Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Modelers and Martin head to Alaska

An old adage says that "every journey begins with a single step".  Today we took the first step in a seven day journey during which Peter Thornton, Jitendra Kumar, Martin Keller, and I will travel 330 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Our final destination is Barrow, Alaska on the Arctic Ocean; however, we will make intermediate stops throughout the week in Anchorage, Nome, Council, Kotzebue, Kougarak, Atqasuk, and Ivotuk as we travel from the Seward Peninsula to the North Slope of Alaska.

Our objective during this trip is to introduce modelers, Martin, and DOE managers to the science being conducted as part of the Next-Generation Ecosystem Experiments (NGEE Arctic) project. This project, led by ORNL, has the goal of delivering a process-rich model of Arctic ecosystems for inclusion into high-resolution Earth System Models. These models are used to simulate climate, both for the past and into the future, and the NGEE Arctic project is gathering data that will ultimately be used to form climate predictions.

This week our team from ORNL will be joined by eight others, including 4 modelers from Los Alamos National Laboratory and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, three managers from the DOE, Office of Science, Biological and Environmental Research (BER) program, and the NGEE Arctic Chief Scientist, Larry Hinzman, from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. It has taken months to arrange this trip, as we will be visiting several remote locations where transportation, lodging, and logistical support take considerable planning.

Because the goal of the NGEE Arctic project is focused on integration of field and laboratory studies with computer models, taking modelers from our team to Alaska will give them a better idea of the systems they are attempting to simulate. This is an unusual step in that many modelers seldom get an up-close look at the fundamental properties and processes that need to be included in models. We are committed to changing that perspective this week. We took our field researchers on a similar trip last year, as we were planning for the NGEE Arctic project, and found that it was a valuable experience as we developed thoughts and ideas for what then was a pending proposal.

While this trip will reinforce project objectives for our team, it will also be an important learning experience for Martin and our sponsors at BER. Unlike previous studies conducted by our ORNL team, the NGEE Arctic project takes us a long way from where we have traditionally conducted our research. As such, it places a priority on managing the project safely and efficiently. Martin will be looking at how we can do that while conducting cutting-edge science in support of DOE missions at the same time. Our sponsors at BER have similar goals in that NGEE Arctic is the first of several research activities that they hope to launch in the coming years to improve representation of terrestrial ecosystems in climate models. They are keen to see not only how our team is performing early in the project, but to review other investments that they have made in Alaska, including the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) program. The ARM program, also in Barrow, serves as a good example of how projects can be organized in remote areas, but still maintain high standards in data collection, QA/QC, and data accessibility. These elements are all important to the NGEE Arctic project as well.

We will join others involved in this trip later today in Anchorage. We will check into our hotels, buy a few last minute supplies, and then fly to Nome Thursday morning. Larry will meet us at the airport for a few days in Nome and surrounding areas before leaving for Barrow. We are looking forward to what will be a scientifically interesting and rewarding trip. Check back this week for daily blogs as our trip gets underway.