Thursday, May 3, 2012

Plenty of Time to Think

A 16 hour plane trip to Barrow, including layovers in Chicago, Anchorage, and Fairbanks, gives a scientist plenty of time to read and think. These are two of the hardest things to do in the office. I browsed my way through a stack of scientific journals and then turned my attention to a series of individual articles that I printed off prior to leaving the office yesterday evening. Other passengers around me had similar ways of passing the time; watching videos, reading, listening to music, and solving various types of word games and puzzles.

Passengers on airplanes seem to especially enjoy the challenge of solving Sodoku puzzles. My wife, Denise, can spend hours filling in these puzzles with a dizzying array of numbers 1 thru 9. She tells me that erasing is not allowed. It may take 10 to 15 minutes of serious concentration, but she more often than not declares victory, turns the page, and starts a new puzzle. I congratulate her and then usually go back to reading or thinking; sometimes I think with my eyes closed. Denise questions my true motives especially when thinking is accompanied by occasional snoring. I tell her that being a scientist is hard work!

Several hours into my flight from Chicago to Anchorage, I ran out of reading material and began rummaging through my backpack for other ways to occupy my time. In January, I received a package from the North Slope Borough School District and the Fred Ipalook Elementary School. That package contained an "ABC Book About Our Home in Barrow" that had been written and illustrated by students from Miss Jenn Wallace's third grade class. I had given a field tour to this class last September and enjoyed talking to them about climate and ecosystems around the world. I stayed in touch with this class over the winter. You can learn a lot about a town or village, like Barrow, through the eyes of its children.

Each page in this book contains a caption and picture for every letter in the alphabet. My understanding is that each student was assigned a letter and was thus responsible for that page of the book. They are obviously a creative group of students. The pages touch on everything from A as in "Arctic" fox which can be found on the tundra to Z as in the Arctic Ocean "zone" in which we live. In between comes N as in "nanuqs", a word from the native Inupiat language that refers to the polar bears that inhabit this region. A few other pages along with drawings from the kids are shown below.

Our team has a busy two weeks in Barrow. It would nice, however, to stop in and see this class again. I learned from their teacher that last week was the annual Science Fair at the Fred Ipalook Elementary School. I'd like to hear about some of the student projects. Maybe there is a budding scientist in the class?

Finally, there will be six of us this week in Barrow; Larry Hinzman (UAF) and Cathy Wilson (LANL) are already in Barrow now, having left Fairbanks earlier this morning. Anna Liljedahl and others from UAF, plus Craig Ulrich (LBNL) will arrive with me tonight. Larry tells me that, thanks to UMIAQ and to some strategic pre-trip planning, things are in place for a quick start when we begin our field work tomorrow.