Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Sunday, June 28, 2009
Some of us successfully got pictures of the beluga whales. I'll be borrowing those pictures in the future.
The other Zodiac boat avoiding a glacier bit.
Earthwatchers on floating ice! We are all wearing about eight layers of clothes here as the wind was below freezing here. We went all the way up to Nunavut, the uppermost Arctic Canada province or territory during our outing. It is occupied by mostly native Inuits.
Captain Cam explains the various formations on the large piece of floating ice that we are miraculously standing on and not falling through.
While we were on the ice floe, Laura and Will decide to drink out of the melted part of the floating ice. Apparently, it's the best tasting water ever...so fresh and so clean!
Our new Belgian friends on the boat with us.
Dr. Kershaw gives a thirty minute lecture on permafrost to our unwitting Captain Cam on the Zodiac beluga whale watching boat.
The "Miss Piggy" plane crash. The logo is an upside down question mark. Not the most safety ensuring logo that I can think of.
Today was a monumental day for us. We got to go beluga whale watching on an awesome Zodiac boat and we saw Merry Bay and finished our last GPR site in the Arctic ever! We finished a 75 meter transect in a record 30 minutes. Our first one took us about an hour and a half, so we have really improved over the past week. We also got to see a really strange cargo plane that had crashed thirty years ago and had bullet holes in it. Both pilots survived unscathed.
Saturday, June 27, 2009
Using a mallet to get the probes in.
Heidi finds the spruce needle bag with excitement aver much digging in icy terrain.
Jen and Jess picked up what they thought was a raptor pellet but really turned out to be wolf scat -- which is toxic to the kidneys. They promptly dropped it after Pete warned them of the potential renal failure.
Steve models how to properly insert the probes so that they can measure the nutrient absorption for the next eight months.
Maya hammers the probes into the icy icy ground.
Handstands in the Arctic.
Laura puts her hands up like caribou antlers to beckon them over.
We finally got to see some caribou. When they approached us without any suspicion, Carley said, "This is why they are food." Cute animals, but not the brightest. All you have to do is put your hands up like antlers to get them to come over.
The Cornell cinematographers film Pete talking about how climate change affects the ecosystems up North. Then they filmed us inserting PRS probes.
We finally got to see the rocket parts from the Rocket (ROK) site!
Today we got to go do Plant Root Simulator deployment at three different sites. A Plant Root Simulator (PRS) is a small plastic device that acts like a root and traps nutrients and other factors in the soil. Steve had us put 16 sets of two PRS devices into the soil for each of the 3 transects at each site. The probes measure cations and anions. So we did 16 X 3 X 3 probes today!
After dinner, we got to hear part 2 of Pete's landforms lecture. Riveting doesn't begin to describe it.
Friday, June 26, 2009
Steve helps all the women across the water. We all got booters on the way back, but let's face it, we all liked it.
A view of the Rocket site with the tundra bordering the newly melted ice feature.
Everyone tries to help Jen out of the snow as she sinks, and by "help," we mean, take pictures.
This morning started off with the group dividing into two crews. The first went to the burnt spruce forest site (the white spruce, not the black) with Dr. Pete while the rest of us stayed back with Steve to finish entering spruce needle length data into computers. After a few hours of "5.5, 8, 8, 8, 8.5, 9, 5, 6.5, 6.5 cm, etc." our eyes glazed over but we were done! "I Went to the Arctic and all I got was this Carpel Tunnel" was an idea for a T-shirt idea I had, but as Steve says it's "Science!" and we would do anything for science. (As he exclaims, "Science," you can see his finger point to the sky and his invisible light bulb flicker in his brain). Thus, "Data" is now our middle name.
For lunch, Rob served chicken fingers and Will paced himself. Then we split up into two groups again. The Pete group went and did some more GPR (ground-penetrating radar) readings at the Tree Island site. There, they battled the snowy terrain for domination. The Earthwatchers won. No GPR goes undone with this gang.
The group with Steve got to collect more needle bags from the Rocket site (abbreviated to "ROK", because either Canadians or scientists can't spell). It's called the Rocket site because there's rocket remains there from the Cold War. We didn't get to see any rockets, but we did get to see a ring of spruce trees shaped like a menorah! That was our treat from Steve for finishing the site and he described the candelabra shaped-tree with glee. We decided that Steve should get married there and that he can lift the mosquito net off his wife's face like a veil after the I Dos. What a special day that would be.
On the way there, we got to have a nice leisurely walk from the Center, crossed a snow drift and stream (or a water runoff from the melting or what not) and walked across some of the prettiest and surreal looking lichen I've ever seen. The colors are really blossoming these days. The bags, although pretty muddy, came out without too much trouble and we gave ourselves some mental pats on our backs for being awesome science assistants.
It started to rain on our way back, but we were troopers and forged ahead. We crossed the water again, and most of us got booters (water in the top of our boots) for the first or second time that day. As Laura put it, most of us like feeling like kids jumping into puddles again...and, why not? It's the Arctic! (This is our excuse for any out of the ordinary behavior while up here...)
Both groups got back from the sites with plenty of time to spare until dinner, so Steve got everyone right to work while he "delegated" and then escaped to his office to "work." Everyone paired off to clean off the needle bags and sort them for dessication, so that Steve could record the process moisture loss and decomposition from nutrient loss over the year for his project...or at least that sounds about right. (Pretend that "process" and "project" is said in a Canadian accent and then it sounds pretty legit).
We finished our lab work just in time for dinner and Rob made pasta, a group favorite. We ate and then played a card game that Leanne and Ben taught us, "Crazy 8 Countown," and it was like the game that never ends. Luckily, Krista Hanis was giving a talk at 7:30, so we went to the packed classroom to engage in some learning...Holler Scholar! After all of the various lectures, field and lab work, we are finally starting to get some of the nitty gritty of the arctic science here. I may even be able to explain methane ebullience in the wetlands to someone with some degree of confidence. The wetlands, or the Fen, here is the 3rd largest wetland in the world, and we were lucky enough to get to GPR in it...or even fall in it. Whatever... It's the Arctic!
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Today was our free morning, which meant that we got to go into town and explore. First we were dropped off at the Eskimo Museum, which houses the most Inuit artifacts in the North. I may have made that up, but it sounds right. After learning a lot about Inuit culture and their soapstone carvings (one carver used his teeth to make all of his miniature statues!) and buying some souvenirs, we ventured out on our own to the beach behind the Town Centre. Along the Hudson Bay, we could see rocks spilling out towards sand and then to water that had melted from the cracking ice ahead. You can still see just miles and miles of ice.
We had lunch at the famous Gypsy's in town with Pete and Steve and the group of middle school students that stole our Beluga Whale watching tour time slot that was supposed to have been today as well. Boo!
Afterward, we split up into two teams. One did GPR action (Ground-penetrating radar) with Pete while the other collected spruce needle bags from under frozen ground in the Forest Tundra area for Steve, so that he could desiccate them and then weigh them to observe changes in nutrient loss in times of climate change. At the site, we saw an exploded rocket (seen above) that had been launched and tested by the military during the Cold War. It had sufficiently exploded, as they had expected. We had to use our boot to dig up the bags at times since the ground was that frozen, much to Steve's chagrin. After wards, we tried various arctic tundra berries that were in the ground...really tart and tasty!
After dinner, we went back to the Black Spruce Forest site to excavate some more spruce needles from under ground and then took a leisurely ecology field lesson tour with Steve on our way to meet the other GPR team at their site. We now know how to distinguish between white and black spruce trees! On our way back to the center, Pete took us to Twin Lakes, and Will tried to walk across the ice and had a major booter, that's what Canadians call getting water fully into your boots. You can see him trying to prevent this accident in the photo above...FAIL!
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Today was a cold, rainy, and windy day in Churchill. I went with the morning group to a bun site, where the earth was scorched twice since 1987 (once naturally and once from foul play, supposedly). I got to be the brain the first time around and fiber optic chord manager the second transect. It sounds fancy, but it basically means making sure the fiber optics don't snag on shrubs and trees, thus breaking the expensive equipment. We had some technical difficulties that kept us from starting on time. The palm kept showing the wrong step options and the data was all scrunched up on the palm monitor. As you can see with the high-tech use of a rubber band attachment, that these mini-computers from 2000 are quite finicky.
The terrain was pretty awesome looking -- almost like the edge of the earth in an apocalyptic way. Denise created a fool proof method for cutting 20 minutes off our second 75 meter transect commute by only reading the decimals at the end of each step--genius! This streamlining of activity helped because most of us had freezing extremities, mostly fingers and toes. Who knew that rubber boots provide very little heat circulation? Lesson learned!
We got back into the van eagerly wanting to defrost our toes and got a mini tour from Carley about the landscape and wildlife of the area along the road. We saw one of the sea ducks that Matthew Perry (not the actor) follows from the Chesapeake Bay to the Hudson Bay here. He surgically inserts satellite antennae into the behinds of the ducks so that you can see them sticking out. Then, he follows their migration and captures more of them to study their migratory and mating patterns. The climate change in the subarctic has drastically altered some of the previous mating and nesting ecosystems, and Dr. Perry is studying to see how the sea ducks will adapt.
After lunch, we continued to measure various spruce needles for Steve's treeline study and also helped him "desiccate" the needles to be weighed later in order to show how moisture loss effects the standardized trees. Desiccation basically involves putting the needles into an oven for 3 days after sorting out the packets.
Following dinner, we had a lecture on landforms from the great Dr. Peter Kershaw, our PI, and it was both fascinating and hilarious. Will laughed so hard at one point that he had to take pace around the room to calm himself down...oh, Pete! How he makes Polygonal Peat Plateaus and Palsas the height of comedy. My hat goes off to him.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
On Day 3 we got to go into the wetlands (the "Fen" site) to do GPR transmissions again. The wetlands are particularly vulnerable to climate change. Above you can see the wetlands and the hip rubber boots that I had to wear to do research out there. We had to hold the radar unit above the water to get a good reading while still making sure that the unit didn't get wet, since it would fry the electrical parts.
On Day 4, it rained and we were unable to go outside because of the sensitive equipment. Instead, we helped Steve complete his doctoral dissertation by measuring spruce needles from various sites and angles to determine their surface area...loads of fun from 8am to 6pm. We did get to go into town for a bit and saw a polar bear prison holding for polar bears that try to make lunches out of humans.