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!"


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