Posts Tagged ‘vims’

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

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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]

Arriving in Barrow, Alaska

January 18, 2012

Marc Frischer continues his account of his research trip to Barrow, Alaska.

14 January 2012

This morning, we again caught a 6am flight. This time the flights took us to Fairbanks, Prudhoe Bay, and then into Barrow. As usual the scenery from the air was spectacular!

Alaska Mountain Range near Fairbanks

After another 5 hours of flying we landed in Barrow.  It was 11 am but it could have been 11 pm. Barrow is still experiencing 24 hours without the sun though we expect to see the sun for a few minutes when it rises for the first time since November 18 on January 23rd. We should see the sun for about 30 min that day.

Arriving in Barrow

Although the sun isn’t above the horizon, for several hours a day there is some light as the curvature of the Earth creates a long twig light period. Because there is so much white ice and snow which is highly reflective, it’s actually quite bright given that the sun isn’t even up.

After a brief meeting with the rest of the science and logistics support team to get re-oriented and check in, we immediately set out re-locating all our gear and setting-up our various laboratory and field staging spaces. We spent the rest of the day doing that but managed to find all our stuff and get it re-distributed into the right places. Tomorrow we’ll set it all up and make sure that it is all working. One surprise was that the facility where we do most of our water filtration (The Beach Freezer) was practically snowed in with a big drift of snow. The door was accessible though, so no problem.

Marc by the Beach Freezer

[Marc  in front of a snowdrift by the Beach Freezer]

This trip our team consists of:

Tish Yager and Colin Williams from the University of Georgia (UGA), Debbie Bronk, Rachel Sipler, Steven Baer, and Jenna Spackeen from the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences (VIMS), and myself and Victoria Baylor from the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography (SkIO). Next week are also expecting to be joined by one more member of the UGA group.

We are being assisted by a very competent and can do attitude logistics group from UMIAQ and CH2MHILL Polar Services (CPS).  Without this support we absolutely couldn’t accomplish anything here.

Around 5 pm we called it quits for the day and headed out to our favorite Barrow restaurant Arctic pizza for dinner, more planning and to catch-up with each other.

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.