Monday, June 24, 2013

Back in Barrow...

Rich, Gus, and I arrived in Barrow early Thursday evening after a short flight from Prudhoe Bay. Looking out my window on the flight over, it was surprising to see so much ice covering the Arctic Ocean. I had read that the whaling season so far had been a poor one with only a few bowheads harvested during the spring hunt across the villages of the North Slope. In fact, no whales had been harvested in the Barrow community and thus no festivals to celebrate the traditional success of the whaling crews. Sea ice dynamics are complex and it is hard to know what might contribute to so few whales being seen and harvested this year.

Lacy from UMIAQ picked us up at the Barrow airport and within 30 minutes we had received our mandatory safety orientation, issued BEO permits, and keys to our field vehicle for the week. I dropped Rich and Gus off at the ARM Duplex located on the old Naval Arctic Research Laboratory (NARL) site. The DOE has had their Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) facility in Barrow for many years and BER program manager, Wanda Ferrell, had kindly offered ARM housing to us for this trip. This was ideal for Rich and Gus. I chose to stay with NGEE Arctic scientists in our Boxer Street apartment that was being provided to our team through UMIAQ. This represented a good opportunity to interact with project staff and to hear what had been happening in the last few weeks.

Friday morning the three of us gathered at the ARM facility where we received a briefing on the many instruments that are used as atmospheric scientists learn more about cloud physics and chemistry, and their role in climate. Dan Lucero and Walter Brower, both associated with the ARM program, walked us through the facilities and explained the operation of the instruments. It is a remarkable array of capabilities where measurements are taken, processed, subjected to QA/QC, uploaded to their data portal, and made available to project personnel and others all within a short period of time.
Dan and Walter had arranged for us to also visit the NOAA facility just east of Barrow. Matthew Martinsen is the physical science technician for the facility, he and his colleagues collect a wide variety of atmospheric and environmental data throughout the year. Long-term records, including carbon dioxide concentrations, are a hallmark of their efforts. A graphic on the wall showed that Barrow was one of the first locations in the world to reach 400ppm; an ominous distinction. There was also a figure posted on the bulletin board that showed the date of snow melt recorded at the station since 1940. The trend has been for snow melt to occur earlier and earlier in the year. A note pinned next to this figure indicated that date of snow melt for 2013 was June 2 or the 153rd day of the year; more than 2 weeks earlier than in 1940.