Monday, April 16, 2012

A day to relax...not likely.

Today was originally supposed to be a day when we wrapped up a few remaining tasks on the tundra, packed samples for shipment back to our respective laboratories, and generally organized ourselves as we readied to leave Barrow later this evening. That would have been a productive and enjoyable day, but it turned out to be a little more complicated.

David and SungJin stayed behind this morning as the rest of us departed Hut 163 bright and early for our field site. There was heavy fog and temperatures hovered right at zero degrees F. Permafrost samples that we had collected for biogeochemical analysis were organized by David and SungJin, then packed in coolers for shipment to Fairbanks. The plan was to pick those up at the airport and further prepare them on Monday for shipment to ORNL and LBNL. David was able to arrange for shipment with Alaska Air Cargo and those samples were later placed on an Alaska Airlines 737-400 Combi destined for Fairbanks.

While David and SungJin were handling the permafrost samples, the rest of us were on the Barrow Environmental Observatory (BEO) installing survey points. These points would be used in the future to accurately map not only latitude and longitude, but also the subtle but important variation in elevation across this Arctic landscape. Slight variation in topography make big differences in how water flows across the land surface and, in turn, how vegetation dynamics and carbon emissions respond to changes in soil water distribution.

Although we had only 8 of these survey points to install, it would take almost an hour to drill the hole and insert the 10 foot piece of metal rebar. Our biggest problem was the difficulty of drilling into permafrost. Earlier in the week, we used the drill rig and a SIPRE coring device to collect soil samples. These samples, however, were only 3 feet in length. For the survey points we needed to drill smaller diameter holes to a depth of almost 10 feet. This proved tedious and extremely time-consuming. We had been told that it would be easy to get augers stuck in permafrost as there is a tendency to actually freeze augers in place. This proved true and Ken Lowe, as operator of the drill rig, had to exercise considerable care to prevent this from happening. We were able to place the 8 survey points, but it took much of the day to do so. We will return later in the year and survey these points with UMIAQ staff from their Barrow Survey office.

While installing the last survey point a call from David reminded us that our plane departed Barrow in just a little more than 2 hours. We finished drilling the hole, installed the metal rebar, and began making our way off the BEO. Back at the UMIAQ warehouse, people packed supplies and equipment into storage for our next trip to Barrow in May. A quick shower and we were off to the airport where we checked in with time to spare for dinner at Arctic Pizza just down the street. It turns out that dinner is usually the best meal of the day when working in Barrow as it is a good time to not only eat, but discuss the days activities and plan for tomorrow.