March 7, 2016: Dude, where’s my ice?

I arrived to Barrow, AK on March 5. It was a long plane ride. My life feels like it’s just awkward sleeping positions on planes. But it was worth it!

I got here before noon with Abdullah. Flying in over the Chukchi Sea, I see a lot of water which made me freak. As we approached the shore overhead I could see that – yes – there was ice, though barely. I could tell even from the plane that the ice was not nearly as far out from shore as it was even just a few years ago. Natives recall the ice stretching out as far as 10-12 miles in years past, and decades ago it reached farther than that. It was maybe a kilometer in some areas (less than a mile). Often wind will come in and break off pieces  of the ice during the season which I’ve heard happened not long before our research team arrived in late February. 

After retrieving our ice permits the first thing we did was go out on the ice! No equipment on Sunday because the wind chill was crucial, too crucial for the equipment, and even a little crucial for us – but we couldn’t stay away. We didn’t walk out far on the ice because of this. Other than the 25mph winds slapping our faces it was a beautiful day. The sky was blue, the sun was up, and ice as far as we could see. You could see out on the horizon a smokey haze just above the ice – that was water vapor. Yep, water vapor from the ocean. Because the ocean was so near to shore this year to the point where we could see the steam coming up from the surface. No bueno. 

Last week’s crew got some good data to give us an idea of what we’re working with. In 2014, the average ice thickness was about 1.2-1.8meters. That was considered thin then, too. This year, the ice has been measured to be about .90meters. .90meters. Need I say it again? 90cm. THAT’S ALMOST HALF IN SOME PLACES. It’s not thin enough to be dangerous to walk on, but it has various negative impacts on the surrounding environment. The lack of ice that stretches out from shore causes the whales to be closer to the shore. Some may think this is good news for whaling season. However, the thinness of the ice makes it too dangerous to set up camp near the open water. This lack of ice also increases the amount of Polar Bear sightings around town which is dangerous for the townspeople and is also an implication that the hunting land (ice) for the bears is inefficient. 

It has been rather windy since I have been here. Up to a -40F wind chill. I am hoping to be able to get at least the sensor sleds out on the ice today to do a few test runs. We brought the OhmMapper, a ground penetrating radar (GPR), and three homemade sensor sleds. Three of the sleds are taking infrared (IR) temperature data including surface temperature and ambient air temperature. One of the sleds has a platform with 6 or 7 Dallas Semiconductor temperature sensors to monitor any temperature gradient from the surface of the ice up to about 1.5 meters up. So far no such temperature gradient has been detected. 

If we can at least confirm that the sleds are working properly, we can get out there with all of the equipment, ready to go, on the days that won’t be too cold. Hopefully the wind will die down by Wednesday. Stay tuned!

March 8, 2016

The weather has stayed a consistent windy and cold. Since I got off the plane it’s been at least -30F with gusts of wind reaching 35mph. Again, it was too cold to get out on the ice with the equipment. Not only was it too cold, but the wind has been so strong that it’s blowing the snow around to create a fog that limits visibility to about a mile. That creates unsafe conditions in regards to watching out for polar bears on the ice. We managed to get some data however to test the capabilities of OhmMy. Unless it clears up a reasonable time before sunset, it looks like that is all we will be able to do. 

We’ve had some issues with the odometer wheels. One of the Hall sensors totally defected and others had to be re-aligned as well as readjusting one of the Dallas Semiconductor temperature sensors. That only took a small portion out of our morning, though.

In the meantime, the research team has gotten lots of opportunities to get to know one another and bond. Maybe it will be better this way to gain camaraderie now and be an even better team once we are able to start getting data on the ice. I am hopeful to have the data and team ready to go the first chance we get to go out there. Wish us luck!

March 14, 2016

I am back in Radford, Virginia. 

On Thursday, we saw that the 1,000MHz signal did not seem to give as accurate results in the ice/water boundary as the 500MHz did. We put the Thermicrons out for two sets of temprature data. One on Thursday and one on Friday.

Thursday, we managed to get most tasks done around a big gap of the day where we were suspended off the ice due to polar bears having wandered far inland. It took the townsfolk all day to watch the bears travel back up North a safe distance. We got some OhmMapper data using a different technique than usual, a dipole-dipole expanding array. It takes a vertical sweep of the ground instead of its usual horizontal sweep and map of the subsurface. We then drilled into the ice in order to compare the data. Our hopes are to graph the resistivity data and find a break in the line that will represent the ice/water boundary.

We did this Thursday and found promising results so we decided to try again Friday. It seems to be holding consistent and giving us measurements of the thickness of about .95m compared to the ice drill data that showed .93 meter thickness. This is looking up!

Friday, we did a 900 meter run out onto the ice during the time satellites went over to get the same data so we can ground truth for them. We took the GPR and the microclimate sensor sled as well as one sled that only took surface temperature data.  

The data seems to be holding up the possible correlation of the surface temperature of the ice and its thickness. We are still in the preliminary stages of processing data, however. 

We presented our preliminary findings at the local library for a few locals and local scientists. I think it went well! It will be good practice for the Student Engagement Forum at the university in April. I am excited to get to work and get a better sense of what all of this data is telling us!

March 10, 2016

​Yesterday we scheduled to go to the NOAA facilities and the Inupiat Heritage Center to tourist up the place while we are able to. Of course though the day we plan to do all of the fun things the weather clears up – perfect conditions to go out on the ice.

So we had to improvise our day plans. For a couple of hours we toured the NOAA facility thanks to our friend Bryan Thomas who recently started working with the NOAA. They primarily monitor greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere because the Arctic has some of the less polluted air so it is easier to pick out tiny signals from pollutants. They let us take home a can of sample air! Ha! The March 9th CO2 concentrations were 409.49ppm. 

Then we quickly got together to get on the ice. We got Sleds A (with the microclimate sensors) and C (just IR) out on the ice and surveyed a 400 meter line perpendicular to shore. We later found out Sled A wasn’t marking data to keep track of distance and four of the sensors (out of 6) were acting up. May have to replace those temperature sensors and rewire the distance tracker. Sled C was good data. 

We got Hans strapped in the OhmMapper. We aren’t sure if the signal being lost with the OhmMapper is due to the water eating the signal or the cold getting to the receivers and transmitters so we decided to try to control for one (coldness) to see if we can get better data. We kept the OhmMapper warm inside the van and pulled up right to the shore and assemble the receivers and transmitter. We waited until we got out to the 200 meter mark to start collecting data, all the while keeping the receivers and transmitter off the ice until we were ready to start data collection. We were able to get data up until about 190 meters down the line. I have yet to look at the modeling status of the data but we were able to get all four receiver data for 190/200 meter line so that is looking up! 

We also got the GPR out there to feed/receive 500MHz. We did look at the picture GPR mapped and it was a consistent 80-90cm boundary of ice-water. Which is exactly the measurements we got ground truthing last week with the ice drill. The ice is much thinner than in 2014, so the variation of ice formation is less – i.e. the ice is much smoother on the bottom. 

It was a successful day out on the ice and we ended it with the Inupiat Heritage Center and a dinner out in the town. Not to mention at midnight last night, Katie woke us all up to catch the most beautiful, breath taking, vibrant green aurora I have witnessed. It’s the brightest we’ve ever seen. It was gorgeous. We managed to get a group exposure photo. So excited to see how it turned out! 

Today, we are going to take the GPR out again but with the 1,000MHz transmitters and hopefully get the Thermicrons (temperature probes) out on the ice and see what we get. Probably going to do some data processing and maybe take OhmMy back out. Oh, also we need to prepare for Saturday’s Tuzzy talk with the towns folk and other visiting scientists. These next few days will be jam packed!!

Preparation for AK

The last few weeks have been preparing the new Arctic Geophysics research team to deploy various pieces of equipment to survey the subsurface of the ice. So far we have covered polar properties of the ice and what to expect the thickness to be upon arrival as well as doing small sample exercises of calculating power that the seawater radiates through the ice up to the surface. These are all important key factors in understanding how the ice changes over time and thus, the shape it forms underneath. 

We have given the team members insight as to how the equipment will work by doing sample surveys on campus to get them a feel of working the instruments including the OhmMapper, a capacitively coupled resistivity array, a ground penetrating radar (GPR), and a homemade instrument designed to gather surface temperature data along with ambient air temperature, and the microclimate temperature variations to about a meter above the surface of the ice. All of these instruments will collect data using different methods in order to give us the best picture of the subsurface of the ice. In order to verify our results, we will be drilling into the ice, aka ground truthing. This will enable us to compare ground truthing data with OhmMapper and GPR data to confirm its accuracy and to throw out discrepancies in the data. For instance, the modeling software used often times has a hard time transitioning between the huge jump in resistivity of the ice and seawater. This can create blips or artifacts in the mapping of the ice that we know are inaccurate. Sometimes, we might see what looks like water on the surface and that is something that is not encountered so we know this cannot be accurate data. We also know a decent average of the thickness so when a piece of ice goes off the map, suggesting a 2-3 meter chunk of ice, this is also something that is likely an anomaly and can be disregarded after comparing to ground truthing data.

We have one more session to familiarize ourselves with data collection and processing before heading to the Arctic. My hopes on this trip are that the team this year be as motivated and dedicated as they were in 2014, and can receive the biggest, best data base yet. I’m excited to see which of my peers will step up and get the most out of the research trip and to see our findings being presented as a whole at the end of the semester at the Student Engagement Forum. 


The 2014 research crew in tacky Hawaiian shirts in the Arctic. Good times!