center (BARC ) lab and the Beach freezer cold room. After setting-up, with no more work to do, we did our grocery shopping and returned home to await the arrival of our other team members. That’s when we received the news that Barrow was out of fuel and we were being asked to reserve our fuel as best as possible. We also received the news that due to high winds we would possibly delay our first sampling trip which was scheduled for Thursday morning.  There were two barges on the way to deliver gas but it was uncertain when the gas would be available.  Not having gas was certainly going to put a damper on our sampling plans by boat so we began to think about other options.

Winds were blowing as high as 25-30kts. Winds like those made usually simple tasks like opening and shutting car doors quite the task. So in light of the weather, all we could do at that point was wait and hope for the best. Part of our summer sample collection involves going 30-40 miles from Barrow to collect water from tundral melt pools that haven’t been influenced by civilization. These melt pools contain organic carbon compounds which we hypothesize will stimulate bacterial activity when released into the coastal ocean.  We usually collect this water by travelling away from town by boat but because of the fuel and weather issues, that wasn’t possible.

On Friday & Saturday, we concentrated our efforts on setting up both our BARC lab for RNA extraction and gear cleaning and the Beach freezer cold room where we’d be filtering water for DNA & RNA collection and Zac’s tundra melt-water incubation studies.  As part of his thesis project, Zac is trying to find out if bacteria will be able to “eat” this material and if they do if it would increase their usage of nitrate. Because nitrate is what limits the productivity of the Arctic Ocean (i.e. how much of the green things at the base of the food web can grow) if bacteria start using more of it this could profoundly affect the food web in the Arctic. If the permafrost (frozen tundra) melts with a warming climate it could mean less fish, seals, bears, birds, and whales.

Things went pretty smoothly with setup. We washed all of our supplies and organized our work spaces.  Then, our group met to discuss sampling options in light of the rough weather. We worked closely to try to create some feasible scenarios that would allow for Zac & Rachel to collect tundra melt-water.  After a meeting with the logistics personnel, the option of using ATV’s to collect the tundra water was presented, but we had to wait to see how things would work out with the weather. So to lift our spirits the group went out to eat delicious Chinese food at Sam and Lee’s and caught a few minutes of the first football game of the season. This also happens to be the highest latitude football game played in the world.  The score at half time was Barrow 35 – Away team 0.

Zac caught chugging down his 3rd bowl of chicken egg drop soup.


The Barrow Whalers “Thunder on the Tundra”

By Sunday we got a break in the weather and we were given the green light to go ahead and use the ATV’s to gather tundra water. Rachel, Zac, Lynne, & Marta (Lynn and Marta are also from the Bronk lab at VIMS) all suited up and headed off with Brower to go find some tundra melt-pools.

Our guides for the trip

The  ATV trip was an incredibly a bumpy, yet fun ride. The guide’s idea of a ‘trail’ was simply a general direction across the tundra.   It was hard to compare the terrain on this trip to anything we have encountered. The closest comparison we could think of is: the tundra is like a very rough, frozen ocean, turned to mud. We then rode across this rough landscape at high speeds on ATVs; it was both scary and exhilarating. Needless to say, some ibuprofen and bed-rest were welcomed at the end of that trip. Fortunately, the trip was successful and we were able to get plenty of tundra water containing the high concentration of humic acids that we needed to get our experiments started.

The winds decreased further by Monday so it was decided that we could go on our first sampling trip on the ocean.  At 10 in the morning, we loaded our gear and everyone, with the exception of Victoria  and Marta, headed out. Within 2 hours, the group returned and unfortunately couldn’t go out due to the low tide.  A second attempt was made at 1pm and the boat was launched. While the group was out, the winds picked up again. The decision was made that is was too treacherous to return to the same boat ramp that we left from, so we had to continue around Point Barrow, directly into very high winds and seas to a more sheltered ramp. Several times the boat was airborne after being launched over a 5 or 6 foot swell. We did eventually make it back, but it was a punishing ride. We came back at around 5pm with water samples and told Victoria and Marta about a huge polar bear we’d seen just up on the way back from the boat ramp.

The sampling team (l-r) Rachel, Tara, Lynne, Karie, & Zac

While the group unloaded the boat, Marta and Victoria went to check get some pictures of the Polar Bear. We were later told that there was a serious storm and somehow the polar bear ended up stranded in the ocean and swimming 100nmi to shore. It was huge and completely out of energy after the long swim. We watched the bear, feeling at ease since a bear guide who was armed with a rifle was nearby.  Later, several people from our group witnessed the bear get shot by a local hunter. Rest in peace Polar Bear.

Polar Bear

Back in the Beach freezer cold room, we worked for several hours filtering our waters samples to collect DNA & RNA samples. Zac finally had both humic and seawater to set up his incubations. We worked pretty late but we were quite excited that we were finally able to get samples.

Tuesday was primarily a lab day and we extracted RNA and prepared for the Wednesday’s boat trip.  The other groups worked to process their water samples. We were able to get out again on Wednesday for sampling. So far weather predictions are in our favor and we look forward to having a couple of more sampling trips before the weeks end.

Tuesday 26 April 2011 – Ice Camp! First Sampling Day.

April 28, 2011

Finally, the labs are set-up (took most of yesterday), all our gear is clean, organized, and ready for use, and was a sunny (almost 19 hours worth) and not too cold day, at least compared to wintertime temperatures.  On the ice the temperature was 7°F (-14°C) and inside the tent, even without the heater, was a balmy 40°F (4.5°C).  Compared to the temperatures we experienced in the winter, it was like a day at the beach.

As has become our normal sampling routine we all met-up at 9:00 am to stage our activities. Staging occurs in the facility where the snow machines are garaged, a building cleverly named “Building #36.”

Building #36 – our field staging area.

Actually, most of the building names are left over from the days when the lab site was operated as a Naval Research facility, so you can understand where the clever naming system came from. After suiting up and sorting out who was riding and who was driving, we headed out on the ice.  Our destination was a site about 1.25 miles offshore that we had previously identified as a suitable sampling site that is oceanographically representative of the region.

A lead team of UMIAQ support personnel and two of our group set-up the camp yesterday and made preliminary observations of ice thickness, light penetration, water temperature, etc. So when we arrived today we knew exactly what to do.

Ice camp – April 2011 (71° 18’ 7”N 156° 43’ 16” W).

Since we were able to use a trail cut by the Department of Wildlife (with help from our logistics team of Polar Field Services and UMIAQ) the ride out to our ice camp was surprisingly smooth given the roughness of the terrain around us. Actually, preparing ice trails is a major component of the logistics support needed to conduct our studies and required months of planning and work to complete.  So we were especially grateful for how nice the trail was.

Once we arrived on site (about 20 minutes after leaving building #36), we all got busy.  The Yager group immediately occupied the smaller of our two ice tents and began their intricate sampling procedure using a special collection bottle called a Niskin bottle. For those of you are not oceanographers, a Niskin bottle is a device used for obtaining seawater samples from a specific depth. The bottles were originally designed by the early 20thcentury Norwegian polar explorer and oceanographer Fridtjof Nansen and further developed and patented by Shale Niskin. By using this type of sampling device Tara and Karie are able to collect intact water samples without disturbing the water including the dissolved gases that they are especially interested in measuring.

Tara and Karie sampling from a Niskin bottle.

The rest of us occupied the second larger tent and utilized a specialized submersible pump to collect the larger volumes of water needed for our studies.

Zac and Marc sampling – using a pump (photo by Lollie Garay).

While we were all busy sampling the water underneath the ice, Lollie and Andriane were hard at it photographing us, the ice, under the ice, and everything else that caught their attention.

Both Lollie and Andriane came equipped with underwater cameras which they deployed through an ice hole.  Lollie is planning on posting some of her videos on our project’s website, so check it out if you’re interested.

Everyone worked efficiently and by around 11:30am we were finished and headed back loaded down with carboys full of water. Since the assays and measurements we are making require that we process them as quickly as possible, we are always in a hurry to get the samples back to the lab. I didn’t fall off this time, but there was some excitement.  Ask me about it sometime.

Finally a little after noon we arrived safely back to the labs where we all quickly dispersed to process our samples. Zac and I spent the next 6 hours in the cold room filtering water and setting-up a new experiment designed to test the hypothesis that bacterial growth will be stimulated by the addition of humic acids as a carbon source  but will need to assimilate additional nitrogen to do so. I’ve asked Zac to write a little bit in this blog to describe his experiment and its rationale in easily understood English, so stay tuned for that.

After a quick dinner in town at the Brower Café (not Arctic Pizza for a change), it was back to the lab for a few more hours of lab work. As I was finishing the sun was just setting (11:45pm) providing the perfect ending to a long but exhilarating Arctic day. I’ll sleep well tonight for sure.


The Final Days – February 1-5, 2011

February 7, 2011

The last days are always a blur in Barrow. For those of you who have been following this adventure, I didn’t want to leave you hanging. Our experiences from packing to getting home are chronicled below.

February 1

With all our sampling and lab work complete, Tuesday was spent largely cleaning-up the labs, gathering, cleaning, and inventorying all our gear, and storing it away for our next trip in the spring. It is a large and tedious job, but so important. We need to know that our stuff will be functional (not corroded from the saltwater) when we come back. We need to know if there are supplies we need to replace, and all our gear needs to be organized so that it can be easily retrieved and redeployed.

Packing-up – Zac packing up our gear

Zac and I finished by around 8 pm and sweaty (yes sweaty) and tired we arrived in time for Karrie’s 40th birthday party.  Apparently, for some time plans had been underway for the party which included a cake, decorations, and libations. Everyone was asked to make munchies from food stuff they had hanging around. There were definitely some creative appetizers. I was planning on making instant oatmeal (maple syrup flavored) topped savory rice crackers, but ran out of time.  Probably for the best! Drinks were fun too. I  had a gin martini on snow. Think adult slurpy.

February 2

We began our last day by packaging-up our samples and shipping them home. Shipping stuff to and from Barrow isn’t always the most straightforward process since it requires multiple shipping companies that do not always communicate well with each other or us.  This time we decided to take our samples (2 liquid nitrogen dry shippers and a 72 quart cooler filled with seawater and humic enriched water) directly to the Northern Air Cargo office located near the airport. They didn’t blink an eye at the unusual and heavy packages and as soon as we tracked down our Fed-X account number (Thanks Tina, LaGina, and Victoria) our samples were on their way. Apparently the shippers were on the ball this time and the samples beat us home, arriving two days later on Friday Feb 4th.  Fantastic! On the last trip it took weeks, but that is another story.

After getting the samples sent off and hanging around the lab, gathering and storing the few hazardous reagents we use and need to keep in Barrow and a few items that need to be stored in a freezer, we headed over to Lewis Brower’s house. Lewis is an Iñupiat Elder, whaling captain, consummate subsistence hunter, and station manger for the Barrow Arctic Science Consortium (BASC). During our previous trips Lewis orchestrated our day to day activities. Lewis offered to show us his home and the preparation of a traditional whale blubber dish called Muktuk (Maktak – Inupiat spelling). Muktuk is raw Bowhead (or Beluga) whale blubber prepared with a bit of the skin remaining. It is usually eaten like sushi with either a little salt or soy sauce and wasabi. As a whaling captain Lewis gets a large portion of a successful hunt and thus is able to share with the entire community.

Next week is a Messenger Feast (Kivgiq in Inupiat) which celebrates a successful hunting season. The event is expected to draw as many as 1,000 visitors and most of the 4,200 Barrowites. The festival will be a week long celebration with traditional dancing and drumming and a huge feast.

So during Lewis’ lunchtime break, several of us went over to his house where we met his wife (Roxanne) who was also home for lunch and saw where he kept his meat, all his tools and hunting weapons which except for his guns he makes himself. We also saw skins of polar bears and muskox and a skull from a massive Walrus he had battled with (and won).

Walrus skull

We spent a couple of hours listening to his stories and watching all the while how he prepared the Muktuk.

Whale blubber

Muktuk – the final product

And yes, we even tasted it. I have to say, not bad.

Me and Zac eating Muktuk

Pretty good in fact. It tasted a bit like olive oil to me. Not fishy at all and at 133 calories per ounce it’ll keep you going in the cold weather. We also had a chance to taste dried Bearded Seal meat which was OK, but not as good as the whale.

Afterwards we headed home, grabbed our gear and checked in for our flight. We were able to check in early which they appreciate since the TSA officers have to go through each piece of luggage by hand in Barrow. After checking in we decided to indulge in one last meal at our favorite restaurant in Barrow (Arctic Pizza – they serve much more then just pizza) before saying good bye to Barrow for this time and boarding our plane.

February 3, 2011

After flying all night, we finally made it to Seattle in the early morning. I had arranged an extended layover which gave me the opportunity to visit with two retired Skidaway colleagues, Rick and Debbie Jahnke, and to have dinner with a cousin who lives in Seattle. Early Thursday morning we headed to Port Townsend, Washington, where we arrived in time to catch a sunrise over Puget Sound.

Port Townsend sunrise

After documenting the sunrises in Barrow I felt obligated to do the same in Port Townsend.

Zac and I hung out for a hour or so drinking coffee because we didn’t want to arrive too unfashionably early at the Jahnke’s. They are retired you know. We arrived at their home around 9am and spent a very pleasant day catching-up and visiting some of their new favorite haunts in town. I was especially impressed by the local microbrewery Port Townsend Brewing Co.

Rick and Zac at the Pt. Townsend Brewing Company

I had a Winter Ale. That evening the Jahnke’s treated us to a fantastic meal at the Manresa Castle, now a local restaurant and hotel.

Dinner at the Manresa castle with the Jahnke’s

After such an opulent evening and such a long day, we decided to take a room and simply spend the night.  I was asleep by 9 pm — seconds after my head hit the pillow.

February 4, 2011

Very much refreshed in the morning we left Port Townsend and headed to Seattle. We spent the day as tourists at the famous Pike Market and Old Seattle’s downtown, Pioneer Square. It was a good opportunity to shop for a few souvenirs for our families. Not too many shopping opportunities in Barrow and after two weeks away, our families (my wife and son in particular) deserved some nice presents. In the evening we visited my cousin and her daughter for a relaxed dinner and headed to a hotel near the airport to catch a little shut eye before our early morning flight home.

February 5, 2011

Except that it is a very long flight from Seattle to Savannah, the trip was remarkably uneventful. We made it home on time with our luggage. Really a miracle since just a few days earlier most of the country east of the Rockies experienced a major winter storm. In Chicago, where I am originally from, they had two to three feet of snow. Zac’s girlfriend Laurie was there to pick us up and she whisked us both home. Soo extended David’s bedtime, so I didn’t have to wait until the morning to reconnect. Wonderful!

In the coming days weeks and month’s we’ll be busy processing all the samples we brought home and that will hopefully help us understand the role of the microbes in the changing Arctic Coastal Ocean and to make predictions about the inevitable changes to come. Stay tuned for the results and our continuing science adventures in the Arctic.

Signing off for now,


A Second Sampling Day – January 28, 2011

January 31, 2011

Today was our second scheduled sampling day.  We started off the day with the most amazing start of the twilight time ever.

Dawn! Around 10:30 am Barrow time.

I managed to take a picture but it doesn’t begin to do it justice.  The temperature has actually warmed up quite a bit, which means it can snow, and it did.

Snowy morning

But that didn’t stop from heading out to our ice camp and sampling.

This time I decided that I’d better drive my own snow machine.

Marc driving himself on the snowmachine this time

I tried to get Zac to take the sled musher position, but he declined. Actually, he was going to ride the sled (I think he was going to fake falling off to even the score), but he was drafted to drive Tish Yager (our lead PI on this project.) Does anyone else think this wasn’t the best idea? But Tish was smarter than I was and opted to ride on the back of the snow machine instead of the sled. Even so, having heard the story of the previous day’s adventures, she held on so tightly that if she fell so would Zac. They arrived at the camp intact.

Today, on their own initiative our fantastic support team had actually gone out to the camp early to set things up, so by the time we got there the propane heaters were running and the tents were already warmed. This really made our jobs a lot easier. The YSI instrument even seemed to behave itself today. I’m still not confident in our results, but at least they were in the right range today. The good news is that the salinity gradient we thought we observed and that worried us appears to have been an artifact of the misbehaving instrument.

We finished sample collection in record time, just under two hours and headed back.  Zac and I spent the rest of the day filtering water in the temperature controlled room.  Under normal conditions I would call this room a cold room since we have set the temperature to match the ocean temperature which is -1.8°C (~29°F), but compared to outside air temperatures it is a warm room.  Outside temperatures today were about -20°F and the wind made it feel like -40. Strange to go into a freezing room to warm up, but that is what we did today.

Everything went smoothly filtering water and we were done by dinner time. Having missed lunch again and spent the whole day at below freezing temperatures, dinner was again large and satisfying. Today at the cafeteria they had salmon.

Tomorrow will be another lab day. No weekends for us I’m afraid.