What a Zero!

May 28, 2009
Presenting the 2009 winner of the SAE Clean Snowmobile Challenge in the zero emissions (ZE) category: the University of Wisconsin-Madison

Presenting the 2009 winner of the SAE Clean Snowmobile Challenge in the zero emissions (ZE) category: the University of Wisconsin-Madison

The snowmobile is seen here at Summit Station near an air intake for sampling instruments (operated by Detlev Helmig of University of Colorado and Michigan Technical University) that monitor near-surface ozone and other chemicals. These experiments are located in a clean air zone of the station, where traditional vehicle traffic is barred.

The ZE snowmobile is a welcome addition to Summit Station’s summer research program, because the sled avoids emissions produced by traditional vehicles that can cloud data from instruments sampling global atmospheric constituents, global transport of soot, and other highly sensitive measurements. The snowmobile also supports ongoing efforts to shrink the station’s carbon footprint.

The U Wisconsin-Madison team has developed a very sophisticated (and fast) package. Photo: Tracy Dahl

The U Wisconsin-Madison team has developed a very sophisticated (and fast) package. Photo: Tracy Dahl

The National Science Foundation sponsors the Clean Snowmobile Challenge, and for the past several years has invited a student from the winning team, and the snowmobile, to Summit for field experience and testing. In addition to operating the vehicle in real-world conditions, the student tours the station to learn about the research being conducted there.

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Summit Station Science

May 28, 2009

Recent visitors to Summit Station include Harro Meijer’s team from the Netherlands, which spent a whirlwind few days on station taking shallow ice cores from a specially prepared snow field. Meijer is studying isotope diffusion in ice cores; his results will help experts better interpret information from ice cores being studied to reconstruct climate history.

The Meijer team harvested shallow ice cores to about two meters depth from an isotopically enriched site (seen here within the flag border) near Summit Station. They also conducted maintenance on dataloggers at the site.

The Meijer team harvested shallow ice cores to about two meters depth from an isotopically enriched site (seen here within the flag border) near Summit Station. They also conducted maintenance on dataloggers at the site.

Later, researchers processed the cores, slicing them into 1-2 cm-thick layers and packing them in plastic bags for shipment back to the Netherlands.

The Meijer team processed cores in Summit's below-ground freezer. Photos courtesy Gerko van der Wel, University of Groningen

The Meijer team processed cores in Summit's below-ground freezer. Photos courtesy Gerko van der Wel, University of Groningen


The Office of Polar Programs is Twittering!

May 27, 2009

Follow the OPP’s tweets here: http://search.twitter.com/search?q=NSF_OPP

These tweets provide information on polar research happenings meant for a non-technical audience.


Go North!

May 27, 2009

Yearning for arctic adventure? Explore with GoNorth!, the University of Minnesota science education team that’s exploring the Arctic via dog sleds to research the impacts of climate change and report back in real time.

The sled dog team heads out at Sunrise on another Go North! exploratory day.

The sled dog team heads out at sunrise on another Go North! exploratory day.

Now in their 13th week, the team is pushing to Clyde River and facing deep snow, fog and flat light. Their sleds are bottoming out, and their skis stick to the snow when they try to move forward. To avoid the worst conditions, the team is starting to travel at 3 a.m. (which means a 1 a.m. wake up!) 

About two weeks ago, the team left Qikiqtarjuaq, after running into a polar bear—and learning about the Inuit communities that subsist, in part, by hunting those bears. They’ve befriended an eight-year-old boy, Brad, who hunted his first polar bear this spring. The oversight organization allows 30 polar bears to be hunted each year, 15 in the spring and 15 in the fall.  Once Brad’s name was drawn in the lottery, he had 24 hours to complete the hunt. His family will subsist on the meat, and may sell the skin for extra income.

Brad and his first polar bear kill. Courtesy www.polarhusky.com

Brad and his first polar bear kill. Courtesy http://www.polarhusky.com

The team is traveling through an area that has one of the highest polar bear populations in the world. The strong ocean currents in the Davis strait create lots of open water that makes for ideal seal hunting.

Learning about the region is one of many objectives of the team that’s been traveling by sled-dog since early April when they set out from Minnesota in the pouring rain. Last week they mushed through Nunavut Territory, Canada, and they plan to continue to Arctic Bay, near the community of Pond Inlet, in the high Arctic. They expect to arrive the first week in June.

The team visits communities along the way, presenting their “What’s Climate Change to You?” program—the heart of the Aaron Doering / University of Minnesota-led National Science Foundation grant–at local schools.  When able, they overnight in these communities, sleeping in the school gym or other host shelters. Still, because the dogs are rambunctious and highly vocal on the trail, the humans sometimes camp with the canines on the edge of town–or more often, as communities are few and far between, along the trail.

Chris Ripken, the team's teacher explorer, meets students along the journey.

Chris Ripken, the team's teacher explorer, meets students along the journey.

In addition to local outreach, the team takes samples and makes observations for a variety of science experiments, including an investigation of traditional ecological knowledge, and NSF-funded projects examining black carbon in snow and a prototype network for measuring winter precipitation. Weekly, the team participates in live chats and updates the GoNorth! Web site with trail reports and photos.

The team’s stars are the polar huskies, sled dogs that are a combination of northern husky breeds: Alaskan Malamute, Greenlandic Husky, Siberian Husky, Alaskan Husky, Mackenzie River Husky, and Canadian Eskimo. These pack dogs work as a team, and are bred to run, and are cuter than any stuffed animal.

Beacon the sled dog greets fans.

Beacon the sled dog greets fans.

Since 2006 the GoNorth! team—two- and four-legged members alike—have lit out on long mushing trips around the Arctic to engage K-12 students in the natural sciences via an interactive Web site, science observations, and live events from the field broadcast via the Internet. Previous expeditions covered remote regions of northeast Alaska and Chukotka in Russia. The last three years will bring the team to Canada, Greenland, and Scandinavia.