Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Snowmelt on the Tundra

See our newest YouTube video! This is a series of photos taken from the same vantage point at our research site on the tundra outside of Barrow, Alaska. You can watch in about 2 minutes what took a few weeks to happen ...

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Joe "The Waterman" Shults' Museum

Joe Shults is a well-known face around Barrow. For years he delivered water to residents, one house at a time, with his tanker truck/water service business. Perhaps even more interestingly, he was known to do this in the dead of winter in a short-sleeve t-shirt. His knicknames include Joe "The Waterman" and "T-shirt Joe". Now 54, he has retired from the water delivery business, and focuses on helping out at Pepe's "North of the Border" Mexican restaurant, which his mom (Fran Tate) owns. He also has his own museum, located in his home, which he opens up to visitors at 10 pm (after he gets off work). All you need to do is make an appointment and he's happy to have you come by any day of the week to see his rare, vast collection.

Joe has spent the past 30 years or so collecting all sorts of old, rare, wonderful and strange items. Some of the things he has purchased himself (like many of the taxidermy pieces), many more have been donated to him, and some items he finds when storms wash in artifacts to the beach that have been on the ocean floor. He's also been known to go out in his boat after the ice breaks up and look for items ... recovering things like whaling guns, tools, etc.

His collection has garnered the attention of the Smithsonian ... they have wanted to borrow pieces for study, but he has a strict policy that nothing from his museum is sold (and offers for some pieces have been high), and nothing leaves the premises. He cherishes the items too much to risk having them lost or damaged. He has however let the experts set up camp at his house and several times they have spent a few days studying pieces on his back porch.

Joe makes sure everyone has a chance to see his collection. There is no entry fee, although donations are appreciated. But, if you're broke, he won't deny entry ... he has even had people bring empty beer/liquor bottles as their donation ... proof of why they are broke!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Tundra Wildlife

Here are a few pictures snapped over the course of the past couple weeks. Most of these pics were taken by Chun-mei Chiu, a Purdue University grad student working on the team (studying hydrology). Although she herself is quite camera shy, she takes great pictures and manages to capture some wonderful moments on film (well, okay, a digital card to be exact). I'm sure the blog will be featuring more of her photography before all is said and done!

Our illustrious photographer, Chun-Mei!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Barrow: Round Two

So, we're back in Barrow!!! After a brief hiatus in the warmer climes of the lower 48, we are in the midst of our second trip to Barrow for 2009. This time, team members include Dr. Glenn Rowland (a Villanova postdoctoral researcher, who blog fans will recognize from last year) and me (Dr. Amanda Grannas). We are up here this time working with Matthew Sturm and Tom Douglas' groups ... they are graciously providing us space at their field site to do our work. We are in the middle of the tundra southeast of Barrow, about 2-3 miles from the nearest road. Glenn has been here since mid-May and at the beginning one was able to reach the site by snowmachine. Alas, enough melting has occurred to make that impossible. So the trip has been made on foot since Sunday. Several miles over wet, soggy tundra is a little like Arctic boot camp (or maybe that should be called Arctic hip-wader camp).

The long walk ... (sampling buckets in hand)...

Unfortunately, Glenn is leaving us tomorrow. I am his replacement - I arrived May 31 and will continue work until departing on June 19. I didn't get here in time for the snowmachining, and am a bit bummed about that! Here's a pic from Glenn taking one of his last snow samples.

The overall goal of the entire group is to better understand just what happens up here in the Arctic at snowmelt. This is from both the perspective of the snow as well as the chemicals within the snow. Hydrologists and chemists are teaming up to track the snowmelt, following where the water goes, how fast it gets there and what happens to the chemicals in the snow during that melt period. We're measuring all sorts of things like ions, organic matter, mercury and organic contaminants (which is specifically the Villanova contribution).

It takes a lot of work to figure out just what is going on, including a lot of measurements (both with fancy instrumentation and also human observations and measurements) and a lot of sampling. We sample every day for ions and mercury (those samples get shipped away for analysis) and every other day for organic contaminants (those samples have to get processed on site - which takes a day itself).

So that's the general picture of what we are up to this time around ... now here are some pics that might better illustrate the things I've mentioned above!

A view of our "Conestoga", or covered sled that we use for shelter and to make the field work just a bit more civilized ...
Here's the civilized part ... a first rate sample pumping station in the middle of the tundra!!!!
Not everyone needs fancy equipment ... see here the use of a run of the mill caulking gun for sample filtering. We draw water up into a syringe, then screw a filter onto the end. We push the water out of the syringe, through the filter, then into the collection bottle. Problem is, the particulate matter in the water clogs our filters rather easily, making it VERY difficult to get the water through with just your hands ... so a caulking gun adds the extra "oomph" we need to get the job done.
Maybe we should get some sponsorship from Home Depot?