Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Travel Days to Barrow Are Always Long Days…

I have travelled to Alaska, and Barrow, several dozen times in the last three years. The trip is always exciting as I enjoy the anticipation of field research. The 4,600 mile flight, however, never gets any shorter or quicker. It still takes 16 to 18 hours; sometimes longer. My flight left Knoxville at 7:05am and, after a short layover, departed Chicago several hours ago, bound for Anchorage, and then to Barrow with stops in Fairbanks and Prudhoe Bay. Thanks to what I understand are 16 hour days right now and quickly getting longer, I will arrive 330 miles north of the Arctic Circle with plenty of sun still above the horizon.

While people like to talk about the science we are doing as part of the Next-Generation Ecosystem Experiments (NGEE Arctic) project, they are also quick to ask me about what clothing I take at this time of year to stay warm. Fortunately, experience and sage advice from others including our Chief Scientist Larry Hinzman (UAF) has given all of our team a good idea of what is required when working outside all day in sub-freezing weather. My Arctic insulated parka, insulated bibs, and tundra boots are all kept in our team “dry” storage area in Barrow. Most people on the project do that as well. It’s great not to pack those bulky items every time we travel. All other clothing including base layers, fleece, insulated vests, anoraks, wind pants, gloves, headwear, and goggles all fit into a couple of weatherproof duffle bags. The goggles and headwear come in especially handy because of the strong winds the blow across the open tundra and when riding snow machines to and from the field site which is located just a few miles to the southeast of Barrow. If people on the team forget an item or two there is a slim chance that it can be purchased in Barrow. Best advice is not to forget anything…

My flight does not arrive into Anchorage for another four hours; then northward to Fairbanks, Prudhoe Bay, and finally Barrow. I have plenty of time to prepare for Wednesday’s advisory board meeting for the Barrow Environmental Observatory (BEO). I’ll write more about that and my arrival into Barrow tomorrow. For now, I have plenty of time to read through Taniya’s draft Global Change Biology manuscript entitled “Stoichiometry and temperature sensitivity of methanogenesis and soil respiration from saturated polygonal tundra in Barrow, Alaska”. In this manuscript, Taniya and her co-authors report on the mechanisms, as determined by incubation studies across a range of temperatures that underlie CO2 and CH4 release from active layer soils and permafrost. Taniya, David, Beth, Baohua, and others draw some interesting conclusions about soil organic matter (SOM) decomposition, microbial metabolism, and iron reduction. It is great to see tangible progress being made in so many areas of the project!


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A New Field Season Begins in Barrow…

It has been almost 5 months since we were last at our NGEE Arctic field site in Barrow. During that time air temperatures dipped to -35F in late December, but otherwise have been mild for locations throughout the North Slope of Alaska. NOAA reports that January was unseasonably warm across much of Alaska.

Although warmer than average, we still expect cold temperatures and snow as we conduct field work during the April 16 to May 4, 2014 period. I will arrive in Barrow ahead of others for a two-day meeting of the Barrow Environmental Observatory (BEO) Science Advisory Board. The BEO is approximately 7,500 acres of pristine tundra that the Native Village Corporation set aside for national and international Arctic research. It is a tremendous resource and one used by many research projects, including NGEE Arctic. Once the BEO Science Advisory Board meeting concludes, then I will be joined by other scientists from Oak Ridge, Los Alamos, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories, and the University of Alaska Fairbanks. As we have done before, this group will undertake almost two weeks of field research that will include geophysical characterization of land across the BEO, sampling of deep permafrost using a hydraulic drill rig, and then preparations by our team of hydrologists for the upcoming spring snowmelt.

If you are new to the NGEE Arctic blog – welcome! You might be interested to know that Barrow, 330 miles north of the Arctic Circle, holds the distinction of being the northernmost city in the United States. It is also listed among the top 10 northernmost settlements in the world. Barrow has been home to Native Inupiat people for over 1,000 years and was named after Sir John Barrow, an English statesman and writer. Barrow is ca. 1,300 miles south of the North Pole.

In addition to our two weeks of field research, we will also be hosting (hopefully) a live Google Hangout broadcast from Barrow on April 24, 2014. Join us for that if you can. I will be sure to post details as that date gets closer and as details are finalized. We expect to broadcast live from the field as researchers conduct geophysical surveys using snow machines and collect cores of frozen soil or permafrost using a sled-mounted drill rig. We will be joined by scientists from two research labs in California. Plans also include talking about research in the Arctic, live with students from two high schools, one in Berkeley, CA and another in Anchorage, AK.

Stay tuned as it looks to be a busy trip as the NGEE Arctic project begins our third year of research on the North Slope of Alaska.


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Join us for first trip to the North Slope of Alaska in 2014

A team of scientists from the NGEE Arctic project travel to Barrow in mid-April to collect permafrost cores and conduct geophysical surveys across the Barrow Environmental Observatory. Join them as they begin the 2014 field season on the North Slope of Alaska.  Follow trip…

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Strong participation by NGEE Arctic scientists in annual AGU meetings

The American Geophysical Union (AGU) meetings are held each fall in San Francisco, CA. This meeting attracts more than 18,000 attendees and has become an important destination for scientists studying a broad range of topics in the earth and space sciences.

Last year the NGEE Arctic team had a strong presence in the meeting and this year that trend continued with outstanding participation in the meeting. More than 60 abstracts were submitted for poster and oral presentations on topics that ranged from geophysics, hydrology, geomorphology and landscape evolution, plant physiology and vegetation dynamics, biogeochemistry, and data management. There were many excellent posters and presentation on multi-scale modeling, including fine-scale simulations of polygons to global-scale feedbacks due to a changing climate in the Arctic. In addition to the efforts of NGEE Arctic to showcase their science, our team proposed and organized 10 sessions. Many of these focused exclusively on Arctic ecosystems or otherwise addressed topics that our team is dealing with specifically in areas, for example, of scaling and remote sensing.  These are important topics for all ecosystems, not just the Arctic, and it was good to get input on how scientists working in other locations around the world are tackling this common challenges.

Finally, several members of the NGEE Arctic team participated as judges for the Outstanding Student Poster and Presentation awards. This was a great opportunity to learn about research being conducted by our next-generation of scientists. I found myself interested in several posters, in particular those that combined an interesting scientific question with innovation in either measurements or modeling as tools to address that question. I walked away from poster and oral presentations with a good sense of how young scientists are tackling important questions in various fields.
The NGEE Arctic team developed a booklet of abstracts and session descriptions. That booklet can be downloaded here....

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Logistical Provider UMIAQ Enjoys Great Visibility at AGU

The NGEE Arctic team had a strong presence at the recent AGU meetings in San Francisco. While our team was busy throughout the week with posters, presentations, special sessions, and Town Halls, it was great to see that UMIAQ, our logistical provider in Barrow was also enjoying a great time over in the exhibition hall. Their booth was well-positioned and staffed by people we have come to know and respect over the last few years including Karl Newyear (Chief Scientist), Dominique Fox (Project Coordinator), Brower Frantz (Field Logistics Supervisor), Cindy Shake (Marketing and Communications Manager), and Nagruk Harcharek (Science Logistics Manager). Karl, Brower, and Dominique have helped us with permitting, lodging, vehicles, laboratory space, and technical support in Barrow for the last three years and have played a big part in getting our science off to a strong start. We have always felt safe and well-supplied thanks to their involvement with our NGEE Arctic team. Cindy and Nagruk are relatively new to UMIAQ but we look forward to working with them in the coming year. As the pictures kindly provided by UMIAQ show, the booth was well designed to engage those walking through the exhibition hall, and all the staff were welcome to talk about science and logistical support in Alaska and the North Slope. Everyone enjoyed seeing a glimpse of the Arctic in San Francisco. I saw numerous UMIAQ backpacks, brochures, and Barrow snow globes throughout the week.  I visited the booth several times just to say “hi” and get a head start with some of our planning for the upcoming field season that will begin for us in April.

Monday, November 4, 2013

NGEE Arctic Goes to School…

Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) held their annual Fall Festival on Friday, November 1, complete with live music, food, and various arts and craft displays. The laboratory used this event to also unveil two science education trailers – one from the Neutron Sciences Directorate and the other from the Energy and Environmental Sciences Directorate (EESD). Both trailers were designed to take cutting-edge science from the laboratory to elementary, middle, and high school students. The Fall Festival provided a great opportunity to showcase the trailers and their scientific displays to ORNL staff before taking them on the road.


Since Kathy Huczko, technical project manager for NGEE Arctic was a member of the team that designed the EESD trailer, we volunteered to set-up a display that would provide an opportunity for students of all ages to gain first-hand experience with frozen soils or permafrost from the north of the Arctic Circle. The “Arctic in a Mason Jar” display was specifically developed with the idea that students would learn where the Arctic was located (i.e., a long ways from where they live), how field scientists obtain permafrost cores, and how laboratory researchers measure greenhouse gases (e.g., carbon dioxide and methane) that are produced from thawing permafrost. I was fortunate to have Taniya Roy-Chowdhury help put this display together and then have her talk people through the various aspects of the display. Taniya participated with our team last April in coring samples from the Barrow Environmental Observatory (BEO), outside Barrow, Alaska. She is also doing the laboratory research as part of her post-doctoral studies at ORNL so Taniya had no trouble conveying the underlying science to people in way they could easily understand. Feedback was positive and we had a great time showing everyone this unique aspect of the project.


Taniya and I will take our experience with ORNL staff and continue to modify the display to best interest students in topics that are relevant to Arctic ecosystems. Taniya and I agreed that we want to make science fun and informative for everyone regardless of age. Based on our experience at the Fall Festival, we took a positive step in that direction.


Monday, October 28, 2013

LANL September 2013 Synoptic Sampling a Success!

Despite the cold (and overly ambitious) days of fieldwork in Barrow, the consensus among LANL’s hydrology and geochemistry research team is that our 2nd Synoptic Sampling Campaign in September 2013 was a huge success! Our field crew consisted of a highly motivated and hard-working team from LANL including: Lily Cohen (post-bac, and research superwoman); Garrett Altmann (post-masters, and GIS/remote sensing guru); Marvin Gard (staff, and world class innovator/inventor); and Heather Throckmorton (postdoctoral researcher, and isotope geochemist and enthusiast).

The goal of our research is to assess isotopic and geochemical tracers to infer hydrologic processes, and vertical and lateral movement of carbon across the broader landscape. Our most recent sampling campaign in September 2013 has been an extension of a previous campaign in July 2013, during which we established 17 sites across the broader landscape (both inside and outside the BEO) to collect water samples for analyses. Our sites were initially selected by looking at satellite images of the BEO and surrounding region to identify main drainage channels and outlets from different aged drained thaw lake basins (DTLBs), as locations that integrate hydrologic signals over larger areas. (see below map)

This September we revisited the same 17 site-locations as in July (please refer to map) in order to identify seasonal changes/variability, with the thawing of frozen soils throughout the summer, and corresponding deepening of the frost table.

During our most recent trip this September, we noticed several clues supporting seasonal differences in hydrology relative to July conditions. Our first clue, as expected, was the significant deepening of the active layer as we measured the depth to the frost table at all of our sites. This presumably has significant implications for subsurface hydrologic flow, as deeper mineral rich soil horizons become hydraulically conductive.

Seasonal melt correlating hydrologic processes with geomorphologic features was also really exemplified by a dramatic thermokarst feature that we encountered on our walk in to our site 11 (see map). We previously observed this feature in July as well, but the advanced thawing/melt over the season has promoted slumping on the ridge, and resulted in the interesting feature below.
Additionally, although surface waters can often appear stagnant in the BEO and surrounding region, at a couple of our sites in July we had observed very gentle lateral surface flow and drainage. During our recent trip in September, we noticed visibly greater lateral surface (and subsurface) flow at several of our sites relative to what we observed earlier in the season.

Another notable difference we observed from July to September was an increase in lateral extension of surface water in ponds and drainages at several of our sites. In the vast and hummocky tundra landscape, lateral expansion of surface water would typically be difficult to notice from visible inspection only, with such few distinct reference points in the landscape. However, when we sampled in July, we stationed along the edges of ponded or draining surface waters, marking these locations with bamboo for our return trip in September. During our recent September trip, upon revisiting these locations, we estimated that in many cases the water extended a few meters farther than in July (laterally); and in one larger drainage channel (site 8 on attached map), we estimated lateral expansion of at least 25 meters.

In addition to seasonal variation in hydrology (and significantly colder weather in September!), we’ve noticed some very exciting spatial variation across the broader landscape highlighted by differences in a variety of features across our sites, including: lateral surface hydrologic flow rates; hydrologic conductivity (i.e., the rate we can extract water); depth to frost table; soil properties; and basic field parameter measurements relating to groundwater redox and geochemistry.

In particular, we were excited and encouraged by the outcome of Iron Reduction in Sediment (IRIS) probes that we installed in July, as an indicator of below-ground oxidation–reduction conditions. Dissolution of the ferrihydrite coat on probes showed interesting patterns that varied across sites, which we will quantify with image analyses to better understand redox microsites and variation across the broader landscape (photo below on left). At some locations, IRIS probes developed black speckles of iron sulfide, providing additional insight into below ground biogeochemistry (photo below on right). To our knowledge, this is the first time this technology has been deployed in this type of environment, and we feel that IRIS probes seem promising for improving our understanding of spatial and temporal variation in redox across a range of scales.
We are looking forward to pursuing analyses on water and soil samples back at LANL to better understand how spatial and seasonal variations in hydrology may correspond to and influence biogeochemical processes and C transport. For example, do we see different sources of water spatially and seasonally? Different sources of carbon across the landscape, as organic rich soils thaw throughout the summer and leach or become transported? How do these different hydrologic conditions affect biogeochemistry and redox? Microbial processes? C transport? These are only a few of the questions we are excited to address. So far so good-as our research group, as well as soil and water samples, have all made it back to LANL intact!