Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

September 30, 2009

 

You’ll be on your way up!
You’ll be seeing great sights!
You’ll join the high fliers
who soar to high heights. 
Dr. Seuss, 1990
Why is this woman smiling? Join PolarTREC and find out! This photo of Cristina Galvan, and all others in this piece, courtesy ARCUS / PolarTREC www.polartrec.org

Today is her day! Teacher Cristina Galvan flies with the high fliers. This photo and all others courtesy ARCUS / PolarTREC http://www.polartrec.org

As we write, Cristina Galvan of East Palo Alto Academy in Menlo Park, CA, is sailing on a coast guard ship, flying around in a helicopter, and getting up close and REALLY personal with polar bears. She does this as a member of ARCUSPolarTREC program, which is now accepting applications from teachers for the 2010 season (pending funding from the National Science Foundation).

Galvan is paired with Hank Harlow, Merav Ben-David, and John Whiteman of U of Wyoming, who are working with USGS and the USFWS to study the physiology of bears that traditionally follow the retreating sea-ice north each summer.  This year other Polar TREC teachers have accompanied a science team to a crater lake in remote Russia; camped on the shores of study lakes set in some of Alaska’s prettiest back country; tagged birds on the Pribilof Islands; and sampled snow in the blue light of the Summit snow pit. And those are just a few of the north polar projects.

As part of a science in education tour in Greenland last summer, Jennifer Thompson sampled snow at Summit Station.

As part of a science in education tour in Greenland last summer, teacher Jennifer Thompson sampled snow at Summit Station.

Teacher Barney Peterson prepares a sediment trap to be dropped into a lake for climate history studies.

Teacher Barney Peterson prepares a sediment trap to be dropped into a lake for climate history studies.

On Norway's Svalbard archipelago, teacher Mike Rhinard participates in a research experience for undergraduates field course studying high Arctic change. Here, the group prepares to lower a CTD sensor into the water.

On Norway's Svalbard archipelago, teacher Mike Rhinard participates in a research experience for undergraduates field course studying high Arctic change. Here, the group lowers a CTD sensor into the water.

From a recent ARCUS announcement about PolarTREC:  “PolarTREC . . . pairs K-12 teachers with researchers for professional development through authentic polar research experiences. The program integrates research and education to produce a legacy of long-term teacher-researcher collaborations, improved teacher content knowledge, and broad public interest and engagement in polar science.

“Through PolarTREC, teachers will spend two to six weeks in the Arctic or Antarctic, working closely with researchers in the field as an integral part of the science team. PolarTREC teachers and researchers will be matched based on similar goals and interests, and teachers will be trained to meet the program requirements prior to the field season.

“While in the field, teachers and researchers will communicate extensively with their colleagues, communities, and students of all ages across the globe, using a variety of tools including satellite phones, online journals, podcasts, and live events and web-based seminars. Teachers and research projects will be selected and matched to fill the openings available. All major expenses associated with teacher participation in PolarTREC field experiences are covered by the program, including transportation to and from the field site, food, lodging, and substitute teacher costs.”

Finlander students interact with Californian Michael Wing. Outreach with local communities is often part of the north polar TREC experience.

Finnish students interact with Californian Michael Wing. Outreach with local communities is often part of the north polar TREC experience.

What ARCUS doesn’t say here is that PolarTREC is just a heck of a lot of fun. The teachers who participate interact with their students while they’re in the field, and they return to the job enriched with experience that brings their teaching to life.  The scientists who host PolarTREC teachers are uniformly pleased with the experience, glad to have an extra pair of hands in the field and to have those hands attached to a mind that knows how to engage young people in the science. It’s a win-win.

Out there things can happen
and frequently do
to people as brainy
and footsy as you.
And when things start to happen,
don’t worry. Don’t stew.
Just go right along.
You’ll start happening too.
OH!
THE PLACES YOU’LL GO!
A fat moon climbs over Lake El’gygytgyn in northeast Russia.

A fat moon climbs over Lake El’gygytgyn in northeast Russia.

PolarTREC teacher application deadline: Monday, 5 October 2009

For further information, please contact PolarTREC at:
Email: info@polartrec.com
Phone: 907-474-1600

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Let’s Go Fly a Kite

September 28, 2009

In case you thought the seasonal transition to autumn was all work and no play at Greenland’s Summit Station, think again. In between winterizing the buildings and tying up loose ends before the darkness and cold descend, the five-person crew at Summit took advantage of recent “warm” temperatures (minus 20 degrees Celsius) and steady winds at 15-20 knots to go kite boarding.

Andy Clarke takes advantage of ideal kite flying conditions on top of the world. Photo: Brad Welchel

Andy Clarke kite boards in ideal conditions on top of the world. Photo: Brad Whelchel

Summit Station manager Andy Clarke gave us the scoop on this unusual past time.

FS: What kind of equipment do you use?

Andy: The kite we have up here right now is a HQ Beamer traction kite. It’s a four-square meter kite we fly just for fun. And the snowboard is an old NALE-brand board I bought at Boulder Ski Deals in the late ’90s. It’s retired now from the slopes and has come to Summit. The board has regular bindings that you can fit any boot into.

PFS: Do you strap into the kite in a harness?

Andy: Not really. Sometimes we use an old fall protection waist strap, to hook into. But normally we just hold onto the standard bar of the kite.

Andy Clarke harnesses the wind. Photo: Brad Welchel

Andy Clarke harnesses the wind. Photo: Brad Whelchel

PFS: What are ideal kite boarding conditions?

Andy: When you get the wind you want—when it’s blowing about 20 miles per hour.  When a storm comes, that means wind and warmer temperatures. A few weeks ago (when these pictures were shot), we had great weather. Right now it is minus 45C and it’s a little hard to hang around outside flying on a kite at that temperature.

PFS: Where do you go?

Andy: There is a ski-way the planes land on and it gets groomed all summer and is about three miles long. That’s where we like to go in the winter when it’s not in use.

PFS: Is it harder to kite board in the Arctic than elsewhere?

Andy: The polar regions are known for low pressure weather systems that make it feel like the elevation is much higher.  Over a 12 hour period our physio, or pressure altitude can go from 10,500ft to 12,000 ft.   Kiteboarding at that elevation combined with the cold dry air make it a bit of a challenge.  Also, for us there is nowhere to go but downwind for awhile… Then we have to somehow get back.

PFS: Why do it?

Andy: People do it sometimes as a traversing expedition here; they use skis and a kite and a sled to cross the ice sheet. It’s a way to get around faster. But we just do it for fun.  

Brad Welchel gives the kite boarding a try. Photo: Andy Clarke

Brad Whelchel gives the kite boarding a try. Photo: Andy Clarke


All in the Family

September 25, 2009

A Toolik scientist brings her children to the field

By Emily Stone 

Sally MacIntyre and her son, Johnny Melack, on Toolik Lake in 2003 when Johnny came to help his mom with her research.

Sally MacIntyre and her son, Johnny Melack, on Toolik Lake in 2003 when Johnny came to help his mom with her research. Photos courtesy Sally MacIntyre

Sally MacIntyre’s research studying the physics and biology of lakes has taken her to some amazing research sites, including Toolik Field Station. But over the years it also meant leaving home — and her two children — for up to a month at a time.

“That’s one of the challenges of being a mom,” she said. “You don’t really ever want to be away from your kids.”

In the back of her mind on these trips, she always thought that it would be great if she could bring her kids with her. She eventually did just that. Her 20-year-old daughter, Megan Melack, spent 10 days this summer working with her at Toolik, just as her son, Johnny Melack, did as an 18-year-old in 2003.

Megan Melack spent 10 days at Toolik Field Station this summer helping her mother, Sally MacIntyre, deploy instruments that measure temperature and turbulence in Toolik Lake below the surface.

Megan Melack spent 10 days at Toolik Field Station this summer helping her mother, Sally MacIntyre, deploy instruments that measure temperature and turbulence in Toolik Lake below the surface.

MacIntyre, a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said it was important that she wait until her children were old enough to appreciate Toolik, both the stunning physical beauty of the place and the community of smart, engaged scientists. She wanted Megan and Johnny to have a social life independent from her, “so it becomes their place too, not just that they’re hanging out with mom.”

The strategy clearly worked.

“I can’t even explain how happy I am that I went there,” said Megan, who is a junior at the University of California, Santa Cruz. “I tell people that my soul was revived.”

Megan had been skeptical of the trip, which her mom had been urging her to make for a few years. She worried that as a self-described “girly” Californian, the giant mosquitoes and primitive living arrangements — outhouses and limited showers — wouldn’t suit her. But she quickly learned to deflect the mosquitoes and got used to the camp’s amenities, or lack thereof, and turned her attention to the people and science around her.

The highlight of the trip was a midnight hike with a small group the night before she left. “I can’t imagine doing that anywhere else in the world with such awesome people,” she said.

The science became real to her, too.

“There’s no way you ever truly understand scientific research unless you go out and do it,” she said. And she suddenly understood what her mom had been doing all those years when she headed off into the field.

Megan Melack helps her mother, Sally MacIntyre, deploy instruments in Toolik Lake that read the temperature and turbulence of the water below the surface.

Megan Melack helps her mother, Sally MacIntyre, deploy instruments in Toolik Lake that read the temperature and turbulence of the water below the surface.

“It made me very proud to see all the things she does out there,” Megan said.

MacIntyre studies the turbulence below the surface of Toolik Lake. Arctic lakes are much more turbulent than similarly sized and, in some cases, much larger temperate lakes. That means that more nutrients are mixed from the bottom into the water column above where there is light to support the growth of tiny phytoplankton. The mixing rates are so high because the difference in water temperature from the top of the lake to the bottom isn’t that great. But if the climate were to warm significantly, that difference would increase and it could cut off the underwater churning. Megan and Johnny helped their mom deploy instruments that read the lake’s temperature and turbulence from the top to the bottom as part of MacIntyre’s ongoing research.

Johnny, who was about to start school at the University of California, Davis, the summer he was at Toolik, had always been interested in science. He now works as a mechanical engineer for a company making hydrogen fuel cells in Davis. During a summer break in college he spent part of his time working with the company that builds MacIntyre’s instruments, and he helped build one of hers. He inscribed “To Mom from Johnny” on it.

“It’s totally wonderful,” MacIntyre said. 

Sally MacIntyre studies the turbulence below the surface of Toolik Lake. She's been able to bring both her children to the camp as young adults to help her with her research.

Sally MacIntyre studies the turbulence below the surface of Toolik Lake. She's been able to bring both her children to the camp as young adults to help her with her research.

Megan, who is majoring in psychology, had been thinking about studying a hard science as well, and said her time at Toolik convinced her that she should. She’s planning to add either an environmental studies or biology minor and is thinking about science journalism or environmental policy lobbying as a career. She’d also like to figure out a way to go back to Toolik, perhaps with a project of her own someday.

They worked hard while at Toolik, so it’s no surprise that Johnny and Megan both enjoyed their time off, too.

Johnny spent much of his free time filming a documentary video about the place, hiking, and playing soccer and basketball under the midnight sun. Megan was an ebullient presence at the camp, chatting easily with people at meals and social activities. She and MacIntyre were both enthusiastic participants in the station’s re-enactment of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” dance shortly after his death.

MacIntyre said she was grateful for the warmth both old-timers and newcomers at the camp showed Johnny and Megan.

“The fact that people at Toolik reached out to my children made their experiences so positive,” she said.

MacIntyre’s research at Toolik is part of the Arctic LTER program, which is funded by the National Science Foundation.

Emily Stone is a freelance writer. She spent a week at Toolik Field Station last summer as an MBL journalism fellow.


In the Media

September 24, 2009
Quotables

A caribou cow and calf in southern Greenland. Changing seasonality is not good news for the breed, a new article says. Photo: Eric Post. Click the picture to visit his lab.
A caribou cow and calf in southern Greenland. Changing seasonality is not good news for the breed, a new article says. Photo: Eric Post. Click the picture to visit his lab.

 “The Arctic as we know it may be a thing of the past,” writes Eric Post (Penn State) in the journal Science.  He’s not just talking about polar bears and sea-ice. Post and colleagues synthesized material from a myriad of recent studies aimed at understanding the effects of rapid warming on the Arctic to show that changes are afoot all over the ecosystem. Earlier spring thaw is causing the northward march of new kinds of plants, which impacts not only the animals that feed on them, but more esoteric things like snow cover and ground temperature.  Post himself has an NSF grant to study the impacts of changing seasonality on caribou in southern Greenland, and his data suggest that the timing of caribou births is out of sync with green-up, resulting in lower percentages of yearling calves. Other animals benefit from the seasonal shift–geese and wild reindeer on Svalbard, for example.

Red dots indicate hot spots where glaciers have accelerated. Click the image to see the original, which shows antarctic hot spots as well.

Red dots indicate hot spots where glaciers have accelerated. Click the image to see the original from the article in Nature, which shows antarctic hot spots as well.

“We must protect Arctic ice,” said HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco at a UN meeting attended by international leaders, including President Obama, in New York City this week, a forerunner to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in mid-December. Meanwhile, a new article in the weekly, Nature, reports that Greenland’s and Antarctica’s glaciers are accelerating, probably contributing to sea-level rise more dramatically than previously expected. “To some extent it’s a runaway effect. The question is how far will it run?”, the study’s lead author says in this related article.

Don't tell anyone, but this mild-mannered, permafrost-drilling scientist is actually Tunnel Man!

Don't tell anyone, but this mild-mannered, permafrost-drilling scientist is actually Tunnel Man!

“[H]e single-handedly captured the attention of all our students in grades 5-12 for 45 minutes. Short of setting myself on fire and doing cartwheels across the room I really have not been able to accomplish that feat.” So says a school teacher in a rural Alaskan community where Kenji Yoshikawa and his alter ego, Tunnel Man, have visited. Force-of-nature Yoshikawa has an NSF grant to conduct permafrost outreach in the Arctic. This Yoshikawa profile by noted scientist/author Bill Streever captures Kenji’s unique spirit, and his approach to permafrost education. Long live Tunnel Man!


The Big Blue: Reports from the Cutter Healy

September 23, 2009
Photo: U.S. Coast GuardPetty Officer Patrick Kelley

Photo: U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Patrick Kelley

In August we reported on the joint Canadian/American expedition to the Arctic Ocean to probe the Chukchi Borderland, an underwater promontory that extends north of Barrow, Alaska, and map the farthest reaches of the continental shelf. The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy and the Canadian Coast Guard vessel Louis S. St-Laurent were at sea from Aug. 7 through Sept. 16 as part of the Extended Continental Shelf Project. Upon their return, USCG Petty Officer Patrick Kelley shared his images with us (and, since the photos are part of the public domain, with you. Check them out  at his flickr site.)

During the trip, scientists discovered a seamount, or underwater mountain, using a 12kHz multi-beam echosounder. The seamount is estimated to be about 1,100 meters high and is located 700 miles north of Alaska at a depth of about 3,800 meters.

The currently unnamed seamount is the first to be discovered since 2003.

The currently unnamed seamount is the first to be discovered since 2003.

What goes on beneath the ocean surface is extraordinarily compelling. Fortunately, thanks to Mr. Kelley, we can also appreciate what happened in plain sight.

Photo: U.S. Coast GuardPetty Officer Patrick Kelley
Photo: Patrick Kelley
The crew of a Coast Guard C-130 Hercules aircraft from Air Station Kodiak, AK., prepare to depart from Barrow after delivering 9,000 pounds of food for the crew of Coast Guard Cutter Healy. Photo: U.S. Coast GuardPetty Officer Patrick Kelley

The crew of a Coast Guard C-130 Hercules aircraft from Air Station Kodiak, AK., prepare to depart from Barrow after delivering 9,000 pounds of food for the crew of Coast Guard Cutter Healy. Photo: Patrick Kelley

Home sweet home. Photo: U.S. Coast Guard petty officer Patrick Kelley

Home sweet home. Photo: Patrick Kelley

A bottom-moored autonomous acoustic recorder, known as a High-frequency Acoustic Recording Package (HARP), is rigged to be deployed from the Coast Guard Cutter Healy in the Arctic Ocean where it will spend almost a year at the ocean floor measuring ambient noise. Photo: U.S. Coast Guard petty officer Patrick Kelley

A bottom-moored autonomous acoustic recorder, known as a High-frequency Acoustic Recording Package (HARP), is rigged to be deployed from the Coast Guard Cutter Healy in the Arctic Ocean where it will spend almost a year at the ocean floor measuring ambient noise. Photo: Patrick Kelley

Dr. Alex Andronikov (right), a geologist from the University of Michigan Department of Geological Science, and John Pazol sort through rocks that were dredged from the Arctic Ocean floor. Photo: U.S. Coast Guard petty officer Patrick Kelley

Dr. Alex Andronikov (right), a geologist from the University of Michigan Department of Geological Science, and John Pazol sort through rocks that were dredged from the Arctic Ocean floor. Photo: Patrick Kelley


Polar Logistics Providers

September 22, 2009

Start ’em young

Cash Littrell, not yet four months, reacts to his first exposure of arctic-influenced weather, which brought the season's first snowfall to Crested Butte, Colorado, on 21 September. Photo: Karla College

Cash Littrell, four months, son of PFS' Karla College, during his inaugural exposure to arctic-influenced weather. An arctic front brought the season's first snowfall to Crested Butte, Colorado, on 21 September. By the looks of it, Cash (seen with father Levi) will take to cold weather training like a toboggan to an icy hill. Photo: Karla College


Touring and Tooling Around Thule

September 21, 2009
Thule Air Base, September 2009. Photos: Susan Zager

Thule Air Base, September 2009. Photos: Susan Zager

PFS’ Susan Zager visited Thule Air Base earlier this month to complete various end-of-season activities. She also gave a presentation on NSF research activities supported by CPS at Thule for the new US Ambassador to Denmark, Laurie S. Fulton

(Back in Copenhagen mid-month, Ambassador Fulton and Danish science minister Helge Sander signed a bilateral research cooperation agreement. In her remarks at the signing, the ambassador commented that she was “fascinated by the research being undertaken ‘On Top of the World’”, and said about international scientists working in Greenland, “their cooperative and collaborative efforts are remarkable.”  That’s just what we were thinking.)

Also touring Thule and present for Susan’s talk:  Commander Henrik Bunde Kudsk, Greenland Island Commander, the highest ranking Danish military officer in Greenland.  Commander Kudsk has a smorgasbord of responsibilities—military defense of Greenland, maritime monitoring, environmental oversight, search and rescue, fisheries monitoring, and scientific research oversight among them—and his office has been very helpful to us over the years.

 Meanwhile, the New York Air National Guard 109th was also at Thule shuttling fuel to CFS Alert after delivering cargo and passengers to Thule for the GrIT sled tests. In addition to these planned activities, the Guard was called upon to evacuate a Danish member of parliament, who broke his arm shortly after arriving at the air base.  CPS worked with the National Science Foundation, Air National Guard, US state department, and the Danish government in Copenhagen to arrange the Danish PM’s transport to Kangerlussuaq, so he wouldn’t have to wait days for the next scheduled commercial flight out of Thule.

Prior to departing Thule, Susan visited field sites for scientists conducting research at Thule, including those for the NSF-funded International Tundra Experiment (ITEX, Steve Oberbauer, Florida International U, overall lead PI; Jeff Welker, U Alaska, Thule PI).  ITEX researchers study changes in the phenology, vegetation, and ecosystem properties that have occurred in tundra over the past 10-15 years in response to climate change and experimental warming.

This weather station near Thule air base monitors/collects a slew of climatic information used by ITEX researchers: temperature, air pressure, wind speed/direction, humidity, precipitation, etc.
This weather station near Thule monitors/collects a slew of climatic information used by ITEX researchers: temperature, air pressure, wind speed/direction, humidity, precipitation, etc.