Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Research beyond our backyard...

Our flight just left the McGee Tyson airport and we are officially on our way to Alaska. Having conducted biological research on the Oak Ridge Reservation (ORR) and the Walker Branch Watershed for two decades, it is a considerable change to now be working at field sites that are not in our backyard. A good rule of thumb so far seems to be don't forget the essentials. We have invested a lot of time and energy making sure that we get to Barrow with all the supplies and equipment we will need for the week.

My colleague, David Graham, is a good planner. He prepared itemized lists of our required materials and supplies several weeks ago and made sure that those were safely packed and shipped to Barrow last week. David is a microbiologist and serves as lead scientist for our soil biogeochemistry tasks in the NGEE Arctic project. He will oversee the collection of permafrost cores this coming week. Ken Lowe has a lot of experience with the safe operation of drill rigs. He will use those skills this week in working with David and Craig Ulrich from LBNL under some unique conditions. Last check of the Weather Channel showed air temperatures in Barrow right at zero degrees with blowing snow.

David and others on our team will later analyze these cores during controlled experiments back in the laboratory to understand the fate of organic matter stored in tundra soils. It is important that we describe the mechanisms whereby carbon dioxide and methane are lost from these soils, and that we incorporate such insights into climate models.

David, Ken, and I will be joined this week by Larry Hinzman and Bob Busey from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Larry is the Director for the International Arctic Research Center (IARC) and is the Chief Scientist for the NGEE Arctic project. He has spent his career working as a hydrologist throughout the Arctic and provides a great perspective that both supports and strengthens our project goals and objectives. Bob will be installing a web camera at our field site in Barrow so we can view real-time images of snow melt and changes in tundra vegetation later in the spring. He has a lot of technical experience working in remote and harsh environments. They both have a long list of stories they tell around the dinner table.

It will be a long day before we arrive in Fairbanks. Next stop is Chicago, then Anchorage, and then Fairbanks tonight; Barrow tomorrow. My itinerary shows the various legs of this trip and estimated mileage. A total of almost 4,100 miles to Barrow with flight times of 16 hours. Fortunately, I brought good colleagues and a few videos to watch.

(Click on picture to enlarge image)