Posts Tagged ‘polar bears’

Saturday April 30, 2010 – Last sampling day of the trip

May 3, 2011

With our new ice camp all set-up yesterday, this morning we were ready to go back out on the ice to collect our last set of samples for the trip. When we left building #36 it was foggy with a few snow flurries and it was a relatively warm -8.9°C (16°F).  By the time we got out on the ice and waited around, (Brower, one of the members of our logistics crew, went back to pick-up the electric generator that we forgot and that runs our sampling pump.) the sun came out; the wind picked up; and the temperature dropped. Again it was breath takingly beautiful, but it felt considerably colder. We passed the time waiting by hanging out in the tent, eating pretzel m&m’s that Steven had brought but that we ate all up before he could get any, and telling stupid jokes.

Did you hear the one about the baby polar bear that didn’t think he was a polar bear?  Why don’t you think you’re a polar bear the polar bear daddy asked?  Because I’m fricking freezing said the baby polar bear!

Yeah, not so funny but it passed the time. Soon Brower had returned and we were back in business.

We quickly collected our water and loaded it on the sleds. All week we’ve been having trouble trying to keep our heavy coolers filled with water from falling off the sleds. Today was no different. No more than 2 minutes after leaving, we noticed that our coolers were about to slide off. We stopped and re-tied them properly. The trick is not to pile them up on each other but to spread them out on the sled. Of course we figured this out on our last trip of the expedition. After re-tying our sled we made it back to our lab without incident and quickly began processing the water.

The right way to load a sled.

After working out all the little filtration problems with the previous two samples, everything went smoothly. It kind of reminds me of making pancakes. Have you ever noticed that no matter how many times you’ve made pancakes before, the first batch always turns out funny?  It seems like the same is true for filtering water. We finished in record time and were able to sample Zac’s experiment a little early. This made Tara and Karie happy since they are helping us measure the activity (productivity) of the bacteria, and this involves a 4 hour incubation step. The sooner we get them samples the sooner they can go to sleep!

Still, I missed lunch and working on the ice and in a cold room just a touch over freezing all day sure does build-up an appetite. At the cafeteria they were serving Beef Burgundy one of my all time favorite meals. Boeuf bourguignon it was not, but it sure was tasty, warm and completely satisfying.

Beef Burgundy dinner at the Ilisagvic college cafeteria.

After such a huge meal and long day I went back to my room planning to catch-up on computer work and to go to bed early. But at around 10:30 Zac and Steve called me to tell me that they were heading into town to hear a local band that was playing at the roller rink and did I want to join them? The band is called “The Barrow Tones.”  Now how could I pass that up? So we picked-up Adriane who also wanted to go and off we went to find the roller rink. When we arrived, we learned that the band wouldn’t start playing for another hour and that was just a little too much for us. However, we didn’t leave before hearing the band rehearse and soaking in the scene. Think heavy metal in a 1970’s disco. Instead of enduring that, we retired to Steven and Zac’s hut for Mint Milano cookies and quiet conversation. Still, it was well past 1am by the time I got to bed.


Last Sampling Day – January 30, 2011

January 31, 2011

Mission almost accomplished!  We made it back out to our ice camp today to collect our third and final set of samples for this trip.

I once again dared to ride the sled (and yes with Zac driving) because I wanted to take some video of the trip out there.

Marc using a harness to ride the sled

However, this time I rigged up a harness to wear that made staying on much easier. It worked and I was even able to comfortably hang on to the slide one-handed while I filmed the trip. I’ll try to post some of that video on YouTube soon.

The weather was much warmer today, and we even got a little hot in the ice tents with the propane heaters running. Now that we’re almost done, we’ve really got the routine perfected and everything went smoothly.

While waiting for the Bronk group to finish sampling so that we could begin collecting our water, Zac and I took the opportunity to explore around the camp a little. The bear guard (Reynold) is required to accompany any scientist that strays from the camp because if a polar bear did show up we wouldn’t have a chance on the ice. As Reynold put it, “It’s their land and they have the advantage.”

In our explorations we came across a natural structure formed by colliding ice pressure ridges called an ice house which was really fantastic.

Marc in the "ice house"

I was sure that a human had built it, but Reynold assured us that it was natural. Of course both Zac and I had to go into the house and have our pictures taken. We also climbed up a few small ridges which afforded some really nice views of the camp and its surrounds. Zac talked Reynold into letting him pose with his shotgun.

Zac on bear duty

I learned later that the gun was actually not loaded while Zac had it. The procedure is that only if a bear is actually spotted is the guard allowed to load the gun. I sure hope a bear doesn’t surprise him.  Sounded a little bit like Barney Fife to me. Remember, Sherriff Andy Griffith would only let him have one bullet and he had to keep it in his pocket?

After collecting all our samples and tying them back down on the sleds it was back to the lab for another day of filtering water. Again my harness worked well, and I didn’t even come close to falling off. Zac drove especially carefully as well.

Everything went well in the lab, but this time we had a little trouble with our filtration rigs freezing. We finally got the cold room to our target temperature of -1.8°C (28.8°F) which was great except that every time it warmed up a little bit the compressor and blowers would kick back on and bring it down to -2 or -3. This was just enough to cause some freezing in our equipment.  Frozen water doesn’t filter very well it turns out. So we combated freezing problems until we were freezing ourselves and the job was finally done.

After putting the samples away and cleaning-up a little bit we headed to the girls cabin (hut) for some homemade chicken soup that Lollie had made. It was delicious and nothing beats a bowl of hot chicken soup when you are cold to the bone and all you’ve eaten is a package of instant oatmeal 9 hours earlier. Still hungry though after the soup we headed into town to our favorite restaurant in Barrow (Arctic Pizza) for the second course.

Marc on “Top of the World”

All in a day at the “Top of the World”


Samples! – January 26, 2011

January 28, 2011

Dr. Marc Frischer continues his account of his research expedition to the north coast of Alaska.

Today was the day. The weather was relatively mild (only -25 deg F); the crack seems stable; and everyone was ready to go. So, after a brief lesson in snow machine operations, we were off.

Snow machine lesson. Deb is a serious study (Instructor is UMIAQ employee Alice Drake – more about Alice later)

Because of the ice conditions we had to locate our camp a bit closer to shore and in shallower waters than we would have liked. We prefer to be in deeper water to be assured that we are sampling coastal ocean water. We would like to be about another half or ¾ mile offshore. However, being closer to shore does has some advantages. The camp is only about 2/3 miles away from our labs (as the crow flies) and 1.3 trail miles. This means that even going slow it only took us about 15 min to get to the camp.

Arriving at the camp our logistic support team quickly set-up the generators and heaters, established a bear watch

Bear watch

and then let us get to work. We quickly assessed the conditions to make some decisions about sampling. The ice is about 0.9 meters (2.95 ft) and the depth was approximately 10 meters (33 ft). For geographic geeks, the camp is located at 71° 17’ 30’’N 156° 45’ 55’’W.

I also attempted to measure some basic water quality parameters to get a sense of the structure of the water column, but alas, the instrument we were using didn’t seem to have liked being frozen during the trip out to the camp. However, even if we can’t trust the numbers, they did suggest that the water was less salty then expected and that there was a salinity gradient from the surface to the bottom. We were hoping this wouldn’t be the case, but it was one of our concerns being so close to shore. We’ll see how this affects our results. Regardless, it will be interesting and we will learn something new about the microbes in the Arctic coastal ocean during the winter.

Sampling couldn’t have gone more smoothly. Everyone worked together, the equipment performed well with the possible exception of our temperature, salinity, and dissolved oxygen instrument. All our preparation paid off in spades. After about 2 hours we were ready to return to the labs to start processing the water that we had collected. So with the sleds loaded up and all of us just a bit colder, we headed back. This time the sleds were much heavier so it was a bit more treacherous.

Zac managed to toss me off the back of the sled when he hit a particularly rough spot.  That in itself wouldn’t have been so bad (no damage done), but he didn’t notice that I had fallen off and he continued.  Luckily we weren’t the last ones in the convoy, and Alice Drake was kind enough to pick me up and run me back to my sled which had finally stopped when Zac eventually realized I wasn’t there.  Advice to graduate students, it is not very smart to dump your advisor on the ice and take off!

The sampling team (I’m not it the picture – someone had to take the picture)

After dinner, a huge pasta and chicken parmigiana meal at the cafeteria which really hit the spot, we spent the rest of the evening cleaning-up and documenting our days work. Tomorrow will be a day in the lab where we’ll purify RNA from some of our samples and get everything ready for the next sampling event. Hopefully on Friday.

Until then,


Watch out for the polar bears!

May 12, 2010

Skidaway Institute research tech Victoria Baylor and grad student Zac Tait just returned to warm, sunny Skidaway Island from their first sample trip to Barrow, Alaska. Here is their account of their interesting trip.

Our trip was part of our Professor, Dr. Marc Frischer’s, three-year project to study the effects of climate change (ie: global warming) on microscopic organisms in the Arctic Ocean. You can read more about this project HERE.

We left Savannah on April 20th to join collaborators from the Virginia Institute for Marine Science and the University of Georgia at the Barrow Arctic Science Consortium campus where we did our lab and field work out on the sea ice of the Arctic Ocean.

We made it out on the ice three separate times to conduct our research. The temperature ranged between zero and 25 degrees Fahrenheit, just a little cooler than what we are used to in Coastal Georgia. During this time of spring in Barrow Alaska, there were 18 hours of sunlight each day.

(l-r) Zac Tait, UGA’s Melissa Booth and Victoria Baylor

Luckily, we had so much to do each day none of us had trouble falling asleep with the sun still up.  In order to travel out onto the ice, we needed a field guide to provide us direction and protect us from polar bears. Yes, polar bears! That’s sort of ironic when you see all those pictures floating around on the internet of polar bears on melting ice floes.

To get to our sample site, we drove snow machines across the frozen Arctic Sea on ice trails cut through ice pressure ridges that in some spots were over 30 feet tall. When we found a site to drill a hole through the ice to collect sea water, the ice was 22 inches thick. We ran a hose underneath the ice to a depth of eight meters and then pumped the water through a series of filters to collect bacteria and other microorganisms.

A lab set up on the Arctic ice pack.

The samples went into liquid nitrogen and then were shipped back to Skidaway for processing.

Barrow isn’t that small of a town considering it’s geography.  There are around 4,000 to 5,000 residents that live there year round.  At the end of the day, we typically went out to eat.  There are many restaurants to choose from including a Chinese restaurant and a Mexican Restaurant.  The array of food to eat was surprising but not as surprising as the prices.  One Chinese restaurant had a 12 piece bucket of fried chicken for $46!  We also visited the local grocery a few times where a gallon of milk costs $11 dollars.  We were told the prices were so expensive because all of the food had to be flown up there.

On April 28th, we boarded a plane and flew back to Georgia with only 1 to 2 hour layovers at each stop.  It was a long trip and roughly 17 hours of flying!  Barrow Alaska is unlike anything either of us had ever experienced before. After arriving in Georgia, and being hit by the sweltering humidity, we all missed the cold weather of Barrow a little bit.

We have several more trips planned for the future. The next will probably be near the end of August or the beginning of September when the sea ice has melted in Barrow.