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.” 


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! 


May 10, 2010
Two Become One
All Photos: Robin Davies

Some gorgeous and well-mannered Polar Huskies wait for the humans to transfer the GoNorth! load to GrIT.

Adapt or fail: this may be the first rule of successful polar exploration, as countless stories from the age of the great adventurers (and from our own research clients) will attest. Over the weekend, while many of us celebrated Mother’s Day, there was a marriage of sorts on the Greenland ice sheet. The two traverse teams we’ve been following—GoNorth!’s Polar Husky-powered education effort, and GrIT’s tractor-towed operational effort—combined forces to get everyone back on schedule after last week’s stormy weather delayed progress.  

Mille Porsild, dog handler-in-chief, settles the canine team atop some GrIT cargo totes. Mille prefers to ride up on the totes with her pack, though there's room for her in the warm camping wannigan.

NEEM is the North Eemian drilling camp, an international research collaboration whose main goal is to harvest an ice core (for climate studies) that reaches all the way through the ice sheet. While the University of Copenhagen has overall management of NEEM and operates the camp, the National Science Foundation supports U.S. researchers (U Colorado’s Jim White leads this effort) and provides the heavy air lift as well. Air National Guard LC-130 planes fly between Kangerlussuaq and NEEM every ten days to two weeks—weather permitting, of course.  

So if the three miss this flight, they could be auxiliary NEEM staff for two weeks waiting for the next flight—an unhappy possibility given teaching and research commitments. (Some of us would pay good money to be stranded at the storied NEEM camp for a week or so with the likes of Danish polar research legends like Dorthe Dahl-Jensen and JP Steffensen, but that’s a tale for another post.)  

“With the loads reconfigured (once they passed through the crevassed zone with its steep inclines), the GrIT is moving forward at a decent clip. The goal is to make at least 40 miles per day,” Allen explained. “Over the past few days, they have been achieving their goal even with some soft snow.”  

Settled down and ready to make tracks.

While GrIT machines can continue plowing ahead in most storm conditions, the GoNorth! dogs, though incredibly strong and courageous, must at some point hunker down and wait for the worst weather to clear–they are not made of metal. The risk that the GoNorth! team might be delayed again by a good blow was considered too great, and so all have joined the GrIT traverse. That’s an additional 23 dogs, four people, sleds and gear.  

In short, a parade.  


“With firm snow, the Case has been able to hold 6th gear with little slippage,” Cornelison continued. “Ruts are between four and six inches. The Tucker has been holding second gear and keeping up with the Case though towing multiple sleds and the 3,000-gallon fuel bladder, which they have been fueling from. I believe that the Tucker load is about 120 feet long now.”  

“The weather has been cooperating nicely with unlimited visibility, sunny skies, light winds and temperatures between -4 and +10F.”  

“The teams camped Sunday night 110 miles from NEEM. They should arrive at NEEM mid-day on the 12th.”   


Robin writes, "The Case has a Greenlandic name, Qimuttuuaraq. It's a name that's often given to a small dog that pulls hard for its weight. A rough translation would be 'Small dog with big heart'." We think the same could be said of all souls on the traverse, four- and two-legged alike.

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
allen at polarfield.com


Born to Run

April 28, 2010

The first team of Polar Huskies pull Mille Porsild, Aaron Doering and the first sled on to the ice sheet, the first few steps of a 1000-mile journey to Summit Station. Photo: Robin Davies

The GoNorth! Polar Huskies, Mille Porsild and Aaron Doering run for the ice margin, the first few steps in a 1000-mile journey to Summit Station. Photo: Robin Davies

Now that they’re on the trail to Summit Station, the GoNorth! team is posting daily audio updates at their Web site–stop in to find out how the day has gone. Learn all about Greenland, “climate chaos,” and the seven principals of adventure learning. Read the answers to 10 great questions submitted each week by adventure learners. Visit the scrapbook to “see” through the eyes of the GoNorth! team, head out to the dog yard to meet the Polar Huskies–well, just get on there and explore. More active participants can still register to participate in the adventure learning modules (K-12 students all over the world participate in these).

Travels with Kenji

April 28, 2010

Kenji Yoshikawa calls in adjustments to his permafrost outreach itinerary. Photo: Ned Rozell, http://www.alaskatracks.com

Permafrost troubadour Kenji Yoshikawa (University of Alaska) last week visited permafrost observatories in remote villages of Alaska. “In general weather was not great this spring especially Bristol Bay area,” Yoshikawa wrote to PFS’ Alaska support manager Marin Kuizenga. “I could not make some villages by the weather at this time.”

Kenji is a one-man Arctic Observing Network or AON, and he spends the summer in perpetual movement (or so it seems to us) servicing permafrost sites sprinkled all over the Arctic, and concentrated in Alaska. At each stop, he brings his permafrost knowledge to local residents.

Yoshikawa presents permafrost information to Alaska's next generation. Photo: http://www.uaf.edu/permafrost/

Ned Rozell joined Yoshikawa last week. Ned wrote about the adventure and posted pictures to his AlaskaTracks Web site. Don’t miss his observations.

Yoshikawa also maintains a permafrost outreach site at www.uaf.edu/permafrost/. This fun site is full of tidbits about the places he visits, amply peppered with pictures. Make sure you have time to enjoy this site when you visit, because it’s easy to linger in Kenji’s world. And of course, there’s Tunnelman. 

Yoshikawa’s grant from the National Science Foundation  funds the installation and maintenance of around 100 permafrost observatories around Alaska.  For each one, Yoshikawa drills into the permafrost and installs micro dataloggers with temperature sensors to measure air and permafrost temperatures on the hour. These observatories are located next to schools. Yoshikawa visits the schools, teaches students and instructors about his work and then trains them to download and analyze the data from his instruments.

Yoshikawa visits a permafrost observatory. Photo: http://www.uaf.edu/permafrost/

Go Dogs, Go!

April 26, 2010

GoNorth! heads out of Thule 

Aaron Doering, GoNorth! PI, prepares to drive the dogs (and team mate Andrea Verdegan) to the transition. All photos: Robin Davies

Paws up and a howl to the GoNorth! team, which left Thule Air Base on Sunday, and should get out on the ice today.  These pictures were taken Sunday as the dogs, the sleds, and the GoNorth! gear were transported to the ice sheet transition some 30 miles from Thule Air Base. The GoNorth! team will follow the safe route flagged by the Strategic Crevasse Avoidance Team, which pushed a ground-penetrating radar over the first 60 miles or so of the route to find a way clear of pitfalls. Once they get past the crevassed area, GoNorth! will head to the deep drilling camp called NEEM, and then on to Summit Station. 

The team arrives at the transition.

If you look closely behind the GoNorth! team, you can see the tracks the team will follow up on to the ice sheet. That's quite a grade!

Aaron, Andrea and Brant Miller (PhD student in Science Education at the University of Minnesota) situated the dogs along a staked line.  There, the Polar Huskies probably curled up and snoozed overnight, waiting for the call to put on the harness and make tracks.  This should happen today.

And, if all goes to plan, the Greenland Inland Traverse (GrIT) team will fire up the tractors and head out soon after the GoNorth! team.

Being COY

April 21, 2010

Polar bear cubs captured, inspected, and released by Hank Harlow's research team. Photo: John Whiteman

The Bears of Summer is back–that’s John Whiteman’s contribution to a collection of polar research dispatches called Ice Stories maintained by the San Francisco Exploratorium. Whiteman, a PhD student in the University of Wyoming’s Program in Ecology, has returned to Kaktovik on Alaska’s north coast for early spring fieldwork.  He’s part of Hank Harlow’s polar bear physiology study, an NSF-funded research project that aims to understand to what extent warmer summer temps–and attendant changes in sea-ice coverage–may impact polar bears who use the ice as a hunting platform. The Harlow team has been capturing, examining, tagging and releasing bears early and late in the growing season since 2008 to find out if they are successfully feeding during the summer, and if not, how they may be using their own body’s resources (mainly fat) for sustenance.

In his latest post, Whiteman writes about examining a gigantic male, the largest bear he’s ever handled. He also comments on the number of COYs he’s seeing–“COYs” being cubs born around January. The above three are taking a snooze on their bear mama while waiting for  a short-lasting dose of anesthesia to wear off.

So far, the team has had some success in recapturing bears tagged last year and in capturing new ones as well; this is particularly good news given that last fall’s capture and study period was hampered by poor ice conditions that prevented the researchers from safely reaching the bears.