Posts Tagged ‘polar’

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 (

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.

Monday 2 May 2011 – Mystery Object

May 4, 2011

Today is another day of cleaning and packing. Before getting back to the packing job we decided to pack-up all our samples, get them into the dry liquid nitrogen shipper (See previous discussion in this blog.)  and attempt to send them home. If you recall we were concerned about this because the only shipper in Barrow, Northern Air Cargo, has temporarily lost their license to ship hazardous. Nothing about our samples is hazardous, but we were unable to procure official paperwork that documents this. Anyway, we thought it was best to ship as early as possible just in case we ran into a problem. Also, the earlier in the week that we ship the more likely it will be to have it arrive during the working week when there will still be someone at our home labs to receive them. So first thing this morning we packed up the samples and went to the NAC offices. They didn’t even blink an eye. So the samples we collected are now headed home to Savannah and we didn’t have to worry at all.

After our success at the NAC office we returned to continue packing. Our goal is to have everything organized and next to the packing crates where we will store them. Midway through the afternoon another group of scientists from Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, who are investigating ice algae, arrived and began to set-up their labs for a month long visit. As is usual in scientific circles, it didn’t take long for us to find many common interests.

I was also very excited that, among their gear, they had brought some nice microscopes and agreed to let me use one to look at some water samples. Earlier in the week Lollie and Adriane, while filming with their underwater cameras, captured images of something that I couldn’t identify. They looked like they might be very large algal cells and one thought I had was that they might be ice algae beginning to bloom in the Arctic spring.

Mystery objects from under the ice. Frame capture from video shot by Lollie Garay.

I showed the video to the Juhl group, but they were a mystified as we were.  We came to the conclusion that perhaps they were developing eggs or larvae of something undergoing a mass spawning event. Unfortunately we don’t have a way of determining the size of objects in the images which might help us indentify them. Lollie is working on figuring this out though, so we should be able to determine size. Although the Juhl group had brought some nice microscopes,since we didn’t have fresh water samples our examination of water samples were also inconclusive.  If anyone out there recognizes these objects please let me know.

After this pleasant diversion it was back to packing.  Tomorrow all that is left is to clean-up the equipment and supplies that we are still using for Zac’s thesis experiments, finish our inventories, seal the boxes, and put them back into storage.

Speaking of Zac’s experiment, after packing and chatting with the Juhl group, it was time for us to take our last samples from those experiments. The incubations lasted for 6 days and we’re hoping that that will be enough time for us to see the effects of humic additions on bacterial activity, growth, and utilization of nitrogen and carbon. The samples are now all collected and Zac will be analyzing them over the next couple of months. We’re holding our breaths for the results.

Zac’s experiment. Bacteria inoculated filtered seawater with added humics (1), humics and organic nitrogen (3), glucose (5), and seawater only (7). Each bottle was duplicated, but only one is shown in this photo. Note that bottles containing humics are considerably darker than those not receiving humics. The bottles were incubated in the dark at just over freezing temperatures.

Finally, we are completely done with all our science activities and it was time for a celebratory dinner.  We invited the Juhl group to come with us to try out a relatively new Chinese restaurant in town; Sam and Lee’s.  It was fantastic, better than any Chinese restaurant in Savannah in my opinion.  I had a spicy duck dish that was both delicious and copious.  I took home a doggie bag for lunch for tomorrow.

Sunday 1 May 2011 – Last Lab Day

May 4, 2011

Today was our last full lab day and the beginning of the end for this trip.

After breakfast in the cafeteria, Zac and I began to purify bacterial messenger RNA (mRNA) from the water we had filtered yesterday. mRNA is the molecule that acts as the intermediate between DNA and proteins. All the information necessary to code for complex macromolecules like proteins are stored in DNA, but in order to use those instructions a cell must transcribe its DNA information into RNA that can then be translated by another complex molecule called a ribosome into proteins.

Truly life is amazing and it boggles the mind how complex and elegant it is. From the very smallest scale of atoms and molecules to the grandest scales of the universe, everything is connected. Anyway, I digress.

Our goal today was to purify RNA from the bacteria that we had captured on our filters so that we can determine which genes are turned on and how active those genes are. We are particularly interested in those genes that bacteria use to assimilate inorganic nitrogen because we suspect that the addition of new carbon in the form of the humics released from the melting permafrost will require bacteria to use more inorganic nitrogen. If this is true we should see an increase in the genetic expression of the genes involved in inorganic nitrogen assimilation.  Anyway, that’s why we need the RNA.

The initial step of our purification procedure requires two sets of hands and that was my job this morning.  Once we had safely gotten our filters containing all those bacteria into the first extraction reagent which stabilizes the RNA I was free to start packing-up our labs while Zac completed the RNA extractions.

Zac purifying RNA

I started with the cold room where we had filtered all the water.  Although it took us many hours to set-up the lab and to make sure that we had everything in exactly the right place, it only took me about half an hour to dismantle it.

Cold room during use and after being cleaned-up.

It’s kind of sad to tear down a lab that was so functional, but we know we’ll be back in the summer to do it again. Just for grins we left one little piece of orange tape on the floor to see if anyone else uses the space before we get back.

Once Zac finished the purifications we really got busy rinsing and cleaning all our gear and getting everything ready to be packed away.  At around 3pm we stopped to sample Zac’s ongoing experiment; there’s only one more time point to go in that study. Then we went to help Lollie pack her bags and get checked in for her flight home.

Because the airport here is so small but still requires the TSA agents to screen all bags, travelers are encouraged to check in early. This greatly reduces the check in wait times and relieves congestion in the very small arrival/departure area.  After Lollie checked in she went back home and finished preparing a fabulous Mexican dinner for the whole team.

Alas all good things must come to an end and finally it was time for Lollie, Adriane, and Debbie to head back to the airport to start their long journeys home.  We miss them already.

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.

Friday April 29, 2011 – Moving Ice Camp

May 2, 2011

Today was another lab day, and although our special pipettes still hadn’t arrived we felt we had to go ahead and process our RNA samples.  During our first trip to Barrow last spring we had experimented with holding these samples until we got home before processing them. The results were not good, and so we decided that we had to process the samples as soon as possible after they were collected. We felt it was risky to even holding the samples a single extra day so we moved ahead using our back-up pipettes. But can you believe?! Exactly as Zac was finishing-up with the extractions the pipettes were delivered. The only saving grace was that both Zac and I had both missed lunch and when we unpacked the box and found the Twizzlers and peanut m&m’s that Victoria had used as packing material we were thrilled.  Thanks Vic!

While Zac was hard at work in the lab purifying RNA, I spent the morning and most of the afternoon out on the ice helping to move our ice camp. During our last trip in January we were unable to reach our primary sampling site about 1.5 miles offshore due to ice conditions and the lack of a suitable ice trail, so we had to settle for a location closer in. The water there was quite a bit shallower. Although all our measurements indicated that we still were in oceanic and well-mixed water, we can’t be certain that we can directly compare the data from that site to all the rest of the data that we are generating. So during the planning for the current trip we had decided that if we managed to get two samples from our primary site and we still had time during this trip, that we would move our camp and sample from the more inshore location.

Sampling both locations at essentially the same time will allow us to directly compare results from both the near shore and offshore locations. We’re hoping they are similar!

All has gone well, so today we began to implement our decision and moved our ice camp inshore.  With Rachel Siple, myself, and the UMIAQ crew, we headed out on the ice. Reaching our destination we drilled an exploratory hole in the ice and measured the water depth and ice thickness. We’re really looking for 10 meters of water, but our minimum is 8.  Unfortunately at the first hole we drilled we only had 7M of water so we were a bit disappointed.  From experience we knew that the bathymetry in this area is highly variable so we moved about 30 meters from the first hole and drilled another.  At this location we measured the water depth to be a little over 8 meters. Although marginal, it met our criteria.  We are still hoping to find a better site. We got back on our snow machines and moved to the other side of a very large ice ridge and drilled a third exploratory hole. Alas, the depth was even less there so we decided to go ahead and set-up camp at the second place we looked.

Setting up an ice camp.

Setting-up camp involves removing the snow from the area (lots of shoveling); positioning holes for the pump inlet and outlet (for the big tent) and a large hole to accommodate the Niskin bottle in the small tent; and documenting water depth, ice thickness, water temperature, salinity, and light attenuation.  It’s especially important that we know light attenuation since we need this information in order to set-up our incubations back in the lab and to decide at what depth to sample.

All this was pretty hard, manual labor and, to my surprise, I found myself sweating and discarding some of my layers of clothes despite the cold temperatures.

Drilling a hole in the ice.

Drilling all those holes was especially hard work and made me appreciate more than ever the support we are receiving from our UMIAQ logistics team.

While drilling one of the holes we had a visitor from a ctenophore. I sent this picture to a colleague Jenny Purcell and she identified it as Bolinopsis infundibuluma common Arctic species of ctenophore.

The Arctic ctenophore Bolinopsis infundibulum.

Jenny is a world renowned jellyfish authority from Western Washington University. Ctenophores, commonly known as comb jellies are almost all predators that feed on small zooplankton. Their most distinctive features are their “combs” which consist of cilia that they use for swimming. Interestingly, ctenophores are the largest animals that swim by means of cilia. Bolinopsis is commonly found throughout the Arctic Ocean in the upper 500 meters and subsists on small zooplankton species like copeopods. Undoubtedly this individual was enjoying eating all the organisms growing at the bottom of the ice pack and we must have disturbed his/her lunch when we drilled our hole. I say his/her because Bolinopsis is a hermaphrodite.

By about 2pm we were finished and headed back and I arrived just in time to watch Zac finish his lab work and eat Twizzlers.

For dinner Steven Baer (a Ph.D. student with Debbie Bronk) and I had planned a Shabbat dinner for everyone. We are Jewish and enjoy the ritual of Shabbat that marks the end of the week and gives us all a moment to stop and reflect on the many blessings of our lives. Steven prepared an awesome dinner of pasta primavera and hosted us all to dinner. Steven had also brought candles from home and I managed to bring a bottle of wine. Because we can’t buy wine (or any alcohol) in Barrow (at least not legally) I had to smuggle it in. In the local grocery store we found a loaf of bread that resembled a Challah. Challah is a type of bread traditionally served at festive Jewish meals.

Barrow Shabbat table.

So, with everyone in attendance we took a moment to pause our work, say a few prayers, and enjoy a fantastic meal together. It didn’t last long though since most of us had to run off to finish something or other, and to get ready for tomorrow’s sampling expedition.  But at least it was a moment.

Thur 28 April 2011 – Back on the ice

May 2, 2011

After our relatively slow day in the lab, today we were back out on the ice collecting another set of samples.  We returned to our ice camp that we had previously sampled on Tuesday.

Ice Camp, April 28, 2011

Although we were a little bit disorganized getting going, by a little after nine we were all loaded up and our convoy of snow machines and sleds left building #36.  By 9:45 am we were at or ice camp and hard at work sampling. It was a bit colder on the ice today, -17.3°C (~1°F) but it was a magnificent sunny day. The snow and ice were brilliant.


Our routine on the ice is now pretty well worked out. After getting all our gear unpacked and installing the generator and pump, the Yager group occupies their tent and begins sampling with the Niskin bottle (See earlier blog entry for description).

Meanwhile in the larger tent, the Bronk group get going filling-up theirmany incubation bottles and adding the various labeled nutrients.

Bronk group setting up an experiment on the ice.

When the Bronk group is finished, Zac and I begin to collect our water samples using the pump. The carboys are then placed in coolers and packed with snow. Then as quickly as possible we load everything back on the sleds and head back to filter all our water.

As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, in addition to the three science groups on this trip a middle school teacher and an artist have accompanied us. One of their objectives on this trip is to photograph under the ice and they both came equipped with a variety of cameras to do that.

Lollie Garay and Adriane Colburn posing with their under ice camera rig.

Today on the ice, they were hard at work with several cameras ready to deploy through the ice.  Working from an ice hole we drilled outside of the work tents, they deployed cameras to explore under the ice.

Under ice camera equipment.

I haven’t seen much of the footage yet, but the little bit I have seen is amazing.  Hopefully I’ll have some pictures to share later in the week and, as I mentioned before, Lollie is planning to post videos on the project website.

After returning to our labs and processing samples for the next 6 hours we were all exhausted.  Since Debbie and I had missed dinner at the cafeteria and can’t cook in our rooms at that Qkpik Nest “hotel,” we decided to go out to dinner at the Brower Café. Zac and two of our logistical support team (Faustine Mercer and Josh Bacon) joined us. Dinner was great (I had Mongolian Beef) and we were rewarded with a spectacular view of the night sun over the frozen ocean.

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.


24 April 2011 – Easter Sunday Setting up

April 26, 2011

Sleeping was tough last night as our bodies are still adjusting to all the sunlight.  Despite being so tired I think both Zac and I had a hard time sleeping and woke early.  Oh well, more time for work.  Not all that much exciting to report for today.  Most of the day was spent continuing to get our equipment together and getting ourselves organized for tomorrow’s main effort of setting the labs up and preparing for our first sampling trip on Tuesday.  Field work is like that, lots of work punctuated by moments of exhilaration.

Definitely a highlight of the day was Easter brunch in the cafeteria.

Easter brunch in the cafeteria.

The staff had decorated to the nines and over 200 people, mostly locals with kids, showed-up to the feast and egg hunt.  The food was good and plentiful and the atmosphere festive.

Easter egg hunt.

David, my 3 year old son, would have really enjoyed it.  I missed him a lot.

The rest of our group arrived in the evening.  It was quite a reunion.  Joining us were Debbie Bronk, Quinn Roberts, Rachel Sipler, and Steven Baer from VIMS, Tara Connelly, Karie Sines, and Adrianne Colburn from UGA, and Lollie Garay from Red School in Houston.  Miraculously everyone’s luggage arrived, even Zac’s luggage finally showed-up.  After the airport it was straight to the local grocery store to pick up some supplies.  Good news, the grocery store now carries some organic products.  Bad news, they are incredibly expensive.  Would you pay $9.45 for half a gallon of milk?

Organic milk, $9.45 a gallon.

After shopping we all went out to dinner; can you guess where?  Yep, Arctic Pizza.  We tried to talk a bit of science and catch-up, but everyone was so tired it was all that most could do just to sit upright.  I think Quinn even managed a few Z’s in her pizza.

Group dinner at Arctic Pizza.

But by staying up late we were rewarded with a truly amazing sunset.

Arctic spring sunset.

Tomorrow it’s another day of setting-up.

Spring In Barrow April 23 – May 4, 2011

April 25, 2011

23 April 2011

Dr. Marc Frischer

Hi All, it’s back to Barrow Alaska for another sampling adventure.  As I’ve discussed before in this blog, the intent of our project is to reach a new and quantitative understanding concerning how microbes (bacteria and phytoplankton) may respond to climate induced changes in the Arctic.

Although there is a very strong consensus among scientists that the world’s climate is changing (For more information, see the footnote at the bottom of this posting.), particularly in the Polar Regions, our understanding of how the organisms will respond is quite limited.  At the base of the food web are the microbes and these are the primary focus of our investigations. These tiny organisms are responsible for at least half of the oxygen production (and consumption) on the planet, almost all of the nutrient regeneration, and are the food that support the diet of everything including, to name a few,  fish, seals, whales, and humans.  In other words, it’s very important that we understand how these microscopic organisms will respond to ongoing climate change, especially here in the Arctic.

To answer these questions we are visiting the Arctic three times a year in the winter, spring, and summer, to make measurements of a large number of microbial parameters and to conduct experiments that will help us understand how the microbes may be affected by climate change.  We are sampling at different seasons to account for the astounding amount of seasonal variation that occurs naturally during a year.  We can’t sample in the fall because that would interfere with whaling activities that are an important cultural component of the community in Barrow Alaska where our studies are being conducted.

Our team includes scientists from the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, the University of Georgia, and the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences.  In addition, on this trip a middle school teacher (Lolli Garay) from the Red School in Houston, Texas and an artist (Adriane Colburn) from the University of Georgia are joining us in an effort to help communicate and share information about our efforts and results outside of the science community.

This springtime trip will be the fourth in our 3-year project and the second (and last) time during this project that we will sample during the spring.

The Trip – Saturday 23 April, 2011

Although this is our fourth trip to Barrow Alaska and so a lot of what we are doing is starting to become routine, it still took a lot of planning to get ready for this trip.  Since our return in February from our last trip, in addition to processing the winter samples, we’ve been busy planning and organizing the logistics for this trip.  Victoria Baylor took charge of most of this effort.

My graduate student from Savannah State University, Zac Tait, is also planning to start some new experiments related to his thesis research, so that took some additional planning efforts.

Finally we were ready.  This time we took a different route through Chicago to travel the 6,000 plus miles to Barrow.

Map of route from Savannah GA to Barrow, AK.

This route gets us to Barrow in a single day, but what a day!  The way back will be worse though, with a 10-hour layover in Anchorage and another 5-hour layover in Chicago.  But the route wasn’t without benefits as we were able to get a Chicago Hotdog for lunch.

Lunch at Gold Coast Hot Dogs in Chicago’s O’Hare airport.

Unfortunately, Zac lost his luggage along the way.  Besides his clothes, Zac packed a number of important pieces of equipment in his bag so we’re really hoping it’s not lost forever.  We made it to Barrow’s Will Rogers airport after a spectacular flight over Alaska’s Northslope passing over the frozen Yukon River and following the pipeline into Prudhoe Bay.

Alaska’s North Slope from the air.

Alaska pipeline from the air.

We arrived in Barrow in the early evening on Saturday but as we stepped off the plane it was immediately apparent how different it was compared to the winter.  First of all, it was sunny!  Last time we were here the sun was just appearing after 3 months of being absent.  Although there was light, it was perpetual twilight time.  Today there was 18 hours of sun and its light from about 2 am to 11:30 pm and on May 11, a week after we depart the sun will be up for 24 hours a day until the next sunset on August 1st.  Its also considerably warmer though still well below freezing.  Right now its -4°F (-20°C).  There are also other very visible changes.  The sea ice is beginning to break-up and is piled-up on the beach as a result of past storms.  The snow on the streets is also beginning to melt (because of all the sunlight) and the roads are dusty rather than snowy.

Other evidence of the long winter are several ice and snow carvings that have appeared around town, some rivaling Mount Rushmore but with a more Arctic theme.

Ice carvings in downtown Barrow.

Polar bear ice carving along the coastal road.

But, despite the change of season returning to Barrow was a bit like coming home.  We were picked-up at the airport by Tony Kaleak and Frantz Brower who are members of our logistic support group, UMIAQ.  Tony and Brower (no one calls him Frantz) updated us on the recent gossip and many organizational changes that have occurred since we were last in town and got us checked in to our living and working quarters.  The rest of the group won’t arrive until tomorrow evening so we set about surveying our equipment and space and planning for the next day.

Around 8pm we called it quits got some dinner at our favorite Barrow restaurant “Arctic Pizza” and tried to sleep.  It was tough though since the sun didn’t set until 11:30 and rose again around 2am.