Monday, August 13, 2012

Sunday was a fun day on the tundra

Today was the day we would all go to our NGEE Arctic field site. We had people working on the tundra ready to explain what they were doing as part of the project. First, however, we met in the Barrow Arctic Science Center (BASC) where Mark Ivey and I gave presentations on the ARM program and NGEE Arctic project, respectively. My goal was to provide an overview of the project for our modeling team and BER sponsors, highlighting how measurements were being conducted in support of climate models. Our sponsors have developed the concept of model-experiment integration (or MODEX), we have adopted this concept as a driving force behind the NGEE Arctic project. My presentation, hopefully, made a clear connection between our measurements and our models.

After introductory comments were made and we engaged everyone in discussions, we loaded up the vehicles for a quick trip to our field sites. We walked the 1.5 km to our plots fairly slowly, giving everyone ample time to ask questions and stop along the way...there was a lot of both. Larry and Vladimir Romanovsky, a permafrost scientist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, did an outstanding job of fielding most of the questions. The concept of how low- and high-centered polygons form is a difficult one to convey. This is probably due to the challenges of visualizing the dynamics that are occurring in the subsurface environment. Nevertheless, by the end of the afternoon, most people had a pretty good idea about how low-center polygons form and how they degrade to form high-centered or flat-top polygons. It was helpful that our field site is rich in all forms of polygons, making it a little easier to visualize the processes involved in landscape change or evolution. This was a major source of discussion during lunch.

Most of the afternoon was spend at the NGEE Arctic site, but we did managed to break away to tour the ARM facility in the late afternoon. This is an outstanding collection of instruments that together are providing improved understanding of cloud formation and characteristics of cloud formation. The ARM site is also home to an eddy covariance system, operated by Margaret Torn from LBNL. Margaret is a member of our NGEE Arctic team, she and her colleagues have instrumented this tower with the capabilities required to measure CO2 and CH4 fluxes from the landscape. While not part of the NGEE Arctic project, the system operated by Margaret Torn is a good complement to the fluxes we hope to measure across several types of polygons in future systems.

In retrospect, today was a good day for everyone on our trip.  I think our team of modelers was highly engaged and, when possible, were talking to the field scientist and to each other. There was also considerable discussion with BER managers and Martin. This was good to see, it really contributed to the overall value of this trip to the project.

So, it was a long day, but a good day. We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening visiting the ARM site and having dinner at the local tribal community college. Discussions were lively and it was a great way to end the day. We took the opportunity to drive everyone out to a location near Point Barrow. On our return trip along the Arctic Ocean, we just happened to come across two massive vehicles being examined by what I understand is the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard is interested in sea ice-land rescue operations and these vehicles might be suitable. They looked to be fairly sophisticated tracked vehicles that could be quickly deployed in harsh conditions.

Tomorrow is our last day in Alaska and it was good to know that we ended today on such a high note!