In the Media

October 27, 2009
Anchorage350

A group in Anchorage, Alaska, participates in the Climate Action day last weekend. Carl Johnson Photography, courtesy http://www.350.org

Last Saturday (October 24) was the International Day of Climate Action. Over 180 countries participated in more than 5000 activities around the globe to raise awareness of advances in climate science and to stimulate action regarding climate change. Organizers hope grassroots movements like this will encourage world leaders to develop a new climate treaty when they meet in Copenhagen this December. The day was organized by 350.org.

350

Greenland's Disko Bay, recipient of the speeded-up outflow of some of Greenland's fastest-moving glaciers. Click on the picture to find out what '350' refers to.

The Interior Department’s proposal last week to designate some 200,000 square miles of northern coastal Alaska and US territorial waters for polar bears met with criticism from both sides. Alaskan agencies indicated they would challenge the proposal, seeing it as an obstacle to the state’s oil and gas interests; conservation agencies, on the other hand, said it did not go far enough to protect polar bear habitat, which is shrinking due to melting sea ice.

Meanwhile, Andy Revkin reports in The New York Times that the Fish and Wildlife Service concluded that Pacific walruses, suffering as a result of habitat loss, should be considered for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Walruses use sea ice as a “floating nursery,” Revkin says, while they hunt for clams on the coastal seafloor; shrinking ice has meant that increasing numbers of walrus come ashore. Recently, walrus stampedes have killed scores of these animals.

On his Dot Earth blog, Andy Revkin includes a dispatch from David Rothenberg, who is sailing on a Dutch schooner with other artists on The Arctic Circle cruise. They wish to explore the “nexus where art intersects science, architecture, and activism,” according to The Arctic Circle project’s Web site. Rothenberg’s description of a few of his colleague’s projects suggest they DO experience the Arctic differently than do average tourists, as Rothenberg asserts (toast, anyone?). The writing calls up bold images, such as this description of bears feasting on a whale carcass: ”Their bloody faces smile as they chew on rancid whale meat.”

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Sampling While Soaring

October 23, 2009
Going HAIPER. Credit: NCAR/National Science Foundation

Going HIAPER. Credit: NCAR/National Science Foundation

On Monday Oct. 26, one of the world’s most expensive jets (roughly $75 million) will depart on a 27-day expedition to survey the entire globe for greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Outfitted with the most sophisticated air sampling equipment available today, the High-performance Instrumented Airborne Platform for Environmental Research (HIAPER), will carry scientists from Harvard, Princeton, University of Miami, Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on a 27-day sampling expedition that will travel from Colorado to the Arctic, to the Antarctic, and back.  The mission is nicknamed “HIPPO” – that’s “HIAPER Pole-to-Pole Observations.”

The plane, a Gulfstream V, is better known for its preference among corporate executives (remember the big three auto execs’ notorious trip to D.C. last winter?), but its long-range capabilities and versatility make it a precise research vessel. Owned by the National Science Foundation and operated by NCAR, the plane can travel about 7,000 miles without refueling and can ascend and descend elevations easily. During the expedition, it will fly in an “M” pattern, dropping from about 45,000 feet to about 1,000 feet to take samples from every layer of the atmosphere. Ultimately, this project will provide the first global picture of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, said Dr. Steve Wofsy, HIPPO mission principal investigator, Harvard University.

“Thirty years ago, everyone thought the atmosphere was fixed,” said Wofsy. “It was unimaginable that humans could have affected the concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases. Now we know we have, and this research will take a snapshot of the earth and see how those gases are distributed over the whole globe.”

A Packed Itinerary

The flights will travel from Colorado to Anchorage, Alaska, and the Arctic Circle before heading south across the Pacific Ocean to New Zealand and Antarctica.

First-Of-A-Kind Measurements

Specifically, HIPPO will measure cross sections of atmospheric concentrations from the north to south poles, sampling air at elevations that vary from sea level to 45,000 feet. By sampling a cross-section of the atmosphere, the scientists will record a comprehensive picture that satellites cannot capture, said Wofsy. The air sampling equipment makes a measurement every second.

National Center For Atmospheric Research co-PI Britt Stevens adjusts equipment aboard the Gulfstream V. Photo: Courtesy UCAR

National Center For Atmospheric Research co-PI Britt Stevens adjusts equipment aboard the Gulfstream V. Photo: Courtesy UCAR

Simple Physics and Complicated Physics

Preparing the plane’s machinery demanded dedicated focus from physicists and engineers charged with quality control and quality assurance. With powerful computers, two laser spectrometers, and other extremely advanced instruments designed specifically for the HIPPO project, scientists will be able to measure CO2 and other gases in real time, instead of collecting a number of samples in flasks for later analysis in a lab. The location of the air intake chambers was carefully designed to avoid collecting fuel emissions from the jet.

Model Improvement

Scientists on board will be able to glean insight from the data as it loads into their computers, Wofsy said. But detailed analysis and measurements will take about six to eight months. That information will be used to improve existing computer models that measure the output, location, and concentration of greenhouse gases.

“Once the models are improved, we’ll go back to see who is doing what [to send greenhouse gases into the atmosphere], and how much are they contributing,” said Wofsy.

Such information could prove relevant should a global climate change treaty emerge that calls on nations to substantially curb their emissions. In addition, the team will study how logging and regrowth in the boreal and tropical rain forests, as well as changes in the upper atmospheric winds around Antarctica, are affecting levels of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Methane

In addition to CO2, scientists will analyze other gases and atmospheric particles, such as methane, whose concentrations have tripled since the Industrial Age and appear to be rising.

“HIPPO is the first time that atmospheric scientists can get a complete picture of over 30 trace gases and black carbon aerosols that influence climate,’ said James Elkins, a NOAA scientist working on the project.

Adventure

Bird's eye view: Looking down as the GV descends during the January 2009 expedition onto a snowy runway. Photo: Courtesy UCAR

Bird's eye view: Looking down as the GV descends during the January 2009 expedition onto a snowy runway. Photo: Courtesy UCAR

Plus, the expedition will be fun. This is the second research flight and third journey for the aircraft, which underwent a proof of concept trial run in 2008 to demonstrate the vessel’s viability. The first expedition in January 2009 went well, and, following this trip, HIAPER will fly again in April 2010 and twice in the summer of 2011.

“Essentially, we’re taking our flying laboratory around the world and measuring as we go,” Wofsy said.


Oktoberfest

October 21, 2009

 

At Summit they call it "Bradtoberfest." Brad Whelchel honed his Bavarian culinary skills for Oktoberfest at Summit. Photo:

At Summit they call it "Bradtoberfest." Brad Whelchel hones his Bavarian culinary skills for Oktoberfest at Summit.

A few weeks ago, the Summit weekly mentioned an Oktoberfest celebration with a tremendous Bavarian meal and polka music beamed over the Internet (which was somewhat less than tremendous, according to some). We wanted to know the back-story on the celebration, so we wrote to our colleagues.

Turns out that mechanic Brad Whelchel is the Oktoberfestmeister, but not because he considers himself Bavarian (some of his folks are Pennsylvania Deutsch). “I like to immerse myself in other cultures and festivities,” Brad explained.

“Two of my favorite holidays have to be Oktoberfest and St. Patrick’s Day.  They are not the most traditional/religious of holidays, but they sure are fun!”, he wrote. Brad has celebrated the festival for years, often in Helen, Georgia (whose European settlers were Bavarian), near his home in Tennessee, so he knew a thing or two about Oktoberfest.

“My original plans were to tour Europe in the autumn, with the centerpiece of the trip being Oktoberfest in Munich.  But I got the call for the mechanic job in August, and took that instead,” Brad wrote.  “Around the middle of September I started thinking ‘I should be in Munich right now,’ and began to formulate my own Oktoberfest celebration up here.”

Caption for pix of Oktoberfest spread: “The Summit crew started with Giant soft pretzels with hot mustard lead the food parade.  Then, slow-cooked kielbasa and sauerkraut, German potato salad and spaetzle dumplings. Later, rouladen (slices of flank steak stuffed with hot mustard, bacon, onion, and pickles), jagerschnitzel (thin, breaded pork chops simmered with mushroom-and-onion gravy). And finally, hoernchen, horn-shaped pastries filled with preserves, cinnamon sugar, fruit, etc.

Giant soft pretzels with hot mustard lead the food parade. Then, slow-cooked kielbasa and sauerkraut, German potato salad and spaetzle dumplings. Later, rouladen (slices of flank steak stuffed with hot mustard, bacon, onion, and pickles), jagerschnitzel (thin, breaded pork chops simmered with mushroom-and-onion gravy). And finally, hoernchen, horn-shaped pastries filled with preserves, cinnamon sugar, fruit, etc.

How did he manage some of the more exotic ingredients at Summit? “The food inventory is quite varied; previous crews have requested different specialty items, so now we have things like Japanese Nori wrappers for sushi, cèpes for French mushroom dishes, and this year I brought up my FAVORITE barbecue sauce of all time, Rendezvous!  It comes from the best rib joint in America, The Rendezvous in downtown Memphis.  We’ve put it on basically everything, and I have another bottle to leave for the rest of the winter crews.  I also brought Thai iced tea leaves, Indian spice chai, and beignet mix from Cafe du Monde in New Orleans.”

Brad admits that most of his cooking experience, beyond barbeque, has been gained in Summit’s well-stocked kitchen.  He chose well-rated recipes off the Internet with ingredients compatible with Summit’s food stores. “The salt used on the pretzels wasn’t as large as the true German pretzel salt, but it was still coarse and chunky.”

We got to thinking about Summit and how the population up there on the world’s roof loves a shindig. Summiteers honor all kinds of occasions with food, games, parades, costume parties, and so on. In addition to the traditional holidays, Summit celebrates the equinoxes and solstices, of course—and also such things as completion of major science milestones or operational efforts. Since long-time Summit manager, Kathy Young, was in Denver last week attending our annual meeting, we cornered her and asked about the penchant for social gatherings.  “We celebrate because it’s something for us in an isolated community to do,” She explained. “It’s really nice for us to acknowledge the effort it takes to make Summit run and to do science here—plus, it’s a nice way to pass the time.”

And time is passing. The crew keeping Summit’s experiments running during this first phase of winter can now measure their time in isolation in days, as the incoming crew is due on the ice next week. Clearly, that’s another occasion for celebration.


A Special Homecoming

October 19, 2009
Sitting with researcher Aaron Fox, Inupiat elder Martha Aiken peruses a photo from 1946 and recognizes her husband, Robert, at a young age. Photo: Chie Sakakibara

Sitting with researcher Aaron Fox, Iñupiat elder Martha Aiken peruses a photo from 1946 and recognizes her husband, Robert, at a young age. Photo: Chie Sakakibara

When Iñupiat elder Martha Aiken first laid eyes on the digital rendition of the aged photograph, she squinted her eyes and examined the teenager in the image. From her kitchen table in Barrow, AK., with the assist of a magnifying glass, the proud native woman, then 81 years old, nodded her head in confirmation. “That’s my Robert,” she declared as her eyes welled with tears.

"Her Robert," Robert Aiken, circa 1944. Photo: The Boulton Collection

Her Robert. Robert Aiken, left, circa 1946. Photo: The Boulton Collection

The Robert under the looking glass was the man who became her husband. Preserved in a photograph taken in 1946, his youthful smile and good looks mesmerized their observer, and Aiken momentarily lost herself in remembrance.

That was 2008, several months after researchers Dr. Aaron Fox (Music, Columbia University) and Dr. Chie Sakakibara (postdoctoral research fellow, The Earth Institute, Columbia University) first traveled to Barrow, Alaska, to conduct fieldwork for their NSF-supported project: “Community-Partnered Repatriation of Iñupiat Music.” They arrived bearing roughly 130 photographs and about 120 recorded songs collected more than six decades ago by Laura Boulton, an American ethnomusicologist.

nupiaq elder Fannie Akpik and Inupiaq educator Jana Hacharek reading through Laura Boulton's account (Music Hunter) on Barrow, Alaska. Photo: Chie Sakakibara

Iñupiaq elder Fannie Akpik and Iñupiaq educator Jana Hacharek reading through Laura Boulton's account (Music Hunter) of Barrow, Alaska. Photo: Chie Sakakibara

They sought entry into the lives of the tribal elders. Wanting to respectfully return the music and the images to their original owners, the two academics (Fox is an anthropologist of music and Sakakibara is a geographer) often found themselves in the kitchens and sitting rooms of the likes of Aiken, painstakingly reviewing each image, provoking memories, and collecting a rich and deep oral history.

An alternate copy of the photo reproduced in Laura Boulton’s 1968 book The Music Hunter (Doubleday).  Pictured, from left to right, are Rodger Ahalik, Otis Ahkivgak, Willie Sielak, Guy Okakok, and Alfred Koonaloak. Photo: Smithsonian/Folkways Records FW00044, 1955)

An alternate copy of the photo reproduced in Laura Boulton’s 1968 book The Music Hunter (Doubleday). Pictured, from left to right, are Rodger Ahalik, Otis Ahkivgak, Willie Sielak, Guy Okakok, and Alfred Koonaloak. Photo: Smithsonian/Folkways Records FW00044, 1955)

“Many of the elders we interview were young when the recordings were made and have knowledge of these art and verbal traditions,” said Fox. “When they hear the recordings of their ancestors or see the pictures, it stimulates their memory in a really powerful way.”

Fox and Sakakibara have delved into the controversial world of repatriation with the goal of creating a new model that promotes collaboration between institutional archives and Native communities. By working closely with members of the Iñupiat community to describe, interpret, translate, and identify the historical features of Boulton’s material, they aim to gain insights into the geographical, historical and ethnomusicological problems and questions that extend beyond the materials. By treating the archives as a basis for building relationships and developing dialogues with members of the native communities, they hope to develop a ubiquitous model to assist in other repatriation projects.

“Photographs, like music recordings, are duplicable, so the underlying object is replicable and the repatriation is straightforward,” said Fox. “But it’s important the rights to the archives be restored to the community, and that we help the tribe develop consensus of how to maintain jurisdiction.”

The disbursement of heritage resources can be political and contentious, but reaching agreement with the Iñupiat has been “remarkably successful,” Fox said. To that end, the material has already begun working its way into the school curriculums and local cultural events. Fox and Sakakibara have presented the recordings to numerous schoolchildren and are working with teachers to develop future uses for these materials in the classroom.

Visiting Ipaalook Elementary School in Barrow to talk to pupils about Laura Boulton and historical recordings. Photo: Chie Sakakibara

Visiting Ipaalook Elementary School in Barrow to talk to pupils about Laura Boulton and historical recordings. Photo: Chie Sakakibara

And a group of young people formed a traditional dance group to learn and perform the songs on the recordings.  This group, called Taġiuġmiut dancers, which means “People of the Sea,” includes Riley Sikvayugak and Vernon Elavgak, two descendants of Joseph Sikvayugak, one of the primary performers on Boulton’s recordings. So far the group has had success, including winning first place at the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics.

Dancers re-enacting the 1946 songs at Nalukataq (Whale Feast), June 2008. Photo: Chie Sakakibara)

Dancers re-enacting the 1946 songs at Nalukataq (Whale Feast), June 2008. Photo: Chie Sakakibara)

“There is no cookbook or single prescription for how to do this kind of thing [repatriation],” Fox said. “You can set goals, but the important thing is to treat this as a relationship not a transaction. It’s a restoration of cultural resources rather than just a return of something.”

The archived music recordings date back to Boulton’s visit in 1946, during which her assistant John Klebe also shot photographs. However, some of the images are clearly not from the season she visited (October, 1946), and Fox said he believes it is likely those photographs were taken by Marvin Peter, a local, respected Iñupiaq photographer of the period.

“We presume he would have given them to Boulton, as that would be a very Iñupiat thing to do,” said Fox.  “We don’t know this for sure. We do know he was among the people she and John Klebe photographed while they were there.”

Fox and Sakakibara will return to Barrow at Thanksgiving to continue their field work, which has NSF funding for two additional years. They also hope to hand over the publication rights to the Iñupiat recordings to the tribe within the next year.


Tapestry waving in the wind

October 19, 2009

While trying to catch up on everything we missed last week, we just noticed that John Whiteman posted another in his series, “Polar Bears of Summer,” for Exploratorium’s NSF-funded outreach project, Ice Stories.  As ever, Whiteman delivers the goods from the USCGC Polar Sea, where the Hank Harlow-led team of University of Wyoming researchers are tracking and re-examining a set of bears they collared last spring.

US Coast Guard Cutter Polar Sea navigates pancake ice in the Arctic Ocean.

US Coast Guard Cutter Polar Sea navigates pancake ice in the Arctic Ocean.

The ship ran into some heavy seas, leading to all personnel being restricted from going on deck. Whiteman writes that the sea ice responding to the swells was “like watching an enormous tapestry waving in the wind.” If you haven’t checked out Whiteman’s dispatches, you’re missing the boat (and the bears).

Live from Red Rocks

October 19, 2009
Creation Rock is one of two sandstone monoliths that frame the Red Rocks stage (the structure at left).

Creation Rock is one of two sandstone monoliths that frame the Red Rocks stage (the structure at left).

Here at Polar Field Services, we spent last week in annual meetings at Red Rocks in the foothills of the Rockies near Denver. The venue, while somewhat rustic, has atmosphere galore:  Beyond the sacred majesty of the sandstone rocks and the views they frame, the musical tradition at this great outdoor arena is palpable to the point where you almost feel as if you’re rubbing the knobby elbows of, say, Elvis Costello or Robert Plant.  Plus the Rock Band virtuosos among us were able to test the venue’s legendary acoustics when walk-and-talk sessions lead us down to the stage.

Our CPS partners from CH2M HILL and SRI and our program officers at NSF joined us Tuesday and Wednesday.  We reviewed the 2009 field season and surveyed what we know so far of the coming one, meditating on how to continue to polish our service to the arctic research program that we support.  Someone pointed out that the entire CPS staff occupies the same space each year only at the annual meeting, which is ironic given our fierce identity as a team.

The CH2M HILL Polar Services team assembles at the Red Rocks visitors center.

The CH2M HILL Polar Services team assembles at the Red Rocks visitors center.

Denver saw rare fog during the week.  The drive on Wednesday was shrouded in mist, but as we turned into the park and climbed up the hill to the Red Rocks visitor’s center, we rose into clear skies.  NSF’s Pat Haggerty, looking over the sun-sparkled and mist-filled valleys below, commented that the views seemed like “something out of Tolkien.”

Misty Mountains


Changing Climate, Changing Patterns: An Occasional Series On The Impacts Of Warming Temperatures

October 12, 2009
 
Brant geese
A Pacific brant family on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, Alaska. Photo: Jeff Wasley, courtesy U.S. Geological Survey
A Pacific brant family on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, Alaska. Photo: Jeff Wasley, courtesy U.S. Geological Survey

Warming Temperatures Affect Geese Migration

 As Alaska’s climate has warmed over the last four decades, Pacific brant geese have drastically changed their winter migration, according to a recent study in the journal Arctic. Whereas 90 percent of the population recently wintered in Mexico, today about 30 percent of the population —roughly 40,000 birds—are spending their winters in Alaska, according to the U.S. Geological Survey-led study.

“This increase in wintering numbers of brant in Alaska coincides with a general warming of temperatures in the North Pacific and Bering Sea,” said David Ward, the lead author of the study and a USGS researcher at the Alaska Science Center. “This suggests that environmental conditions have changed for one of the northernmost-wintering populations of geese.”

The study found that the migration shift appears related to the changes in availability and abundance of eelgrass, the primary food in the non-breeding season. Release of the study garnered widespread news reports of the impacts a warming climate has on species migration. In Mother Jones, Julia Witty notes that warming temperatures have well-documented effects on the abundance and distribution of many marine species, including walleye Pollock, Pacific cod, northern fur seals, and thick billed murres.

A Polar Field Services Series: Changing Climate, Changing Patterns

The field notes team plans to report a series of stories and interviews with scientists on the real-time impacts climate change has on native populations—both human and animal. The recent article by Ward et al. details the changing patterns in brant outside of the breeding season. To learn more about how climate change is altering the birds during the summer breeding season, we asked Jim Sedinger, professor at the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Science at the University of Nevada, about his long-term research on breeding strategies of Pacific brant in Alaska, funded by the NSF.

Interview With Jim Sedinger

Polar Field Services (PFS): What makes brant geese an interesting species to study for ornithologists, ecologists, and climate scientists?

Jim Sedinger: The colonial nesting nature of brant makes it possible to study demography (survival, reproductive effort, recruitment into the breeding population, etc.), which is difficult for many other species.  Brant behavior in winter also allows following individuals in winter and spring.  Brant come out of the water following high tide each day to preen and acquire grit.  Investigators can read their uniquely engraved plastic leg bands during these periods.  In some years during the 1990s David Ward’s crews read > 14,000 bands in Mexico during winter.  Individual brant are also observed in large numbers in Humboldt Bay (Jeff Black and students) and the Strait of Georgia (Environment Canada).

Brant on the Pacific coast are dependent on eelgrass in bays and estuaries extending from Alaska to Baja, so they are excellent indicators of environmental conditions along the coast.

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