Thursday, April 12, 2012

Still Waiting on Spring

People tell me that spring is a great time in Alaska. Trouble with this theory, true as it might be, is that unlike east Tennessee, spring in places like Barrow is still a month away. Temperatures have risen to double digits in southern and interior Alaska, which is a surprise to many of the locals, but there is still plenty of snow. This was obvious when flying into both the Anchorage and Fairbanks airports yesterday. Despite the snow, we have heard several stories that spring is early. Geese have, for example, already returned to Creamer's Field in Fairbanks which according to locals is a sure sign of spring.

We spent much of Wednesday morning in Fairbanks making sure that we had the materials and supplies that we would need in Barrow. Fairbanks has a wide selection of hardware stores so we were able to locate and purchase necessary items. A quick stop at the local outfitter allowed us to pick up clothing that would make working in sub-freezing temperatures a little more bearable.

We also visited Jon's Machine Shop north of Fairbanks. Jon Holmgren owns the shop and he has made several SIPRE coring devices that we will use for sampling permafrost soils this week in Barrow. He was quick to offer both encouragement and advice that will come in handy in just a few days. David and Tommy Phelps (ORNL) worked with Jon last fall to modify the sample barrel of the SIPRE device in hopes that we can obtain cleaner samples suitable for microbial analysis. Jon has a great deal of experience working in the Arctic and will be available should we have questions when in Barrow.

Fairbanks is home to the University of Alaska, a state institution that has a sister campus in Anchorage. The International Arctic Research Center (IARC) is located on campus and occupies an impressive building. We stopped off briefly to coordinate departure times to Barrow with Larry and Bob who both have offices in the IARC complex. We had a climate change in high-latitude ecosystems workshop here in October of 2010 and it was good to see a few of the faces who helped organize that meeting.

In addition to our visit to the university and Jon's Machine Shop, I had also scheduled a series of meetings with scientists from the U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL). I have collaborated with Jon Zufelt, Anna Wagner, and Marc Beede for several years. We met at their Farmer's Loop Road permafrost research station just outside Fairbanks and discussed a soil warming prototype that we have been testing at this well-characterized field site. Our testing of a large soil warming array has been a low level activity in the past year, but initial evaluation of the system is promising. CRREL has been a great partner in this aspect of our research.

We were able to meet Larry, Bob, and Craig at the Fairbanks airport around 5:00pm for our trip to the North Slope. After a quick 503 miles as the Snowy Owl flies, we arrived in Barrow and were greeted by Eric Burnett and other partners from UMIAQ. We were transported to our lodging on the old Naval Arctic Research Laboratory (NARL) site and "Hut 163". We have stayed here before on previous trips and find the bunkhouse style lodging comfortable, warm, and adequate.

It's great to finally be at our destination. Our work in the Arctic begins tomorrow...