Monday, April 21, 2014

BEO Advisory Committee Concludes their Discussions…

Today we continued our discussions in the Barrow Arctic Science Center (BARC) with a focus on current research activities taking place on the BEO. I began with a presentation of the NGEE Arctic project and how we are working to bring together field and laboratory researchers and modelers. I emphasized that the Arctic Coastal Plain, with its mixed of distinct landscape features like polygons, thaw lakes, and drained thaw lake basins, provides a great opportunity to test our multi-scale observations and models in support of improved climate prediction. There was good discussion about our long-term goals and how the BEO could help us achieve those through logistical support. This encompassed not only what UMIAQ could do to assist us with our field studies, but also how laboratory space might be optimized for the types of research we would like to conduct locally as opposed to shipping samples back to our home institutions. Here the discussion turned to possibly providing resources like balances and drying ovens for sample preparation and analysis.

Craig Tweedie from the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) then presented an overview of several studies that he is conducting on the BEO and surrounding area. Craig and his students have worked in Barrow for many years. They have conducted extensive vegetation surveys and developed vegetation cover maps for the Barrow Peninsula. One of Craig’s passions involves finding historical research sites, for example those conducted as part of the International Biological Program (IBP), and resampling plots that were established in the 1970s. In so doing, he and his students have not only been able to identify and preserve sites and rescue datasets, but use those to map changes in vegetation and other landscape features over time. This is pretty fascinating research, especially given how some of this information can be applied to questions being asked about environmental change in the Arctic. A lot of these data can be found at the Barrow Area Information Database (BAID) web site (

We also heard a brief, but informative, presentation by Salvatore Losacco who worked in Barrow this winter and maintained a year-round eddy covariance system for measuring CO2 and CH4 flux from the tundra near the southern edge of the BEO. Salvatore is a marine biologist and oceanographer, and is providing technical support to a project led by Donatella Zona. Most eddy covariance systems are put up in the spring and taken down in the fall because as sensitive instruments they require a fair bit of maintenance during the harsh Arctic winters. I am not aware of any year-round measurements of CO2 and CH4 using the eddy covariance system; until now. And according to Salvatore, it was not easy to keep the instruments running given the cold and dark conditions. However, thanks to Salvatore and some exciting stories, it looks like they were successful and now this team has a lot of data to analyze, interpret, and then publish. This should be valuable information.

Tomorrow I will transition to field research. I will dust off our hydraulic drill rig, work with UMIAQ staff to change fluids, and then test the system in anticipation of others from ORNL and LBNL arriving next week. I also took a quick drive out towards our research site this afternoon and counted several dozen caribou in the distance. I understand that caribou have spent the last few months near Barrow and that we might expect some equipment damage given their numbers in the vicinity of our research plots. Apparently caribou are not too careful when grazing tundra interspersed with research instruments. Two years ago Arctic foxes created some headaches by chewing through cables and tubing to some of our equipment. These are the constant challenges of a field scientist!

Here are a few pictures of the terrestrial and marine environments near Barrow. The first picture shows the boardwalk and trail mat that protect the tundra from repeated foot traffic leading several miles out to our field plots that are covered in deep, hard-packed snow. As I took pictures, a snowy owl flew past me only a few inches above the ground. I'll be sure to keep an eye open for owls as we begin our field research. They are beautiful birds that we frequently see catching and carrying lemmings to their nests in the spring. The second picture shows that the Arctic Ocean is, as it should be this time of year, covered with sea ice. A little bit of clearing in the clouds helps differentiate land from sky. Otherwise it can be difficult to orient yourself relative to the horizon.