Monday, June 30, 2008

The Eagle Has Landed...

After a long journey Thursday night to Friday afternoon, the eagle (me) finally landed (in D.C.). I spent the weekend with my sister (who had so kindly agreed to babysit my car for me), and then made the final drive to Philly yesterday. Today I made my way back to Villanova's campus ... all the way being reminded how much I hate traffic and the need to commute to work. Walking to work was so much more my style!

The time zone and climate adjustments are going to take some time. I'm finding the warm temps that others feel are "comfortable" to be swealtering. I almost stuck my head in the freezer last night to cool off, but decided against that since I'd waste so much energy keeping the door open. If only I owned a chest freezer I could just crawl into from time to time ... :o)

I am, however, enjoying the dark nights and other unique aspects of being home ... like fire flies and thunderstorms. The photo below shows the dark outline of the trees lining my street and a few blurry street and driveway lights ... what many take for granted on a daily basis (i.e. sunsets) I now hold in very high regard!



Our equipment is on its way back to us now ... as are the samples that we'll be busily processing for the rest of the summer and into the fall. We'll post updates as exciting (and not so exciting) things happen. The first order of business is to get everyone safely back to PA after their well deserved post-fieldwork vacations.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Eagle has Left the Nest ...

The group in Barrow is now down to two members ... Glenn and Ali. I left Barrow on Thursday evening. For a while I was wondering if the flight would leave - the morning departure was cancelled due to fog and it barely lifted before the evening plane needed to land. But, land it did, and I was on Alaska Air Flight 52, which departed Barrow a little after 9 pm.

Wednesday night we celebrated my final night in Barrow with dinner (and dessert) at Brower's Cafe. There is a painting of a polar bear in the restaurant, so we decided that we'd have to face the fact that the painting would be the closest we'd get to a photo op of a polar bear. So we took a few shots with our "stand in" polar bear on Wednesday night.




But as luck would have it, Barrow had one last surprise in store for us ... the day of my departure ... I FINALLY saw a POLAR BEAR! A call came in from the Wildlife Department that a polar bear was spotted just off the beach by the Napa Auto Parts store (about 1 mile from BASC). Our good friend Nok called us at the lab and said to grab our cameras, he'd be over in a minute to pick us up in the truck and drive us out to see it. He knew we were all disappointed that we hadn't seen a polar bear. Thanks Nok for thinking about us and getting us that one last chance to see a bear!!!


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

And Then There Were Three...

The group is officially now beginning to dwindle. Yesterday, Ian headed south to warmer climates ... with a stop in Seattle to see the sights (and friends), he'll return to Philadelphia at the end of the month. Tomorrow evening I will depart, followed soon thereafter by Glenn (leaving Saturday) and Ali (leaving Sunday).


Today we took our 1100 pounds of equipment to Northern Air Cargo for shipment back to our lab at Villanova. We also returned the gas cylinders we've been using while in Barrow. We had these shipped to Barrow from Anchorage and of course, they had to be returned. We ended up completely overestimating how much gas we'd need, so many of the cylinders were returned still full of helium or nitrogen. Oh well, it is better to have more than you need than to run out in the middle of your work! Our poor F250 had to take on the 2200 lb load for the trip to the airport. Thank heavens it has a good suspension ... even so, the drive into town was taken slow and easy. It was quite the "low rider" excursion (as you can see from the pic below).

So now, it is time to pack up my personal belongings. The mundane tasks of doing laundry and returning keys still have to be checked off my "to do" list. Leaving Barrow will be bittersweet ... I'll be happy to be home again, but realize that comes at the price of leaving a lot of great friends that I have made while here in the field. Luckily, email, phones, and web chats are still readily available for keeping in touch! I'm planning for a return trip next year (assuming the funding fairy is kind to me). But between now and then, who knows, I might just make another trip up here for fun as an official "tourist"! :o)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Greetings from Beaker!!!

Meep meep meep! In Beaker-ese that means Greetings from Barrow. The group’s time here is quickly winding down – I can’t believe we’ve been here since March! My time here with the Grannas group has been quite the experience. As official lab mascot it was my job to keep morale high, and I do believe I’ve excelled in that area. They also put me to work from day one … not that I’m complaining, but I do think there may have been some violations of Muppet labor laws. For some reason everyone assumes a Muppet needs no sleep! I had to babysit the GC during all the overnight analyses. I also had to oversee all lab activities and keep everyone in check and on schedule. Quite the job when you consider the yahoos I have to work with! Oh, wait, did I say that out loud? I meant to say that I had nothing but good experiences working with these science geniuses who always act like the ultimate professionals (as evidenced by the candid photos below I managed to take while they weren't paying attention) . :o)





Along with the more mundane lab work, the group has had numerous opportunities to get out in the field for sampling. Snowmachining and ATV-ing around Barrow was always fun, especially when Ali would come back with stories of upsetting her snowmachine multiple times in one trip.



They also had some great times participating in the spring whaling season and eating the fruits thereof … although no one offered me any muktuk and I am still feeling a bit offended by that slight. They did offer to bring me to their weekend bonfire, but I declined as I was afraid Ian might end up using me as kindling or firestarter. Polyester stuffing burns so easily you know!




Dining out was also a highlight of the stay. Who knew you could get such yummy Mexican food this far north of the border? The Thai restaurant was also a hit, more for the hilarious wait-staff than the food (although the food certainly was good). Osaka had great sushi and other tasty menu items as well. It was always fun to hear Glenn’s point of view on the food offerings – he’s experienced first hand a number of foreign cuisines and was always full of insight regarding food preparation and presentation.




The Barrow night life was quite an experience. (Although can you really call it night life when the sun doesn’t go down? Shouldn’t it be light life? ... just a thought). Anyway – the Friday night dances were a hoot … man, who ever said science geeks can’t dance? Once they got over the initial fear of being the only people on the dance floor, it really was quite fun to see them out there gyrating around. I never imagined Dr. G could bend that way (and to be honest, maybe she shouldn’t)! When the Barrow entertainment offerings weren’t sufficient, the group often organized their own entertainment. Countless movie nights filled the past few months. Several Rock Band get-togethers were also on the schedule. And let’s not even talk about charades and Pictionary games … yikes! Talk about the competitive spirit … they would make Bobby Knight proud!




I have to give final props to BASC (the Barrow Arctic Science Consortium). The logistics staff was just amazing – always meeting the group’s needs and going above and beyond to help them get their work done. Last minute requests were never a problem (whereas I would have probably looked at the Grannas group with that “you’ve got to be kidding!” look). The spirit of “nothing is impossible” was pervasive … and honestly, it ended up true. (Who knew a stand-in vacuum system could be found in a matter of an hour when the building’s vacuum pumps died).

So now, I find myself looking around the lab at the empty boxes and crates that are soon going to be filled with equipment and materials to be shipped back to Villanova. I’ll get crammed into one of these for the ride home … I’m trying to scope out a nice comfy spot that isn’t too cramped. I had one heck of a neck cramp from my trip up here in March – so I’m not looking for a repeat of that! I'm sure the group will continue blogging, but for now I must bid everyone farewell and get ready to be stuffed into my packing crate. So, until I get back to Villanova, I wish you all Meep Meep Meep Meeeeep! (Translation: health, happiness and a safe summer).

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Happy Nalukataq

On Saturday, June 21 we ushered in the beginning of summer by attending the Nalukataq festival. Two whaling crews (one of which was the ABC crew) celebrated their successful whaling season with the community. They shared their catches with the town, serving goose soup (remember the geese we cleaned a while back???), caribou soup, frozen raw whale meat (quaq), muktuk, etc. Everyone was welcome to share in the fun and some of us even got a portion of quaq and muktuk to take home.




After the food was distributed, the blanket toss began. A "blanket" made of seal (or walrus) skins is used as a trampoline. People stand around the edges of the blanket and move it up and down in unison - this is what gives the blanket its "spring". Everyone is invited to take a turn if they'd like getting tossed (sometimes VERY high) in the air. Some jumpers throw out candy to the eager kids (and adults) waiting for some sweet goodies below. Ali and Glenn both took a turn on the blanket, as well as a number of other BASC researchers. Luckily, all survived the toss without any broken bones or other long-term injuries!



video


After the blanket toss, we headed to the Arctic Ocean coast for a "Polar Plunge". Ali, Ian and a few other brave BASC researchers (Tony, Barry and Romain) took the plunge into the icy waters of the Arctic Ocean. Luckily, no one had heart failure upon entering and no one ended up with hypothermia from the swim. I passed on this experience, as I've already done my fair share of Polar Rolls (rolling around nearly naked in the snow at -40F) and Polar Plunges ... and Glenn decided he also wanted to keep to the warmer, drier climes of solid ground. We were, however, the official photographers and "warmer uppers" for the swimmers when they exited the water. What we didn't realize was that we wouldn't be the ONLY photographers. As the plungers got ready for their swim a passing vehicle decided to stop to watch the fun. This caught the attention of a few other passersby (including the 15 passenger van used by "Northern Tundra Tours" to take tourists around to local sights). Apparently, we ended up on their tour ... as the entire van emptied and the tourists took pictures of the group doing their plunge. Ironic - the tourists come to Barrow to see the local sights and end up taking pictures of tourists doing the polar plunge. But, we were happy to be the entertainment, if only for a few minutes. Blankets, towels and dry changes of clothes were quickly made ready when the plungers decided to exit the frigid water (to the cheers and hoots of the adoring audience). Everyone was glad they did the plunge ... or at least no one voiced their regrets out loud!





So now that the first Nalukataq of the summer is past, we must unfortunately start thinking about packing up our lab and instruments for the journey back to Villanova. The goal is to have our boxes and crates to the Northern Air Cargo facility at the airport by Wednesday. So, we still have a few days to get ourselves packed and ready to head back to the lower 48. We managed to get everything up here in one piece - so let's hope we can maintain the same record for the trip home!

Friday, June 13, 2008

San Francisco Exploratorium

A team from the San Francisco Exploratorium (a really cool hands-on science museum!) has been in Barrow for the past few weeks speaking with, photographing, videoing and interviewing the researchers here in Barrow in an effort to get a feel for the types of work going on in the Arctic and how Arctic research can impact people from all walks of life. Their efforts are then turned into "Ice Stories: Dispatches from Polar Scientists". Check it out at: http://icestories.exploratorium.edu/dispatches/index.php

Both Glenn and I were interviewed, with a webcast sent back live to the Exploratorium. You can view our webcasts by visiting:

http://www.exploratorium.edu/webcasts/index.php

Go to the area marked "Recent Programs" on the right. You'll find Glenn's interview under the title of "Snow Chemistry" (date: 6/6/2008) and my interview under the title of "Impact of Pollutants on Snow and Ice" (date: 6/13/2008).

Although my presentation was on Friday the 13th, no misfortunes came about during the webcast. (Whew!)

Monday, June 9, 2008

From the Great (not so white) North...

The past few days have been quite eventful, on both the science and social fronts. Snow is rapidly melting here and we are in high gear for sampling. We've done a number of trips to various sampling sites - some more easily accessible than others. We have 14 sampling buckets and are nearly constantly alternating between sampling or extracting the collected samples. It takes several hours to process a bucket of snow/water, so we can't let ourselves get too far behind, or we run out of buckets! All the while, Glenn and Ali continue our photochemistry experiments. We'll soon have weather too warm to complete experiments in ice, but we plan to continue experiments in liquid samples for as long as time permits.

On Thursday (6-5-08), Ian and Ali once again travelled to Point Barrow via ATV to collect snow, ice and meltwater samples. While they were collecting the samples, I managed to process several of our previous samples and then proceeded with the tedious task of cleaning the buckets to ready them for their next use. It took them most of the afternoon to finish sampling, but their hard work was rewarded with a trip to Brower's Cafe for dinner that evening. Located right along the Arctic Ocean coast, Brower's offers good food and a great view for one's dining pleasure. Ali and I shared an ice cream sundae for dessert - a fitting end to a long day of work.




On Friday (6-6-08), Ian and I completed a depth profile of the snow behind the BARC lab building. Previously, these profiles consisted of collecting snow at various depths from the surface down to the tundra. Now, there is a several-inch-thick layer of meltwater under the snowpack (which we now are also collecting for analysis). We're interested in finding out how the pollutants move through the snowpack when it begins to warm and melt. In all, we collected eight 5-gallon buckets of snow and/or water. Ian was kind enough to carry the two heavier water-filled buckets through the snow, up over the snowbank and to our lab. I made the trek with the six slightly lighter snow-filled buckets across the deep slushy snow (which you occassionally sink through up to your hips) to the snow bank ... then Ian carried those over the snowbank to the back door of the building and we hauled them inside from there. It seems like slightly less work when you can "break up" the trip so to speak ... but it still is quite the workout to haul around the buckets, all the time sinking into and stumbling through the slushy, uncooperative snow.

Friday evening I had the opportunity to help the ABC Crew prepare for their upcoming Nalukataq, or spring whaling, festival. The ABC Crew successfully brought in a whale this season and on June 21 will celebrate and share their catch with the community. This means sharing their bounty with the entire community of Barrow. They will prepare a variety of foods ... from whale to geese to caribou ... but it all must be prepared ahead of time, considering the large quantity of food that needs to be ready. We prepared 27 geese within a few hours on Friday evening. It is not a job for the faint of heart (or those with a queasy stomach), as you might be able to tell from the photos below.




Saturday (6-7-08) was a lighter day in terms of our work load. We gave a talk about our research at the Schoolyard Saturday presentation. This is an educational outreach activity organized by BASC that is aimed at sharing research activities and findings with the community. We had quite a large turn out and those in attendance seemed genuinely interested in the topic and asked a number of insightful questions. It is always refreshing when you can talk about your work and not put an entire audience to sleep!

Saturday evening we joined some fellow BASC researchers for a bar-b-que and enjoyed grilled chicken, burgers and hot dogs. A hilarious game of charades followed (honestly, how does one act out "Gerald Ford"???). Around 9 pm, the crowd dispersed to either a.) return to BARC to do work (poor Ian, Glenn and Ali!) or b.) attend a bonfire in town (those rowdy archaeologists!).

On Sunday afternoon (6-8-08) we trekked out to the BEO to do air sampler maintenance and also to collect snow and meltwater samples. This was quite the workout for us, as we can no longer snowmachine on the tundra. We walked several miles (both in and out again) to do the sample collection, getting five 5-gallon buckets of snow/water. (This corresponds to over 200 pounds in case you were curious). We made good use of a plastic sled to help us in the hauling process and we each took turns playing "mule" to get the samples back from the BEO to the truck. Luckily, we enlisted the help of another researcher (one of those aforementioned archaeologists), so we were able to spread out the workload a little more. In addition to the extra help, we had an extra smiling face to make the trip more enjoyable. Sheila is always good for a few laughs (especially when she chases and CATCHES lemmings) ... and many thanks to her for volunteering to help!!! The photo below shows Sheila with one of her catches of the day ... the brown furry hamster-looking thing in her hands would be a lemming (which she named "Scribbles").



Because we spent all afternoon on the BEO, we didn't make it back in time to catch dinner at the college cafeteria. Also, because Sunday was Glenn's birthday, we decided to celebrate with dinner in town. Glenn chose the Arctic Thai restaurant and we enjoyed a variety of dishes. He was also surprised with a huge ice cream dessert (and enough spoons for all of us to share!) in honor of his birthday. The owners were quite gracious in helping us celebrate Glenn's birthday in style.


We have a lot more sampling planned for the upcoming week, so stay tuned for further updates from the great (now not so white) north.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

HAPPY BIRTHDAY GLENN!!!

Happy Birthday to You!
Happy Birthday to You!
Happy Birthday Dear Glenn,
Happy Birthday to You!


Sunday, June 8 is Glenn's birthday ... Best wishes to Glenn for a happy birthday!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Arctic Blast

Greetings from Barrow, Alaska! I apologize (wholeheartedly) for the exceptionally overdue blog update. We’ve all been so busy!

My first two weeks of arctic adventures have been remarkable! The journey began on Tuesday, May 20, 2008: Dr. Grannas and I travelled from Washington D.C. to Anchorage. On May 21, we completed our cross-country expedition to Barrow. After joining our fellow Villanovans in the NARL Hotel (Naval Arctic Research Laboratory Hotel), we familiarized ourselves with the small town of Barrow. Our accommodations in the “hotel” are wonderfully spacious and clean. However, it took several days to become accustomed to the midnight sun through the bedroom curtains.

Our experiments have kept us all tremendously busy! I have had several opportunities to venture onto the BEO (Barrow Environmental Observatory) with Ian, Dr. Grannas, and Glenn (Dr. Rowland) via snowmobile to collect snowmelt water and snow samples and also to replace the air filters within our high volume air sampler in the field. We managed to spot some beautiful Snowy Owls on the tundra. We also performed depth profiles within the snowpack to analyze POPs (persistent organic pollutants) in the snow, also via XAD extraction. All the snow and water samples were collected in (heavy) buckets, lined with Teflon.




I also travelled via snowmobile with researcher Tom Douglas and his student Romain to their SnowNET site on the BEO to help obtain snow depth and temperature measurements, and also to collect snowmelt samples. Although the expeditions were generally enjoyable, I somehow managed to tip my snowmobile – twice – on the tundra. In a ridiculous turn of events, I also became stranded for a short period of time upon a snow machine I could not start. Not to worry, though. I returned to our laboratory in BASC (Barrow Arctic Science Consortium) with a hilarious story.



On another day, Ian and I traversed to Point Barrow (the northernmost point in the United States) via ATV to collect snow and snowmelt water samples. We were accompanied by a “bear guard” to protect us from potential polar bear attacks. The drive was incredibly bouncy on the four-wheelers and it was difficult to navigate the terrain. However, the trip proved to be amusing and successful.



Today, Ian and I walked across approximately 2 miles of the BEO tundra on foot, since the snow conditions were somewhat treacherous for the snow machines. We watched attentively for polar bears and rabid foxes, and thankfully spotted neither. We did catch sight of some cute little lemmings and a variety of bird species.



While in Barrow, I have also completed several photochemistry experiments with Glenn. For each experiment, we sealed ampules containing organic pollutants in snowmelt water using a propane torch. Following freezing or refrigeration, the ampules were irradiated from exposure to the 24-hour arctic sunlight on a snow bank outside BARC (Barrow Arctic Research Center) as liquid or frozen samples. Following extraction with hexane, degradation and product formation were monitored using our trusty GC (gas chromatograph).

To occupy our free time, we have enjoyed fine dining out on the town at Osaka (for sushi), Arctic Thai, and Pepe’s North of the Border (for Mexican food). We have also organized game nights (including Pictionary, card games, and Rock Band) and movie nights with some fellow arctic researchers. Some social hubs within Barrow include the AC grocery store and the roller rink (for indoor soccer games and the disco). We hosted a beachside bonfire last weekend and enjoyed s’mores and hot dogs with BASC researchers.

Be sure to check out our YouTube link for some new videos...coming soon! As we say on the BASC walkie-talkies, "over and out!"

Ali