Posts Tagged ‘ice cap’

Back out on the ice cap

January 24, 2012

19 Jan 2012

Well fed and rested we were ready for another day on the ice. Because of all the uncertainty surrounding the ice conditions we are all trying to make the most of the opportunities we get. Today, in addition to collecting our normal samples, the Bronk team (Stephen and Rachel) are planning to stay a bit longer to collect ice cores and Niko is going to attempt to collect samples for his methane studies. It’s a lot to do and necessitated rather intricate planning, so that we always have enough snow machines, sleds, drivers, guides, and bear guards. Everything started smoothly. We all set out about 11:00 as the dawn twilight began (still no sun, but some light) and headed north. First, we headed north over the frozen tundra and then out onto the ocean. The ice at our new location was very jumbled and rough, which made for a bit of a bumpy snow machine ride. However, the rough ride was reassuring since it meant the ice was probably quite stable. The roughness in the ice and the formation of pressure ridges is largely due to wind moving the ice around and piling it into the shore.  Eventually, with enough pressure it becomes locked in and grounded to the bottom.

Once at the site we began to set-up the camp. Since it was a new camp we had to drill new ice holes and situate the tents over them. We also set-up propane heaters in each of the tents, and unloaded all our gear. It was a cold morning but absolutely spectacular to be out on the frozen Arctic Ocean.

Marc and Victoria geared-up


Drilling an ice hole


Ice camp

Tony Kaleak


Arctic icescape

Everything was going smoothly. First, Victoria and I deployed our Manta water quality instrument to measure the water column and then the Bronk group took over. Then disaster struck! While moving one of their very heavy sample boxes Debbie’s foot slipped into the ice hole and she fell. Her hand hit the propane heater;her down coat touched the hot chimney and melted. Feathers went everywhere. Debbie screamed. It was chaos, but no one panicked. Debbie was quickly pulled to her feet and, besides a nasty burn on her hand (and the destroyed coat), she was fine.

Dr. Debbie Bronk after the fall, it could have been much worse!

We turned the heater off and, when the feathers settled, we were able to continue. But, we thought it best to get Debbie back home so that someone could look at her burn. So while Debbie was escorted back, the rest of us finished-up sampling and then followed her in.

Once back we all got busy in the lab processing the precious water samples that we had collected.

Dr. Tish Yager in her filtering zone

We all realized how lucky we all were today and grateful to be back safely. I for one slept well.

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The Alaska adventure continues

January 24, 2012

18 Jan 2012

Given the uncertainty of the ice conditions today was an evaluation and re-strategizing day. We began with a big meeting of all the science and logistics team members. We went over the previous day’s adventures and discussed options. Obviously we have come all this way to conduct our research, but we won’t do it if it isn’t safe. Since all of our previous sampling locations are now unavailable, we are left with the option of locating another site or not sampling at all. Brower suggested that further south, because of differences in oceanographic conditions (only 1 northward current) the ice might be more stable than it is where we have been sampling in the Chuckchi sea near Point Barrow. At Point Barrow three currents converge making it a much more dynamic location oceanographically. This can lead to ice instability. Our other option is to head north where, according to Brower, the ice hasn’t moved for the past several days and therefore is probably stable. The problem with that site is that it is very shallow. We much prefer to sample deeper water since we are trying to study water column processes representative of the Arctic Coastal Ocean, and the shallow site may be heavily influenced by processes that occur in the bottom sediments.

So after the big meeting, we were again in standby mode to allow the logistic team to visit and evaluate our options. By the late afternoon it was clear that the southern deep water option was not available.  The ice was clearly unstable there too. Plus, the site was far enough away that it would have been difficult to stage an expedition and get our samples back to the lab without them freezing on the trip home.  After verifying that the Northern site was safe it was decided that that is where we’d go.

Map of Barrow region showing potential site locations

Since it was a light day and everyone was done reasonably early we all decided to go out to dinner. We went to Pepe’s North of the Border, a Barrow favorite. Pepe’s is a Mexican restaurant that has been in business for over 30 years run by the proprietor, Fran. Fran was originally from Seattle and came to the North Slope over 40 years ago as pipeline engineer. She stayed, eventually settling in Barrow, and is still active at the youthful age of 82.

ArcticNitro gang enjoying a meal at Pepe’s North of the Border, Photo Jenna Spackeen

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.

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 www.arcticnitro.org, 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.

Sunset