Friday, April 17, 2009

Heading Home

Well, after a lot of work (and some fun mixed in there too), it is time to leave Barrow and head home to the lower 48. As I write this blog entry, I'm sitting in the Anchorage airport, enjoying the free wireless internet, waiting for my taxi south. (A BIG taxi with wings and a jet engine).

Barrow will certainly be missed, and I look forward to a return trip in late May/June ... we will continue our sampling campaign during the Barrow snowmelt period. Although I'm always happy to return to Barrow ... its people and culture have seemed to really touch my heart ... there are a few things I will be happy to see and experience again down south. I'll make a list of those later though ... right now I think I need a pre-flight nap. ***Yawn***

Thursday, April 9, 2009

It's Snowing!

You may wonder why the fact that it is snowing makes for a special blog post. Isn't it snowing all the time in Barrow?

Actually, the answer to that is a resounding NO. Barrow can actually be considered a desert climate, in terms of precipitation amounts. On average, Barrow receives less than 30" of snow (an equivalent of less than 5" of water). The USGS defines arid lands as those that receive less than 250 millimeters of annual rainfall (or 10" equivalent water). By comparison Buffalo, N.Y., receives an average of 80” to 100” of snow alone per year.

However, across Alaska, the amount of snowfall can be extremely varied. Southern Alaska receives far greater amounts of snow than the north. For example, Thompson Pass, a popular extreme ski and snowboard area north of Valdez, once received a record 974.5” of snow during the winter of 1952-1953 and in one 24 hour period in December 1955 the same area recorded a 62" snowfall.

The deepest recorded snow pack in all of North America occurred at Wolverine Glacier on the Kenai Peninsula during the winter of 1976-1977. The depth was 356”. Almost 30 feet deep!

By comparison, Barrow, in the dry north, received a record minimum amount of snow during the winter of 1935-1936 of only 3”.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Schoolyard Saturday

The past few days have certainly been busy ones. A lot of snow sampling has been going on ... a group of us are doing a 36 hour experiment to monitor the changes in snow composition as a function of sunlight. Several of my colleagues have been sampling the snow every two hours since Friday morning. Unfortunately, because of the large volume of snow that I need for a sample (and the time it takes to process those amounts of snow), I was only able to sample three times. Once at the start, middle and end of the experiment. For our work, one sample requires gathering two 5-gallon buckets of snow. This snow then melts overnight and the pollutants are extracted from the snow and sent home for analysis at Villanova. (See our previous "movie" of sampling, posted on March 24). We are interested in how the pollutants migrate within the snowpack, so I sampled from three different layers (or depths) in the snow. Where I am sampling, the total snowpack depth is about 30-40 cm (a bit more than 12 - 16 inches). So, I have to dig up a relatively large area of the snow to fill my buckets. My colleagues just shake their heads when I'm finished, because it looks like an angry herd of buffalo had their way with the snow where I sampled.

In other news, I also gave a talk today to the local community about our work, at an event called "Schoolyard Saturday". Every Saturday someone comes in to talk about their work in the Arctic, or some other interesting topic they find appropriate, and the talk is open to the public. I had pretty good attendance given that I was competing with the local "Spring Festival" being held this weekend in town. The talk lasted about 40 minutes, but was followed by many interesting questions that lasted another 30 minutes or so. Apparently I didn't put anyone to sleep!

So our work here is wrapping up - at least for this trip. Another full week of work and then it will be time to pack up and head back home again. I must admit, it will be good to be able to sleep in my own bed again ... and with springtime in full force in Pennsylvania, I'll get to mow grass too ... oh, if only that were something I actually looked forward to! There is something to be said for living in a place where you don't have grass to mow!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Out Like a Lamb???

March came in like a lion, and has gone out like a lamb.

Well, perhaps lamb is not quite the right term. Today it was VERY windy (20 mph sustained) and cold (-20F). Wind chills were below -40F.

So maybe March went out not quite like a lion, but more like a very angry lamb.