Wednesday, June 11, 2014

This Trip Comes to a Successful Ending…

Cathy left earlier in the week, but Go and I continue to conduct snow surveys across our four research sites on the Barrow Environmental Observatory (BEO). Go learned the protocol for these surveys from Cathy and, as a result, is quite efficient at gathering snow depth measurements from 300 or more low- and high-center polygon locations. He is equally efficient in collecting snow samples from which we will calculate water equivalents. Both of these measurements and their changes over time will be useful to our modelers, who will use this information to incorporate snow accumulation and resulting water discharge into their high resolution landscape models where we are concerned with microtopography and the contribution of different types of polygons to hydrology. While Go was busy collecting this information I had the opportunity to grab several replicated snow and surface water samples for Baohua Gu (ORNL), one of our team’s geochemists. This was not too difficult. However, we had hoped to get pore water samples as well, but the depth of the active layer is not sufficient to insert sample collection tubes into the soil. I will do this again in mid-summer when the soil has thawed and it is easier to collect pore water for analysis.


In between our other activities, I had the opportunity to troubleshoot some communication issues with the energy tram and our micrometeorology tower that includes CO2 and CH4 flux measurement capabilities. It has been a few years since I last worked with data transmission systems, but Dave and Bryan spent a couple hours on the telephone with me and we sorted out the troubles. It turns out that while the two systems were designed as standalone units, interference was generated between the two communication links. This introduced sporadic problems, mostly for the eddy covariance tower. By the end of the day, however, both systems were working as designed and data were being collected, stored, and transmitted to the University of Nebraska and LBNL.

Given that it was my last day in the field I took a break, propped my feet up on my backpack, and gazed off some 1300 miles towards the North Pole. Three years ago when our team first visited this area it seemed like a strange and foreign, albeit exciting environment. Now, our team seems quite comfortable coming and going from the field site, and living for weeks at a time in Barrow. We all agree that the research we are doing – that of conducting field and laboratory studies to improve climate models – is a worthwhile and challenging endeavor. Regardless of your scientific discipline, and we have scientists studying everything from to genomics to geophysics, the North Slope of Alaska is a great place to be conducting research.

Finally, and before heading to the airport, Go and I wanted to stop by the Barrow Arctic Research Center (BARC) where we are fortunate to have a modern laboratory space to use in our science. We had asked Karl Newyear, Chief Scientist for UMIAQ, to meet us there so we could check out a freezer that had been purchased and delivered to the BARC in May. Karl was able to locate a secure space for the freezer. It is already being put to good use as it was full of permafrost cores from our sampling trip in April and early May. These cores, many of them extending to 2 meters into the subsurface, were collected by our geophysics colleagues from LBNL and will be shipped to California in the near future for analysis.

After saying goodbye to Karl, I had just enough time to take a shower, toss my field clothes into my duffel bag, and head for the airport. Check-in and boarding is fairly painless in Barrow and within 30 minutes of the flight, I was taking off for Anchorage to connecting flights in Chicago and then to Knoxville. It was a successful trip with all signs pointing to a productive field season. I will return later in July when our plant physiology team including Alistair Rogers and Shawn Serbin from Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) should be in Barrow conducting photosynthesis measurements on tundra vegetation. I am already looking forward to that…