Stepping Off the Flat Earth

Posted On March 17, 2008

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The following are some photos of Kuujjuarapik-Whapmagoostui and its inhabitants. I wish I could have captured more… the children being towed to school and the store on homemade wooden box sleds behind snowmobiles, the babies carried in a special coat designed for mothers which has a pouch built into the back, the little kids playing ice hockey in the street, on skates!

tipi.png This is a tipi used for smoking meat and tanning hides.

garry_popper_400x300.png This is Garry Popper, the Research Center’s dog.

dogsatplay_400x300.png Here is Garry playing with a friend.

hockey_022308.png A local hockey tournament.

hockey_fans_3.png hockey_fans_1.png hockey_fans_2.png hockey_fans_15.png Hockey fans.

And budding skaters. skating_girls.png

Here is Gilbert Bear, the puppy we found, with his new owner, a young Inuit woman. I ran into them on the street last week and how Gilbert has grown! She clearly loves him, but only spoke enough English to tell me the following (several times): “His name is Bru.” (“Brown”, in Inuktitut) “We walk all day today.” And, “See, I got him a collar.” (Dogs roam the streets here and sometimes the ones without collars are killed.) So there is no doubt, Gilbert Bear has a VERY good home. girl_w_bear.png

I’ll leave you now with this excerpt from a book I read immediately before arriving here. Yukon Alone, by John Balzar, is about the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race which takes place in the Yukon in February and covers 1023 miles. This passage about Aliy Zirkle of Two Rivers, Alaska really spoke to me when I read it … and does now more than ever.

“Aliy now lets her mind drift to another subject. She was supposed to accomplish something out here in addition to finishing the Quest. This was going to be her chance, alone and without interruption, to ponder her future and settle things in her life. Should she keep her kennel and race again? The question implies so much more. A kennel is a way of life, not a pastime. Is that what she wants for herself: Aliy Zirkle, dog musher? What about her career as a biologist? So many of the people at Fish and Wildlife throw themselves at their work. She has felt this pull of ambition, if only faintly. Is now the time for her to buckle down as a scientist? Get the fever? But, man wouldn’t it be nice to have some money first. She could hustle up some construction work come summer and stash away a good chunk of cash. That is, if she worked her ass off and didn’t spend it all partying. And then her personal life… So complicated…

She had intended to resolve all these questions. So why can’t she bear down on them now? All she has to do is weight the options and devise a plan, she tells herself. Why can’t she just do it?

Back home, the imposition of telephones, the proximity of friends and family, the schedule of responsibilities, the old nagging doubts that keep you looking over your shoulder, those handy pints of ale – all of these things distract you. Weeks, months, and, finally, years spin by. You move by inertia and seem to have lost the ability, or the resolve, to choose your direction. Sometimes with aching clarity you flash on the thought that you need some time alone, quality time. Then you can sort things out. Just what is important? And how do you go after it? How do you fill those empty spaces in your life?

She tells herself that she’ll go out on the Quest trail, where there are no distractions and life is elemental. She’ll settle things out there.

But the Quest trail has different lessons to teach. Try as she may, she can’t cling to the what-ifs of the future. They come and go, as wispy as tendrils of ground fog, and they slip right through the fingers. Each time you bring out the mental checklist of pending questions, your mind loses the train of thought and doubles back to the immediate present – the ice and the dogs, the quiet and beguiling beauty of a landscape so sharp that it seems to have come right out of the mold. Yes, there is space out here for the mind to walk. But it doesn’t want to walk far. Liberated from the statis interference of modern life, where does one seek repose? In the wonder of the here and now.

Aliy feels the balance return to her life. Not by settling matters of tomorrow, but by escaping the incessant demands to settle anything. Like her ancestors long ago, she builds a campfire and stares into the embers, not because she’s searching for something but because it wraps her comfortably in the moment and fills her with contentment.

To all those looming decisions she was going to make, Aliy says, “Well, ha.””

 (copyright 1999 by John Balzar, published by Henry Holt and Company, NY)

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Well, ha.

And finally … Special thanks to my Mother and Stepfather, Jeanne and Jack Thomson, for making this all possible by taking care of my son, Theo, and our dog, Sarah, while I was here in the Arctic.

How Many Angels…?

Posted On March 16, 2008

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You can almost hear a snowflake drop around here now. The scientific campaign officially ended on Friday, and almost everyone has packed up and gone home.  Only five of us remain, four to make sure their atmospheric research equipment gets on the next plane to Borneo, and one to make sure her frozen frost flower samples get back to England. Obviously I picked the wrong major somewhere along the line.

Our freight is due to ship out on Monday, through Montreal back to Cambridge, and I am here to make sure it does. It includes a Cryoshipper, which is basically a giant thermos flask that is prechilled to -196 ◦C with liquid nitrogen (which is absorbed in a material in the flask so that it cannot leak or spill). The Cryoshipper contains 20 small screw-top containers of frost flowers and some brine, snow and ice core samples. I am hoping it will make it to Cambridge before it thaws, which will be in about a week.

If not, you may expect a series of excellent papers on the lifespan of an avocado in the subarctic.

Just kidding, sort of. I have been maximizing my remaining time making surface area measurements on frost flowers and snow here, so that things do not hinge on my frozen samples making it home.

You may have been wondering how one measures the surface area of a frost flower (or of snow), so here goes… We allow methane to adsorb on the surface of the frost flowers at liquid nitrogen temperature and analyze the resulting pressure difference in a known volume containing the sample using a method known as the Brunauer-Emmett-Teller, or BET, method. In less technical terms, I offer the following analogy of a similar method for calculating the area of a complex shape…

Say you want to know the volume (or area) of a heart-shaped cake pan, to compare it to the volume (or area) of a standard round cake pan, for which you can easily calculate the volume (right?). Then you can figure out whether the same amount of batter will make fatter or thinner layers in two heart-shaped pans than it will in two round pans. The geometry of a heart is not readily available, so you decide to fill the pan with M&Ms (or Smarties if you are in England) to one layer deep. You then calculate the cross-sectional area of a single candy (measure its diameter, or better yet, measure the area of many, then take the average), and multiply by the number of candies required to just cover the surface of the pan. Same thing here, except frost flowers are a lot smaller than cake pans and I already ate all the sweets! Therefore, I use methane gas (for which the molecular cross-sectional area is known) and allow it to adsorb onto the surface of the frost flower sample until the pressure difference in the sample volume tells me that it is completely covered to one monolayer.

Very simple in principle. The trick was building a manifold, for the gas, and a sample container, for the frost flowers, which are the right size relative to one another and hold a vacuum (provided by the turbopump). That I did in Cambridge. I then disassembled the system and reassembled it here in the Research Station. After some tightening of joints, replacement of valves, etc., it worked again. Since then, and especially over the past week, I have been using it to gather data on the specific surface area (surface area per gram) of frost flowers.

Here I am in my makeshift lab (with Andrew Sheppard, of Environment Canada).

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And here I am in the field, where I prefer to be! (Nielsen Island, the Northernmost point reached by anyone in our campaign.)

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And here are the most recent frost flowers studied, from the ice just off the islands that is regularly flooded by the tide.

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Frost Flora

Posted On March 11, 2008

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I appreciate all of your comments, it is nice to know that this blog is being read and enjoyed. Here, at the request of my sister Jeanne, the poet, is a description of how frost flowers form (WARNING TO READER: The following is not poetic!)

Frost flowers grow from water vapor onto new ice, nucleating in discrete “blooms” and then spreading out to cover the surface, if undisturbed. They form only when the conditions (relative temperature of water and air, humidity at the surface of the new ice, calm air) are right, because they require that the air immediately above the ice be supersaturated with water vapour. This happens when warm water is in contact with very cold air, and the evaporating water produces more water vapour than the colder air can hold. Thus, frost flowers are often found where cracks and leads have opened existing ice, allowing underlying (warmer) water access to the (colder) air and only a thin (new) layer of ice to separate the water and air. Thicker ice acts as an insulating layer and its surface is closer to the air temperature than to the water below.

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Frost flowers are typically dendritic or rodlike in form, similar to snow and hoarfrost. We see individual ‘trees’, with branches spreading outward, and ‘feathers’, which are flat with branches lying in a single plane. The individual branches have six-fold symmetry, like a snowflake.

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Snow also forms from water vapour, in the atmosphere of course, and generally on a nucleating particle such as dust. Water ice at typical temperatures and pressures is a hexagonal crystal, with a hexagonal basal plane, six-fold symmetry and growth favored in certain directions. Thus structures that grow from ice, such a snowflakes and frost flowers, tend to have hexagonal shapes or six-fold symmetry as well.

Frost flowers form only in low or no wind and are so delicate that the slightest breeze causes the larger ‘leaves’ to wave gently. Higher winds break them and carry them off, or bury them in snow. Collecting frost flowers has meant running a cold scalpel or spatula along near the surface of the ice, mowing them down like young trees and lifting them into a small container. Needless to say, this process breaks them up. Just the weight of more frost flowers added to the container breaks the lower ones, and of course they break more if the container is jostled in transport. (Never mind if it flies over a few bumps on a skidoo!) If not handled carefully, a full container at the collection site becomes half a container by the time it reaches the lab, proof that potato chip (crisp) bags may actually have been full when packed and “settled” in transport. (I know this has been the source of some debate.)

A highly saline brine also forms on the surface of new sea ice, and is wicked up by the growing frost flowers. Hence the frost flowers on sea ice are very salty. Because they are so delicate and so saline, they could be a major source of sea salt aerosol, which can be carried quite far by the wind. This is one of the reasons we are interested in them.

OK, Jeanne, your turn. I see so much here in the Far North that suggests poetry… the Northern Lights … more stars than you could ever count … a cold so sharp it takes your breath away … the snow blowing across the frozen bay, and the amazing waves left in its wake, the elusive red foxes that live on the sand dunes, the frost flowers themselves … all of it. But I couldn’t write a poem about it if my life depended on it. Can you?

The Ghost in the Machine

Posted On March 10, 2008

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There already weren’t enough hours in the day, and now we’ve lost one! I wish I could have a penny for every minute I’ve spent trying to get some of these pieces of equipment to work. I’m fine with working 15 hours a day when it produces results – or at least result in unique problems identified and solved! – but when I spend countless hours on an inexplicable (and probably minor) computer/electronics issues, it all gets a bit much.

I had an alternate title for this blog entry, The Not Ready For Prime Time Equipment. But that’s not entirely true, for one thing, and I suspect there are other forces at work, for another.

Helen and I have several new pieces of equipment obtained specifically for this campaign. A cryogenic shipping container, with a temperature logger, pH and salinity meters, and a microscope camera (DinoCam), as well as the frost flower surface area measurement apparatus I built and all its parts… turbopump, capacitance manometer, and so on. ALL potential points of failure! And then there is the equipment that has been used reliably on other field campaigns by other British Antarctic Survey scientists: helikites (balloons), Rokkaku kites, winches, meteorological and ozone sondes, etc. And THEN there is THE LAPTOP. I am beginning to suspect that this last is the source of all evil … or at least the weakest link in our whole campaign. This is what is called a “Pool” computer, meaning that it is available for professional use by all members of staff. I think the kindest thing I can say about this particular beast is that it is perhaps better suited to the low demand life of conference travel than to field use. The fact that its monitor can’t be seen in even normal daylight (never mind blinding snow glare) and it has one of those nifty little mouse pads that require bare hands, isn’t even the worst of it! This computer takes longer to restart than it takes me to drive to work and back. Heck, I could walk there in less time! When you, the rest of the equipment, and the thing you are trying to observe are at the mercy of the elements, ten minutes feels like a lifetime!

Thanks to our old friend, Dr. Murphy, we can count on balloons to pop, kites to land in trees, wires, ropes and antennas to break, vacuum seals to leak, fuses to blow, all sorts of things to simply refuse to be reliably calibrated, and in general, inanimate objects to behave erratically, temperamentally, and in a generally vexing fashion, But NOTHING is as frustrating as a faulty, and hideously slow computer!!!

The DinoCam, which Helen bought from a mailorder company for our use in taking high magnification images of frost flowers, worked beautifully at her desk… well, at least the second one did. It is a small handheld microscope, with integral LED lights, that can take images at magnifications ranging from 50 to 250X.  It works only when plugged into a (cooperating) computer. Here, when I plug it into (either of) the laptop’s USB port(s), it is recognized about two out of forty times. And one of those two times, the recognition is apparently something of a shock  – “YIKES! NOT the DINOCAM again!” - as it causes the whole laptop monitor to go fuzzy, and the computer has to be entirely restarted.

This morning Helen and I woke at dawn, fought to get the skidoos started, packed up all our safety and science gear, and picked our way over about five miles of sea ice to the other side of the Bill of Portland Island to photograph natural frost flowers with the DinoCam before the sun was fully up (when it is too bright to do so). I had prestarted the laptop, gotten the DinoCam working, and packed the whole thing, in Standby mode, carefully in a foam lined suitcase with a hot water bottle. When we finally reached our destination, cracks opening in the bay west of the island, I set it all up carefully up, using my coat draped over it as a darkroom, only to find the laptop had lost contact with the DinoCam. Suffice it to say I couldn’t stand being coatless and gloveless long enough to get it working. Darn nearly froze trying.

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The other pieces of equipment which require the laptop are the meteorological and ozone sondes we fly on the kites and balloons. The ozone sonde talks to the met sonde, the met sonde has a transmitter, and at the ground we have a receiver which we hook up to the laptop via a USB port (via a serial to USB converter). After a few weeks of reinforcing the met sondes’ battery leads (they kept snapping at -30C), reinforcing the temperature probe (very delicate), and finally stabilizing the power to the sonde by wiring up two 9V batteries instead of just one….I have decided that an evil spirit inhabits the laptop. We start the computer and the sonde software, power up the sonde, establish a connection, and send the whole thing skyward… and 99% of the time, somewhere in the first 100 meters, it just stops working. Sometimes if we start to bring the kite back down, data suddenly starts coming in again. (We’ve tried improving the antenna or documenting a cutoff distance to no avail.) Sometimes the sonde sends a few bad data points, or skips a few, and then rights itself. Sometimes, by restarting the laptop, we are miraculously able to re-establish a connection to the still-transmitting sonde. And sometimes no amount of cursing, praying and general hair pulling will make it work.  Today was one of those days. A fine clear day, strong winds from the South, kite flying well, up went the sonde, we started to receive data, … then, nothing. We brought it down, and it worked again. We sent it up, and it stopped. We repeated this routine. We restarted all components, together and individually. We tried a different antenna. We tried using the entire truck as an antenna. You name it, we’ve tried it!!!

I am beginning to think it is the USB port on the laptop. We will next try using Helen’s quite a bit older pool computer for these tasks. I’ve been compiling a list of “Lessons Learned” from this campaign, and #1 is …

NEVER, EVER, COMPROMISE ON THE COMPUTER!

I sat outside last night and watched the Northern Lights dance across the sky. It began with a glowing arc, then gauze curtains falling … the drama begins. Then bold strokes of color marched across the sky, starting slowly like a processions of souls walking through a distant mist, then picking up speed like green sand being spilled poured from a scoop. They formed everchanging swoops, swirls, and sheets of color. It was quite magical, even for someone as pragmatic as I. It made me think of ghosts, or spirits.

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I’m not alone in my frustration, of course, we all have a mix of old and new apparatus, equipment we know well, and that which falls outside of our existing area of expertise … and some parts which just seem plagued by mysterious failures. The Power God  has been the nemesis of most of our colleagues. The University of York bought a brand new generator for this campaign, and shipped it all the way here by sea last summer. Its an enormous thing, bigger than my Nissan, and very impressive. Yet the folks relying on it have had a series of minor and not so minor electrical shortages, outages, and glitches. Then, for the past two days the generator was mysteriously losing oil pressure. Last night, when we went up to the site to do a few things, it stopped entirely. One of my esteemed colleagues tried three times to restart it. On the third try, it blew a piston. Right through the engine casing.

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There was a ghost in that machine. I think it got out!

FTD Frost Flowers

Posted On March 4, 2008

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Saturday morning, before the high winds, I took some photographs of the frost flowers growing on the test pit at the ice camp just off our test site. After the existing ice is removed (twice daily), new ice forms and frost flowers grow on its surface. IF they aren’t destroyed by wind or blowing snow, I photograph them and take samples.

This ‘crop’ was scattered clusters approximately 4-5 inches (10 cm) in diameter- I call them ‘carnations.’ If left undisturbed, they would have eventually completely covered the surface of the test hole. I apologize for the size of these images, if they take too long to load on your system.

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I also took closeups using a microscope camera. Scale to follow.

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Scouting

Posted On March 4, 2008

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Saturday was a balmy -10C and I went up river with the Environment Canada team, to look for river frost flowers. We found only a few, as drifting snow quickly obliterates them, but I took a couple of photos.

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We then went up to the rapids, parked the snowmobiles (the snow was getting deep, and the terrain hilly), and hiked up the portage.

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Absolutely gorgeous country, unspoiled by human contact.

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Sunday, Helen and I went out to the west side of the Bill of Portland Island to collect ice cores there. The jumble ice has blocked passage around the island, so we parked the snowmobile on the east side and hiked over the island, with our heavily loaded rucksacks… tools, safety equipment, ice corer, sample containers, ice saws, satellite phone and GPS, etc. We hiked across the island, clambored across more jumble ice, and reached flat ice where only last week there had been open water. The ice was growing at a rate of about 10 cm (or 4 inches) per day. We collected several cores as well as snow and water samples which Helen will analyze for diatoms.

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The wind came up on our way back from the island, and blowing snow flowed across the ice like sand across a desert. By the time we reached land, our snowmobile tracks from the outward journey had been all but obliterated. By this (Monday) morning, a howling gale had developed, with winds 60 km/hour from the east. This will undoubtedly create open water where we stood just yesterday.

While we went scouting, Anita took advantage of the nice weather on Saturday by playing in the snow.

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A (Brief) History of Flight

Posted On February 28, 2008

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It is 11:00 PM here, and -34C, and I just saw the Northern Lights out at the field site. They were faint, and looked like green gauze curtains gently waving in the night air. Tomorrow’s wind chill is predicted to be -44C and the next three days will be equally frigid. http://www.weatheroffice.gc.ca/city/pages/qc-105_metric_e.html When it is this cold, ice crystals, called diamond dust, form in the clear air. I may drive the snowmobile up to the top of the hill tomorrow night to look for the aurorae. No pictures yet of the northern lights, but here is the moon during the lunar eclipse last week.

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We flew the balloon three days ago and the wind came up during the flight and caused the sondes to swing around wildly. So badly, in fact, that the RS232 connector (aka ‘a sharp thing’) between the met sonde and ozone sonde beat a neat array of cuts and scratches around the balloon’s perimeter equidistant from its connection point. Having done what damage it could, the whole sonde assembly went AWOL and is now somewhere in the sparse forest and deep snowdrifts north of the field site. Because it fell from 377 m (or 1225 feet), we can assume it plunged to the bottom of a drift (or knocked some poor caribou senseless). I went on a sonde-hunt in the woods with the snowmobile and searched the parts I could reach, but without success. No sign of the sondes in the trees, on the exposed rocky hillside, or in the snow I could reach. The drifts amongst the trees are waist deep.

We are now down to one met sonde and one ozone sonde. By the time the balloon limped back to earth, it  was quite floppy from all the helium lost.

Back at the ranch… I spent that evening mending the approximately 40 tears in the balloon with this fabulous mending tape I bought for the purpose. I’m not being sarcastic, this stuff really is amazing, and great for repairing all kinds of nylon things. However, -33C proved too much for it. We returned to the site the next morning with the mended and partially inflated balloon, and the minute we removed it from its large canvas bag, the patches started to fall off! We had brought two older balloons as backup, so we set the new one aside and unfolded one of the old ones. Mistake! Unfolding the plastic at these temperatures caused it to crack. We then had two balloons with great rents. We carefully returned the remaining one to the research center, where we inflated it after it had warmed up.

Today, with temperatures about the same as yesterday, we took the remaining balloon out to the field site and VOILA! it too developed cracks from just being bent when unpacked from the bag. Its previous patches also slipped off. I guess -33C is just too cold to use these balloons.

Thus we have decided to use the kites more. Yesterday we flew stacked kites (more lift with two) from the hill above the research station.

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By the time we got the sondes working, there wasn’t quite enough wind for the stacked kites to lift two sondes, but they at least looked impressive. Our colleagues reported later that they could see them from the river and the field site. Up on the hill we drew a steady stream of what I call ‘lookee seers’ on snowmobiles and in trucks. They would stop, or slow down to look, and then wave and drive off.

Searching

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for the sondes!

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A Day in the Life

Posted On February 24, 2008

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If effort were measured in number of fiascos, we knocked ourselves out the last three days! Apparently, in field work, each mistake that can be made, MUST be made, before success can be achieved.

Thursday was our first day to fly a meteorological sonde here. Hereafter called a ‘met sonde’, it is a black plastic box containing instruments which measure wind speed and direction, temperature, humidity, and pressure, and altitude (calculated from pressure). We’re using large kites and balloons to fly tethered met sondes, which means they are supposed to return safely to earth. The kites are 2 meter wide hexagonal Rokkaku kites, modelled after the historic Japanese fighting kites. We use them because of their stability.
The ‘balloon’ is actually a helikite, a 3 cubic meter balloon with a kite tail for added lift and stability. The balloon is good for low wind, and the kites for stronger winds. We bought a brand new helikite for this field campaign because the ones we had were riddled with tiny holes made by ice. For shipping to the field, the brand new helikite was packed in a box with some of those curly spikes used to tether dogs. One didn’t have its protective end cover attached… I have repaired the balloon.

The met sonde hangs just under the kite or balloon. It has an external 9V battery in a protective box made of blue insulating foam. The foam box is suspended from the sonde box with a short string, so the weight of the battery isn’t born by its leads. The battery is external to the sonde so that it can be changed quickly, without fumbling in the cold with tiny screws. However, at -26C, things are very brittle! The battery leads on both met sondes have broken during flight three times now. This of course causes the sonde to stop collecting and transmitting data! Yesterday at 69 meters, both leads AND the blue foam battery box snapped off the sonde we were using and flew away into the trees. I have now replaced all battery leads with heavier ones and reinforced the wires all the way from the batteries into the sondes. Cross your fingers.

Today I fell out of a tree. Three times. The day started out well. Despite a howling gale, Sarah (UYork) helped me launch a kite carrying our met sonde. The wind was so strong during our first attempt, it bent the vertical strut until the carbon fiber rod shattered. We replaced the strut and relaunched. This time all went well. A strong but steady wind from the west carried the kite up, up, up. The sonde did its job, the receiver and computer gathered data. FINALLY! I thought. Then, at 130 m, a sudden gust of wind caught the kite and slammed it into the ground. Or tried. There were trees in the way. The kite was impaled in the top of a typical 20 foot pine tree. No amount of tugging, poking, or tree shaking would release it. So, up I went. Problem is, plastic and wires aren’t the only things that are brittle at these temperatures! On the first two attempts, the branches broke and I fell out of the tree before I’d gone 10 feet. Helen and Sarah went off in search of a ladder. Undaunted (and impatient) I took my coat off and tried again. This time I made it to the top and perched there shrieking for Helen and Sarah to forget the ladder and come back. While waiting, I examined the kite and found that it had neatly slipped down over the top of the tree. Removing it would mean cutting the kite string or somehow popping it off the top of the tree. So I grabbed the tree near the tip and jumped. It broke about halfway to the ground. I landed in deep snow and lay there laughing while Helen lamented that she hadn’t videotaped the event. Never, ever, a dull moment.

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Having broken what we could of our atmospheric test equipment, we headed out to the ice to collect a core. Helen is hoping to count and study the diatoms in the sea ice, and I am examining the microstructure of the ice and the location of the diatoms. We have a hand corer, which is 1 meter long, but with handle extensions can collect up to 4 meters of core. All went fine and we got 130 cm of good quality core. We knew the ice was about 140 cm (or 1.4 meters) thick, and we hadn’t reached the base of the ice cover. So we went back in for the last piece. After we drilled another 10 cm, water flooded the hole and began to freeze. The corer got stuck. We worked hard to get it out, but it froze fast within minutes. Later, it had to be cut out of the surrounding ice with an enormous ice drill and an axe.

Here is Helen measuring and cutting the core we collected.

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Just so we don’t feel bad, though, other groups have been breaking things as well. I think I mentioned the (one and only) sledge hammer dropped to the bottom of the bay. Most recently, the circuit breaker housing melted in one of the field labs (containers). Kuujjuarapik-Whapmagoostui doesn’t have a resident electrician, and the electrical supplies at the Inuit store are limited to jumper cables (!), so Helen (an electrician in a former life) was to the rescue! Working at -20 to -30 C at a remote site with limited resources is all part of the fun of field work!

Think I’ll go rest up for tomorrow, all this fun is tiring!

PS We found Gilbert Bear, the puppy, a good home here in Kuujjuarapik-Whapmagoostui. Here he is, before he left, peeking over Stoyka’s chair.

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Doggone It

Posted On February 20, 2008

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Hooray! Today SOME of our equipment arrived! The good news is that it included my warmer clothes. The bad news is that it included only four of our sixteen boxes. Thus we are missing some critical bits of every experimental setup. We did, however, get everything necessary to set up our helikite, a balloon-kite hybrid that will carry our meteorological and ozone measurement sondes aloft.

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Yesterday, Helen and I walked to the far end of town to scan the Bay for open water and look at the inuksuk. Inuksuk is a general word for a stone landmark used as a directional marker. In the Arctic, a place of permafrost and snow and few natural landmarks, inuksuk were used for navigation across the tundra. I picked up a children’s book in the store several days ago that told the store of a small girl who, with her friends, built inuksuik to guide her father and brothers home from the hunt.

Although inuksuk means “that which acts in the place of a person”, traditional Inuksuk aren’t necessarily built to resemble people. Inuksuk are generally carefully stacked piles of stones. The human-like stone figures commonly associated with the Inuit are actually innunguat, although the one on the point in Kuujjuarapik is referred to here as the inuksuk.

Can you find Anita?

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Here I am! Here I am!

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On the way back we found a puppy in the middle of the road outside the research station. He was shivering and whimpering and quite a distance from any occupied houses, so we took him in. We have temporarily named him Bear or Gilbert – there are two schools of thought on that – and are looking for his owners.

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Well, that creature certainly has the right outfit for this weather!!!! I am having to forsake fashion for warmth! Goodbye Manolo Blanhnik!!!! >

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The Avocado Has Landed

Posted On February 18, 2008

Filed under Uncategorized

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Saturday morning I went to the Inuit grocery store and asked the lady stocking the produce section if they had any avocados… Lo and behold, some had just come in! She went back to the storeroom and brought some out to put in the case. The tropical and subtropical fruit is so dear here, they wrap the pieces individually. Right between the pineapple ($2.99 for two slices) and the blueberries ($5.49 for 100 grams, or about a cup) were the avocados ($1.85 each). Lovely, I bought one.

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On a more serious note, last night I went out to the mouth of the river with Alan, Stoyka, and Andrew of Environment Canada to help them set up their OOTI sled. OOTI is a self contained instrument package mounted on a 9 foot sled and parked Out On The Ice, to monitor chemical exchanges at the sea-ice-air interface. This campaign is part of OASIS, an international multi-disciplinary effort to study Ocean-Atmosphere-Sea Ice-Snowpack Interactions in the Arctic. The location chosen was about 2 km off shore and about 2 km from open water, on day-old sea ice. The ice was black, not white like the ice that has been growing for several months, and it felt spooky to be out on it on heavily laden snowmobiles. They asked me to take photographs of their location, which was midway between the point on the far side of the river, and the beacon on the highest point a few miles inland. From there, we could see the lights of the town twinkling in the distance.

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Today the COBRA team cut the second of four 1m square holes in the ice just off the field site. They cut through 1 meter of ice with an auger and a handsaw. These windows into the world beneath the ice will be used to grow a “crop” of frost flowers twice daily, by breaking open the ice at 9:00 AM and 5:00 PM and allowing new ice to form in between. Each time, the 2-4 inches of new ice that has formed must be broken out with a sledgehammer or axe. The sledgehammer was dropped down the hole into the bay several days ago, so now they are using an axe.

Buenos dias! My name is Anita Avocado and I have just arrived from Mexico. Brrr, it is cold here!

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Here I am at the Centre dètudes Nordiques of the Universite Laval, where they told me I could be a university student, or even an honorary post-doc! I will try to learn French!

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