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! 

Polar Technology Conference

March 24, 2010


The white radome on top of the Tucker's cab is an Iridium OpenPort transceiver. Providing medium-high speed data communications without an antenna, the OpenPort is proving to be useful in the polar field. Photo: Jay Burnside

If you’re in the Boulder area tomorrow and Friday and want to brush up on the latest in technology developments in polar research, drop by the sixth annual Polar Technology Conference at the Millennium Harvest House.  The meeting, established by SRI International and Stanford University, provides a space for those in the know to exchange information. Scientists discuss their coming research support needs, and experts share technology strategies that have worked in the harsh polar environment—as well as potential solutions in development.

Presentations range from (our SRI colleague) Roy Stehle’s update on Iridium OpenPort technology; to Tracy Dahl’s report on the Clean Snowmobile Challenge, for which he acted as judge again last week; to (University of Nebraska, Lincoln) Frank Rack’s coverage of over-ice surveys and scientific drilling in Antarctica.

Given the attendees list, you’re bound to learn something during the breaks as well.

In the Media

February 18, 2010
Waking the Dead

Reconstruction of the prehistoric man Inuk. Drawing: Nuka Godfredtsen

Scientists from the University of Copenhagen have recreated the genome of a 4000-year-old Greenlandic man from genetic material found in tufts of his hair. They are the first to reconstruct the genome of an extinct human being.  

The innovative technique can be applied to museum materials and ancient remains found in nature and may help scientists reconstruct human traits from extinct cultures where only limited remains have been recovered. Scientists also may use the technique to explain ancient human expansions and migration; it also may improve understanding of heredity and the disease risk passed down from our ancestors. The study is published in the upcoming issue of Nature

P-p-p-poker Flat, P-p-p-poker Flat 

Launch season got underway at Poker Flat Research Range near Fairbanks, Alaska, this week, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported on Tuesday. “The 2010 launch season began when a two-stage Terrier Orion rocket carrying 16 vials of trimethyl alumimum [sic] was fired into the upper atmosphere at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday. Twelve of the vials were released, causing colorful, glowing streaks in the atmospheric winds about 70 miles above northern Alaska.” 

CPS team member, SRI's Todd Valentic, took this picture of a rocket launch at Poker Flat in 2007. With NSF funding, SRI developed a next-generation radar system at the site, which can be used to collect information from the rocket soundings. For more on SRI's cutting edge radars, click on the picture.

Scientists at Poker Flat, Toolik Field Station, and Fort Yukon collected ground-based information from the tracers streaking the sky after the rocket fired its vials. 

The rocket range, owned by the University of Alaska’s Geophysical Institute, allows scientists to study the middle and upper atmosphere, especially the aurora. Dartmouth’s James LaBelle leads the rocket-borne experiments. 

Ned Rozell wrote about the Poker Flat launches a while back. Read his piece to understand what it takes—and why scientists love the rockets.

Polarpower in Solar

Tracy Dahl’s white paper on photovoltaic power options in cold climes has been published in the new journal Solar. Tracy originally published the piece on the CPS sustainable power technology Web site, Congratulations, Tracy!

Global Darkening 

We really enjoyed Jon Stewart’s send-up of the flap over last week’s snowstorms by climate-change deniers.  

On a related note, see this New York Times opinion piece by Thomas Friedman.