Sunday, March 24, 2013

NAICEX; The Frozen Leadership Laboratory Part 1

Greetings, LCDR Woods here, and after thawing out for 7 days, I am finally getting around to the 'wrap up' post from our Spring Break experiment up North in Barrow, AK.  What an experience!  Traveling with 5 new midshipmen that have never experienced the Arctic, and Prof Gina Henderson (another Arctic newbie) was challenging, rewarding, tiring, and successful all wrapped up into a 2 week adventure!  Most of the trip was captured in the previous blog posts, so I will not cover every detail, just some of the many highlights.

The goal of NAICEX was to introduce future Naval Officers to the harsh Arctic Environment, and I think this was successful once the midshipmen stepped off the plane in Barrow.  A -40 degree windchill is unlike anything most will ever experience!  Especially when you are just in your 'street' clothes and haven't donned your Arctic Gear yet.  Even getting into your Arctic Gear is a bit of a chore, and attempting to safely navigate the undulating Arctic Sea Ice (and the stairs to our hut) is a whole other challenge.

Scientifically NAICEX was very successful.  Through collaborations with the University of Delaware, University of Washington, Naval Research Lab, US Army Corps of Engineers Cold Regions Research and Engineering Lab (CRREL), and of course our awesome logistics provider UMIAQ, we successfully collected enough data for years of future midshipmen research projects.  One highlight for me personally was at our daily morning briefing I counted 20 folks preparing to go out on the ice and tundra to go collect data for our experiment.  It was a great feeling that all folks were working together for a common goal.

After a few practice days, we finally got used to operating on Barrow Time, and became more familiar with the collection methods, and we really started to look like a science experiment out on the ice.  We had a shelter called an 'Arctic Oven' that allowed people to warm up in without leaving the ice.  All people got familiar with driving snow machines, and we were a well oiled Arctic Science Machine.

One of the more sensitive parts of the experiment was the constantly changing operating status of our IceKid Polar Observing Platforms.  You probably heard Chuck and Obi talking about their senior capstone project in Aerospace Engineering to build these Yeti coolers outfitted with webcams, hydrophones, and weather instruments.  We just ran out of time for testing in Annapolis, and we sent the IceKids to Barrow with not nearly as much 'test' time as we would have liked.  It seemed like every day in Barrow had a high (IceKid Working) and a low (IceKid stopped working) and then a full night of troubleshooting.  In the end, I know the mids learned some valuable engineering, and even life lessons, on developing and executing a plan.  We collected hours of good data (and found out some interesting 'errors' in our data), and hope to finish out the semester getting the IceKids back up and running in the HARSH Arctic environment.

The USNA STEM office has been one of the USNA PSP biggest supporters from the beginning!  I really enjoy integrating outreach activities into our trips, especially since the kids on the North Slope of Alaska are some of the warmest, most genuine kids I have yet to come across.  The plan came together especially nice this year since our visit coincided with the Barrow High School Science Fair.  In the morning, a few of the mids participated as science fair judges, and in the afternoon we all participated in our own hands on activity booth during the main expo.  Hundreds of kids came by our table, and we even got to participate in a team building exercise that definitely brought some laughs and smiles!  I also had the opportunity to listen to the planetarium show about Inupiat stories of the stars.  Fascinating tales of polar bear hunters in Orion's belt, and the hunter who forgot his gloves!  Another great highlight from Barrow High School was watching two friends solve a Rubik's cube in less than 2 minutes.  The smiles on their faces upon completion was priceless!

Alright, so I do have lots more to share, but want to break it up into parts....I think this is a good stopping point for now.  Check out this great video produced by Nokinba Acker covering our experiment

More to follow, LCDR Woods

No comments:

Post a Comment