June 1, 2010

Follow us! (Not that we're geese.) Photo: David Sinnett, USDA

Dude, we’ve moved. Find us over on the new Polar Field Services Web site. Adjust your thingamajigs to point to the new blog site.

Yes, the new Polar Field Services Web site.

We are delighted to announce the launch of the new PFS Web site:

On the PFS site, you can find information about services we provide, profiles of some of our key staff, a changing gallery of polar images showing research we support, our field operations, and the polar world. In addition, you can stop by the Pets of PFS page to visit our four-legged colleagues.

And, of course, you can find the PFS blog, Field Notes.

We are pleased with the kernel that the new site represents, and look forward to continuing to grow it over the next months and years. We think we’ve documented some of the unique character of the important work we support, as well as the pride we take at PFS in the services we provide–and the fun we have while doing so.

Waiting for GrIT

May 26, 2010

Awbrey Cornelison (a Dog of PFS). Photo: Allen Cornelison

Awbrey, an irrepressible four-legger, demonstrates a GrIT state of mind this morning, as we all are on the lookout for the Greenland Inland Traverse’s arrival at Summit Station today.

They should pull up at the front door in a few hours, after nearly 30 days and well over 700 miles of snow riding. Go GrIT, go!

Barrow Whaling

May 23, 2010


A traditional umiaq boat awaits the action on the sea ice near a red buoy. The latter is attached to the harpoon. It keeps the animal afloat after the kill. Photos: Faustine Mercer

Our PFS colleague Faustine Mercer was invited along on a whale hunt a few weeks ago. Along with Steve Hastings, Faustine manages CPS science support for National Science Foundation-funded researchers at Barrow, Alaska, on the Chukchi Sea coast.  She spends a long stretch of the spring and summer in Barrow, and was on hand when a friend, Josh Bacon, invited her along to witness the hunt. 

“Josh works as a biologist for the Wildlife Department,” Faustine explained. “When a whale is killed, someone from the Department samples tissues and makes measurements of the whale. Because of the whale census also going on and the limited number of staff, he asked me if I wanted to help him.”

Barrow’s traditional culture is based on subsistence principals, which means that the Inuit who live there rely on the land and the ocean primarily for the food they eat. It is one of nine Alaskan communities permitted to harvest the cetaceans by the International Whaling Committee.  Around 50 bowhead whales are caught each year in Alaska.

In Barrow, the whale harvest is a very big deal, an event governed by tradition and the whaling captains who lead the hunt (and the community).  When they arrived at the whaling camp, Josh and Faustine “talked to the whaling captain to make sure he was OK with us being there,” Faustine recalled.  “We got formally invited by him to do whatever we needed to.” 

While preparing to sample and measure the whale, Faustine witnessed the hunters pursuing another whale.

A Barrow, Alaska, whaling crew in a traditional animal-skin-covered boat goes after a humpback whale. Photos: Faustine Mercer

“I was on the sea ice the whole time, right next to the lead. It was a wide flat area after the pressure ridge, perfect for setting camp and hunting.

“We were checking on our whale that was still in the water, attached by the tail when the other whalers jumped in their umiaq (animal skin boat) to follow a whale that had just passed them. That happened right in front of me, less than 100m away.”

Later, the activity returned to the whale Faustine wanted to examine. “It took almost three hours to pull it up a ramp that the crew (20 people and five snowmachines) made on the ice. People from other crews helped also, but it was a fairly small number. Once the whale was on the ramp, they put some blocking tackles together, hooked it up to the tail, and people and snowmobiles started to pull.”

About 20 people helped to pull the whale out of the water.

As soon as the whale was landed, “butchering started right away, so we had only a few minutes to take our measurements. They cut a piece of blubber right away and gave it to the women so they could start making unalik (boiled skin and blubber) to give to everyone who was helping.”

The butchering portion was an efficient operation orchestrated by the whaling captain, Faustine said. When it was over, “the captain got to choose which part he wanted. Then, everyone who helped with butchering got a share.  A woman took people’s names and the blubber and meat was divided up on the ice according to the list. They used everything except for the guts and eyes (we actually took the eye balls to know the exact age). Someone cut the liver skin off too, as they use it to make drums. In less than three hours, the whale had totally disappeared.”

Later, when it was ready, Faustine tried her share of unalik—the boiled skin and blubber of the fresh whale that is a tradition of the harvest. “The unalik tasted kind of like fish, not bad at all, though fat as expected. The texture of the skin after being boiled is totally different than expected, as fresh it feels rubbery and looks chewy.

“People were laughing and happy, so I can say it was a celebration!”

For more on traditional hunting, visit

High Latitudes: Science and Art in the Arctic, Summer 2010

May 21, 2010

By Marcy Davis 

Maria Coryell-Martin's signature Altoid-tin expeditionary artist's tool kit. All photos courtesy Maria Coryell-Martin

When we last checked in with Maria Coryell-Martin, Expeditionary Artist extraordinaire, back in 2008, she was fresh off an artist-in-residence program with Quark Expeditions aboard the Clipper Adventurer, which sailed between Ushuaia, Argentina, and the Antarctic Peninsula. Since then, she’s been busy sketching, painting, and sharing her talents with students of all ages in her own backyard – the North Cascade Mountains of Washington State. Now, she’s getting ready to go to Greenland once again. 

This summer, Maria is headed north once again to Greenland (With NSF support, she visited Summit Station as part of her Watson Fellowship in 2005). She will participate in research led by Dr. Erik Born (Greenland’s Institute of Natural Resources), a biologist who studies walruses. Between July 19 and August 11, Maria plans to join the science party at Daneborg Station on Greenland’s east coast in Greenland National Park. In addition to painting, Maria plans to incorporate field sound recordings in multimedia works. 

Sketching at Summit Station in 2005.

“I have three goals in Greenland: I’m really excited to work larger. I have a new tripod that will allow me to do some larger-scale sketches and watercolors. I’ve been very inspired by artist Tony Foster. I also plan to gather as much field material as possible through sketches, sound, and photos so that I can develop my field work into an expeditionary art journal, educational materials, and studio work for exhibit,” she says. 

The work in Greenland will overlap with Girls on Ice, an annual free science education course wherein nine high school girls and three instructors spend eleven days learning about glaciers through scientific field work and mountaineering on Mt. Baker. Maria has participated in the program since 2007.  In her first year, she held field sketching/nature journaling workshops as part of the curriculum. 

The last two years, this part of the program has expanded and Maria has joined the ranks as co-instructor. To get the students going, she provides three sets of her signature ‘Altoid tin’ watercolor palettes for the team to share. In addition to individual journals, one student acts as artist of the day and is charged with representing their day through art in a group journal. Through art, the girls pay attention to the world around them in a very different way. 

“They are learning about science, mountaineering, and art. By including field sketching in their curriculum, students have time to reflect on and process their new and very different environment, as well as consider the cross-over between art and science,” Maria says. 

In addition to Girls on Ice, Maria participates each spring in Polar Science Weekend at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle. Here, she shares her paintings of the Arctic and Antarctic with the local community, other artists, and scientists. 

Maria (right) presents her work at Polar Science Weekend.

In her blog during this year’s event, Maria said, “I do truly believe that art and science overlap through making observations and cultivating curiosity. While I love my personal time out sketching and in the studio, I’m delighted to share the art of sketching and nature journaling with others to encourage awareness of the environment.” 

In the fall of 2009, Maria married Darin Reid, an independent Web developer, and the couple moved to the small town of Twisp, in Washington’s remote and lovely Methow Valley, for an “experiment in rural living.” 

In a few months, Maria and her sweetie plan to move back to Seattle where they will be able to grow their businesses and Maria will be able to focus on her passion – sharing her love and concern for the Polar Regions through art. Although she’s managed to continue holding workshops for kids of all ages all over Seattle, she admits, she’ll be happy to no longer have the nearly four-hour drive over the mountains. 

Maria teaches 3rd-5th graders tools for observation at Islandwood School on Bainbridge Island in January, 2010.

In the meantime, Maria is preparing to return to Greenland this summer. Although Dr. Born has generously offered her a place at Daneborg Station, funding the travel expenses is up to Maria. With her usual can-do attitude, Maria is applying for grants to help support her trip while actively fundraising for travel (you can donate air miles), living expenses, materials (such as watercolor paper or a thermarest pad), and studio time.

All donations are tax-deductible through the Allied Arts Foundation, a non-profit organization established in 1967 to support artist and arts organizations. A private grant will match what she raises until she reaches $8000, the amount needed to work with Dr. Born. As of this writing, Maria has raised $4600 and is working hard for the rest. You can support Maria at one of four sponsorship levels and, in return, you’ll receive original artwork from the field. Learn more here

Meanwhile, Maria is always looking for a Polar adventure – contact her to talk about joining your science team. 

“I want to involve my community more in the process of science by emphasizing education outreach,” Maria explains. “I want to use this trip as proof-of-concept. Stay tuned for my blog updates.” 

The Women of Berg Field Center

May 20, 2010

Rosemary Garofalo, Elizabeth Morton, Mimi Fujino, and Kathy Young in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. Photo: Marie McLane

The stars and planets and whirlwind lives of some legendary women aligned a few weeks ago. The women, each of whom fledged her polar career at the McMurdo Station, Antarctica field gear shop called the Berg Field Center (BFC), bumped into each other in Kangerlussuaq, NSF’s research program hub in Greenland.  Their combined years represent decades of service to the antarctic research community. 

We got to thinking about how many of us at Polar Field Services have worked in the BFC. Our Kahuna, Jill Ferris, got her start there in the mid-1980s. Greenland project manager Robin Abbott, Science planner Karla College, and Alaska staffers Marin Kuizenga and Matt Irinaga also are BFC alumni. Who else?

“I’m married to a former BFCer (1980-1985), does that count?”–Robbie Score, married to Rob Robbins

“”Yes, I too married a BFC person. Steve [Munsell] spent one year working there. He made the round table that everyone sits around and it is still there today. His year was in 1986.”–Kathy Young

“Fun days indeed!!”–Robin Abbott

Keep on TREC-ing

May 19, 2010
By Marcy Davis

Pictured outside the University of Alaska Museum of the North, the 2010 PolarTREC teachers and alumni (left to right), Jeff Peneston (Icebreaker Oden-2008), Jim Pottinger, Josh Dugat, Cheryl Forster, Chantelle Rose, Mike Lampert, Keri Rodgers, Karl Horeis, Tina Sander, Michele Cross (McMurdo Station-2009), Craig Beals (Summit-2008), Anne Marie Wotkyns, Bill Schmoker, Lesley Urasky, and Claude Larson. Unless otherwise noted, photos by Kristin Timm, Arctic Consortium of the United States, for PolarTREC

It’s that time of year again! Janet Warburton and Kristin Timm of the Arctic Research Consortium of the U.S. (ARCUS) are preparing K-12 educators from across the United States for upcoming field experiences in the Arctic and Antarctic.  Twelve teachers who spent a week in Fairbanks, Alaska, in April for the PolarTREC Orientation and ShareFair, an intensive week-long introduction to the professional development experience.

PolarTREC (Teachers and Researchers Exploring and Collaborating), now in its fourth year (and with a recent NSF funding renewal through December of 2013), is a professional development program for K-12 educators focused on improving science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education.

Through teacher-researcher collaborations and hands-on field experiences, teachers become an essential bridge between cutting-edge polar science and the public. By working closely with selected PolarTREC research teams through application review and teacher interviews, researchers and teachers are matched across a wide range of scientific disciplines to ensure that teachers’ interests are aligned with science project goals. After much training and preparation, teachers spend 2-6 weeks in the field with their research team. During their time out, teachers share their experiences through webinars, multimedia journals, and bulletin boards on PolarTREC’s interactive Web site.

Ann Harding and Rachael Orben prepare to take blood samples of captured birds, Kap Hoegh, Greenland. Photo by Mary Anne Pella-Donnelly (PolarTREC 2007), Courtesy of ARCUS

PolarTREC’s mission includes increasing teachers’ knowledge of polar science along with their ability to teach pertinent science concepts. The program allows teachers to improve their instruction by participating in a new and exciting research experience, exposing them to new ideas and incorporating technology both in and out of the field. Teachers also develop new curricula, which is disseminated through the PolarTREC site. PolarTREC wants their teachers to inspire students to become more aware of the Polar Regions and explore opportunities to further their education and explore occupations in STEM areas.

During the PolarTREC orientation teachers learned background science content, how to communicate successfully from the field, and how to develop polar science education and outreach plans and ideas. Hands-on breakout sessions include digital photography, journaling methods, using educational technologies, and bringing science into the classroom. PolarTREC teacher and research alumni as well as representatives from CH2M HILL Polar Services (CPS) were also on hand in-person and virtually to share experiences and address teacher questions and expectations.

Following a presentation from Roy Stehle of SRI International (part of CPS), teacher Anne Marie Wotkyns practiced using the satellite phone by calling home from the Westmark Hotel parking lot. Wotkyns will work with scientists on the Icebreaker Oden in November.

PolarTREC Alumni, Craig Beals (Summit-2008), offers advice to the new group of teachers. Three PolarTREC alumni were on hand during orientation to share information and lessons learned about their field experience, maintaining collaborations with the research team, and taking PolarTREC back to the classroom.

Matt Irinaga of Polar Field Services (part of CPS) explains the science of cold weather dressing: layer, layer, layer! Photo: Robbie Score

We’ll be checking in on PolarTREC teachers during their field experiences – stay tuned! 

GrIT: On to Summit

May 18, 2010
 All photos: Robin Davies

The GrIT team greets Zoe Courville at NEEM.

After about three weeks and 400 miles—many of which were wind-blown and snowy on the soft, roadless route toward Summit—the Greenland Inland Traverse team (GrIT) rolled into the international deep drilling camp NEEM last Thursday, 12 May. 

GoNorth! Too  

The Polar Husky superstars of GoNorth! arrived on the 12th as well, in time for project members with teaching and other commitments to meet the flight scheduled for the 13th. Of course that flight was delayed a day due to weather on the ice cap, but eventually the plane came, and personnel were appropriately shuffled.  

The GoNorth! Polar Husky super stars run into NEEM camp.

Exit Jim Lever, Enter Zoe Courville

The GrIT team welcomed Zoe Courville of CRREL on Saturday. We hear the mood was festive at NEEM camp that evening, as many camp personnel were newly arrived on the day’s ANG flight, as well.  The NEEM blog site notes that “Everybody had a fine evening, and a lot of people joined in the mid-night dance, featuring the Danish group “Sweet hearts.” 

Back to work on Sunday: The GrIT team conducted maintenance on traverse vehicles, delivered 1500 gallons of fuel to NEEM, and reconfigured the loads, shifting another1500 gallons of fuel to the Tucker’s fuel bladder. Net load reduction for the Case: 21,600 pounds. “The Durabase (a semi-flexible plastic bed) is now on High-Molecular-Weight sleds to see if the sleds reduce the drag,” project manager Allen Cornelison noted. 

The team headed out for Summit on Sunday, another ~430 miles ahead.  On Monday “the Case was able to grab 7th gear,” a first, wrote Cornelison.  Still, “it was unable to go any faster probably because it was making 14-inch ruts.”  Despite soft snow conditions, the team advanced 45 miles.  

The LC-130 airplane (right) blows off the runway at NEEM. Skiway conditions were soft due to warm temperatures and wind storms. The "Iconic NEEM Dome" (the camp's main building) is seen just left of center.

More Sled Mobility Tests

The qualities of Greenland’s snow surface and sled mobility are clear foci of the GrIT’s experimental component. Before departing on the traverse, CRREL personnel at Thule fitted the Durabase sled with sensors that collected data at the snow/sled interface; when he returns to CRREL, Lever will analyze these data in hopes they shed light on how to make the interface more slippery. 

Back at Thule earlier this spring, Jim Lever prepared the HMV sleds for mobility experiments. Here, the sled is outfitted with heaters. The sensors to collect data on temperature and mobility can be seen along the edges. A second sled was tested using enhanced passive (solar) warming methods.

Jim Lever (right) changes batteries powering a datalogger collecting information on the mobility of the HMV sled with passive warming. The brown fuel bladder is covered with a radiation-absorbing black material. In the background, the second HMV carries a fuel bladder without the black material, for comparison. Allan Delaney (left) and 'Swing Boss' observe.

In addition, after departing the GrIT, Lever flew to Summit Station, where he is conducting mobility tests on a raft purchased specifically for traverse development.  Jim’s findings may be applied to improving bipolar mobility—for GrIT and its southern cousin, “SPoT” (the South Pole Traverse). 

The Greenland Inland Traverse is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). CH2M HILL Polar Services and Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratories are working together with the NSF to develop the traverse infrastructure and route. The 2010 spring traverse has several foci: find a safe overland route to Summit Station to help reduce logistical costs and environmental impacts of conducting research there; provide a research platform for scientists conducting field work in Greenland; optimize mobility by focusing on the sled/snow interface.  For more field notes coverage of GrIT, click here 

GrIT contact:
Allen Cornelison, Polar Field Services, CH2M HILL Polar Services
GrIT project manager