Saturday, March 10, 2012

First Two Days in Barrow: Why swim in an ocean for spring break when you can just walk on top of one?

1/C Ben Aspholm here.

I'm going to take you on a wondrous journey which spans from Anchorage to our first two days on the planet of Hoth... I mean Barrow.

After a wonderful night of pizza at the Moose's Tooth, we took a 3 hour nap at the hotel and left at 0430 with all of our gear for the Airport.  Things went smoothly and after our plane was de-iced we were on our way.  We made two stops on the way in Fairbanks and Prudhoe Bay, but at 1030 we finally landed in Barrow and were kindly greeted by Tony and Glenn, two UMIAQ representatives to take us to where we were staying.  We had a quick orientation brief where we met Eric, the head of the base, and we then settled into our hooch.

It's small, but warm. And frankly, I'd rather take the latter of the two. Because when we landed, it was a balmy -27 degrees with a wind chill of -55.  It actually feels pretty good for about the first 5 seconds.  After that, you swallow your pride and put on every piece of clothing you have in the vicinity.  Overall, our hut is a nice place but you wouldn't really be able to tell from the outside.  However, it has everything we need and it's a warm bed to sleep in... Or futon...

After lunch with Son at the Shogun Chinese Buffet, we came back and had a discussion on the IceGoat1 deployment.  There will be a whole post on that to explain everything that was said and some potential changes in the deployment.

After that discussion, LCDR Woods, Kyle and I were all given a wonderful opportunity to ride the helicopter to do a photo reconnaissance run for the Icelander2 Buoy.  We geared up and grabbed our cameras because we were asked to take as many pictures as we could of the ice around that buoy to better understand the conditions it was in.

We took off and flew Northwest about 12 miles until we encountered the Icelander.  We made several passes taking photos until we landed to walk around on the ice. We stayed there around 20 minutes taking photos, enjoying the silence of the "ocean" and enjoying the sunset.  We then took off to head back but instead of landing right away, our pilot took us on an aerial tour of Barrow. We went over the main city, the research base where we're staying, and then all the way up to Point Barrow, the northernmost point in the United States.  I don't think that many people have been to Point Barrow, let alone by helicopter, at sunset.  It really was a neat experience and we all enjoyed it immensely.

Little did we know that our night was about to get better. Because of the solar storm activity recently, we heard that the Aurora Borealis was supposed to be extremely active last night.  So around 2045, we picked up Son and Ignatius and drove as far north as we could.  I'm going to let the pictures do the talking on this one, but on behalf of everyone who witnessed them, the pictures do not do it justice.  It was the most amazing thing all of us had seen and we were in awe the whole time.  It didn't even become a factor how cold we all were.  It made the trip for all of us and it was only day 2.

We then went to Arctic Pizza, got some food and called it a night eager for another day of adventure.

When we woke up, I had the opportunity to help out another person working with BROMEX named Matthew.  This involved us going out on Snow Machines onto the tundra to a couple of isolated labs roughly 6 miles out.  I was more of a helper to him and spent most of the time staying warm and digging out the huts that had about 8 foot drifts in front of the doors.  I enjoyed riding the Snow Machine all over.  You just have to make sure you have absolutely no skin showing or you will probably lose it within minutes.

Meanwhile, Kyle and LCDR Woods were over in another lab setting up there weather sensor which will log data for the duration of our stay.  They visited with Kerri Pratt from Purdue university who is doing atmospheric chemical analysis in conjunction with the BROMEX experiment.  The weather sensor was deployed next to another buoy so that we can then compare the two and determine it's performance.

In the afternoon we went and had our Ice Core Drilling 101 lesson from Don.  This process involves a large auger type machine that cuts down and brings back up essentially a long tube of ice which can be tested and sample for salinity values or for things that may be in the ice.

We then went out and tested our new learned skills. We drilled one hole down and were reasonably successful in bringing up a 65cm long piece of ice.  We measured it's temperature finding that that the temperature of the ice gets warmer the closer you get to the water and we sawed it into sections and put them in bags so they could melt and we could do tests on the resulting water.

Finally, we took the opportunity to make the quick drive and see another spectacular light show.  One that was even better than the last.  With LCDR Woods getting the kinks on his camera worked out, we were able to capture another great set of pictures.  Again, as beautiful as they are, they don't do it justice of the actual beauty you see when you witness it in person.

So whats on tap for tomorrow?  The other group arrives making the cabin much more cozy and we go out onto the ice to begin to dig the trail.

Stay warm!

The USNA PSP Crew.

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