After the wind-down of the field season and the students' presentations of their science talks in Longyearbyen, this phase of our REU has ended. So we felt it appropriate to let everyone who has been following the "Fellowship of the Fjord" (as the students ended-up calling us) know just how pleased and excited we are about the expedition as a whole, and especially the outcomes we see reflected in the experiences and science results the student's have shown so far.
This group has worked as a team, having fun with each other, enjoying the hands-on learning process, wallowing in the experiences of arctic environments, and enjoying the international flavor of the research station that is Ny Ålesund. We have certainly met our goals so far!
And there is still more to come as the...
Snow in August
We arrived in Longyearbyen on Thursday afternoon after a bit of touch-and-go over whether we'd actually get out of Ny Ålesund. After 4 weeks of almost nonstop nice weather, we awoke Thursday morning to a snowstorm! It was actually pretty cool to see the area being blanketed with a thin layer of snow. But along with the snow came clouds and fog. And the little airport up there doesn't support an instrument-only takeoff or landing, so if the visibility is bad the plan can't land or takeoff. Luckily the visibility improved enough, so we said our good-byes to Ny Ålesund and here we are!
Standing in front of the Amundsen statue in Ny Ålesund on our last morning, when we awoke to a snowstorm!
It's funny to think that we were excited to see snow up here in the Arctic; but it's...
Closing up Shop
We've just packed up all the science equipment and are heading off to Longyearbyen where we'll spend our last two days before coming back to the U.S.
Moving the boxes to the dock where they can be shipped home
I want to take the opportunity to close out my time in Ny Ålesund by writing a bit about this remarkable community. We all shout out a huge "THANKS!" to our hosts here from Kings Bay and the Norwegian Polar Institute who have helped make this a wonderful month! Given how comfortable this little town is, it's not that hard to forget that you're in the Arctic. (That is, until you realize the sun isn't setting and you see glaciers everywhere...)
Ny Ålesund on a sunny day. The Blue House is the German Station.
Recently I was invited to spend some time...
Yesterday we did our last bit of science – we picked up the HOBO to finally bring it back to the lab. Rebecca, Liz, Daksha and I said goodbye to the glacier for the last time! It was fitting that the waves and wind were pretty strong on the way back, so we had a bumpy wet ride for our last ride out there.
Last night we held one final webinar for PolarTREC. I continue to be impressed by how clearly the REU students are able to communicate about their research. While I have learned so much from Ross and Julie, I have also learned a great deal from the students.
Daksha talking during last night's webinar
Then today was packing day. We have to ship just about everything back to the States. So we all pitched and spent the day loading up boxes, taping them up and listing what's in each box...
Today's journal is written by REU student George Roth, who is a student at the University of Washington in Seattle, where he is majoring in oceanography
George on a hike just outside of Ny Ålesund looking out over the fjord.
I’ve often been asked why a kid who grew up on a potato farm in Idaho became interested in the Arctic. During the summer after my freshman year, I went on a month-long University of Washington course/experience where we traveled along the west coast of Greenland with two geology teachers learning about climate change, glaciers, and the Greenland Ice Sheet. I loved the experience, and it certainly helped give me a career direction. Since then, I’ve been studying oceanography and geology at UW. My goal is to try to get up to the Arctic as much as possible, and thanks...
A Warming Climate Motivates the Research
I've really had a great adventure in Svalbard, and learned quite a bit about glaciers and glacier sediment. But it's time to pull it all together and ask the question – so what? Why is this research important?
It boils down to climate. Our climate is warming, and the more we learn about what is happening, the more we can accurately predict and plan for the future. Studying glaciers and their sediments is one piece of the climate picture.
Melting icebergs in Kongsfjorden. We have seen a lot of iceberg calving activity this summer. One of the things we are investigating is whether the rate of iceberg calving is changing as a result of global warming.
What is happening to our climate?
I won't spend too much time on the science of climate change...
Thwarted by Mother Nature and Modern Technology
We had a slow start to today, and went out after lunch to try to finish up Daksha's CTD data. Unfortunately we were thwarted by really heavy ice conditions – there must have been an enormous amount of iceberg calving in the less than 24 hours since we were last at the ice front. Yesterday was almost ice free, and today was just choked up with icebergs. Some of them were the largest I've seen yet – probably at least 50-75 feet wide and 30-40 feet high. So we aborted the CTD's and just went to upload HOBO data. What a difference a day makes at the ice front – yesterday overcast and ice-free; today sunny and choked with ice!
In front of Kronebreeen glacier, yesterday afternoon. Note how completely ice free it was
In front of Kronebreeen...
## What can studying the mud tell us about climate change and the behavior of the glaciers?
It's time to step back a little and go a little deeper into the science of sedimentology (mud science).
George, Daren and Rachel after just pulling in a gravity core sample
The team has been sampling the sediments in three ways – sampling water, sampling the surface mud (through box cores) and sampling the deeper layers (through gravity cores). Collecting these samples is a physically demanding and time-consuming process. So why go through all this effort?
For an overview of how the water sampling process works, you can read my previous journal entry here: http://www.polartrec.com/expeditions/high-arctic-change-2011/journals/20...
For an overview of how the box coring process works, you can...
I'll start with a great hike that I took last night with Rebecca and Liz up to "Zeppelin Mountain" behind Ny Ålesund. It is named after a famous zeppelin (airship or blimp) ride by the Polar explorer Roald Amundsen. He made the first aerial ride across the North Pole in a zeppelin from Ny Ålesund to Nome, Alaska. There are a few things named after this famous zeppelin ride here in Ny Ålesund, including the beautiful mountain just behind it.
It was a beautiful "evening" after dinner with lots of sun, so Liz and Rebecca and I decided to tackle this mountain. There isn't exactly a trail to the top, but we were told the best way to go, which was essentially straight up along a gully and snow field. There's a station at the top with atmospheric monitoring equipment, and...
Today we stuck around Ny Ålesund instead of going out in the field. We had a long group meeting to determine where everyone was with their data collection. We're going to be wrapping things up before too long! By the time we were going to go out on the fjord, we realized that the fog was quite thick so we decided to stay close to home. I take this opportunity to write more about the basic science behind what we're doing here.
What does oceanographic data tell us about how glaciers are behaving?
At the front of the Kronebreen and Kongsbreen glaciers water is pouring into the fjord. The glaciers also dump water from two places – an upwelling plume (a place where water comes out from under the glacier and then pours up along the face of the glacier and into the fjord) and a stream that...
Today's journal is written by Rebecca Siegel, an REU student from Hampshire College.
Hi. My name is Rebecca, I’m from Massachusetts, and my project is about iceberg calving. I’m going to explain my project, and then I’m going to tell you what a day in Svalbard is like.
Rebecca driving the boat
I’m looking at how factors such as tides, weather, water salinity and water temperature influence iceberg calving off the glaciers. When icebergs break off from the glacier, they either fall in from above or pop up from below. Either way, they generate a little tsunami wave. We have these little sensors called Hobos that can be anchored in the water near shore. They record pressure differences over time, so we can use them to note tides and when icebergs break off. I check my hobo...
Ny Ålesund, an International Research Community
The community of Ny Ålesund is truly international, with research groups from several different countries. I've been quite busy, and focused on my role in assisting the REU group with their research, which has meant that I haven't been too good about snooping out what others are doing. So recently I've tried to take the opportunity to get to see what others are doing.
Several countries have their own "stations" here – laboratory and living space. These countries include France, Germany, China, Italy, to name a few. And Norway, of course! The United States doesn't have it's own station here – partly that's because we have such good access to the Arctic in Alaska. (We rent space from the Norwegians, which is, as you might imagine, a lot...
Today's journal was written by one of the REU students, Daren McGregor. Daren is entering his senior year at Colby College in Maine, where he is majoring in geology.
Daren, outside Ny Ålesund before our hike to a nearby glacier.
Fire and Ice
Some say the world will end in fire;
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice
-Robert Frost, 1920
Three weeks into what has been an exciting summer research program, I can safely condense the nature of our work into two opposites: fire and ice.
Ice comes with the territory when you are deep within the Arctic Circle. Even though the current season is summer. In Ny-Alesund, I am...
Yesterday we had a number of setbacks (again!). We started out ready to take lots of data, and soon after we began doing CTD casts in earnest, we discovered that our infamous winch mechanism was at it again! This time the wheel over which the cable runs had become completely worn through by the friction of the cable. So that pretty much ended it for doing CTD's.
So then it was on to uploading HOBO data... until we discovered that, once again, a HOBO device had been ripped off its tie-off spot. There wasn't much we could do after that, except head home and put our heads together about how to solve these problems.
Hunting For HOBOs
As for the lost HOBOs, well, we figured it was worth it to go fishing today for the equipment... we knew that it was possible that both...
Today's journal is written by one of the REU students, Rachel Valletta. Rachel is going into her senior year at Syracuse University, where she is majoring in geology and geography.
Sediment coring & my project
Today is only our fourth day of work, but already Daren and I have finished collecting 28 different cores! (See yesterday's journal for a detailed discussion and photos describing the sediment coring process.)
Pulling in the core barrel...
While sediment cores vary in length, nearly a dozen or so are over 40 cm in length. That might be long enough to find something called a Cesium (Cs) spike. The Cesium spike is a place in sediment cores that has a very high concentration of Cesium and marks 1963 exactly (the height of nuclear weapons testing). This can help us date the age...
Another Sunny Svalbard Day
View from my building this morning - I knew it was going to be another glorious day!
The weather was glorious all day - sunny and mild with a light breeze. An absolutely perfect day to be out on the fjord.
A wonderful day on the fjord for the birds!
View across the fjord on our way to the glacier.
Bringing Up the Mud
Today I had a chance to observe the "gravity core" team in action. Daren, Rachel and George have really perfected their method for getting core samples of the bottom sediment, so Julie and I swapped boats so I could take some photos of their work.
Our team has been using two different methods to sample the mud on the bottom of the fjord. One, which you may have read about in Liz's journal yesterday, is the "box corer". The box corer takes a...
Today's blog post is written by one of the REU students, Liz Ceperley. Liz is going into her senior year at Beloit College, where she is majoring in geology.
Another Day at the Office
A picture I took of the view on our way to 'the office' today.
Today was the fourth day that Mark, Daksha, Rebecca and I worked together in our little Polarcirkel boat. Initially I had assumed we would mix up the personnel on the boats everyday, but now I see some advantages of keeping the team members the same. Pulling up the box core (a big metal box that scoops mud off the bottom on the fjord) and the CTD out of the water on the winch can get heavy, and often takes two of us. Simultaneously Mark (our chauffeur extraordinaire) needs keep constant sight of the cable into the water, and someone has to...
Today's blog post is written by one of the REU students, Daksha Rajagopalan. Daksha is going into her senior year at Yale University, where she is majoring in physics. Daksha reflects on the beauty of this place and why she is so excited about learning geology.
Daksha Rajagopalan with the CTD device (photo from Rebecca Siegel)
Today, as I held the boat on shore (so it wouldn't drift away with Mark) while Rebecca uploaded the data from the HOBO (and Liz stood guard for polar bears), my eyes soaked in the beauty of this place.
I'm holding on to the rock to keep the boat in place while Rebecca retrieves the HOBO device.
The sharply cut, barren mountains. Streaks of white ice running down their sides. Rock faces and grey lines cutting across these mountains. I imagined the polar bears and...
A Terrible Tragedy in Norway
So as I'm sure you've all heard by now, yesterday was a nightmare for the peaceful country of Norway. As of today, the events are still fuzzy, but it looks as though a crazy right-wing extremist planted a bomb in one of the main government buildings in Oslo, and then went on a shooting rampage at a summer camp. Such an event would be terrifying and tragic anywhere, but it seems particularly difficult to comprehend in a country as peaceful and open as Norway.
Here in Ny Ålesund, we are very far from the events of yesterday – we're over 1,000 miles from Oslo – we're closer to the North Pole than we are to Oslo. But we're still in Norway, and as such the tragedy is touches us a bit closer than it might at home.
The Norwegian flag is at half-mast behind a...
Today we got out to begin collecting data. After breakfast we had a meeting of the research team to strategize how to do data collection today. Julie stayed back to do work on her computer, and Ross and I drove two boats. Ross' boat spent the day trying to take sediment cores using the gravity corer while the boat I drove spent the day doing three different measurements. Before we started, Rebecca and Daksha had to do some work calibrating the winch cable as the length counter is broken.
Rebecca and Daksha work on calibrating the winch cable. Unfortunately the length counter is broken, so it had to be calibrated by turns.
Downloading water level data from the HOBOs
We started our time at the glacier having Rebecca retrieve two HOBO water level probes she had deployed into the fjord...
I'm pretty beat after a very long afternoon out on the fjord, so I'm going to keep the entry brief and make it up by sharing some of the videos I've been taking over the past week here in Ny Ålesund.
Struggling into the survival suits
The morning started out slow as we waited for Ross to get the wheels on the winch mechanisms repaired. After lunch we suited up and headed out into the fjord to get the HOBO water level sensors deployed.
Ross and Rebecca set up the HOBO water level sensor
Then we anchored the boats so we could hike up on the Kongsbreen glacier to see the North Pole! No, just kidding - we went to observe a monitoring site set up to see how much the glacier has been melting – called an ablation stake. It was pretty shocking to see how much the height of the glacier has...
Murphy's Law is a saying that says "What can go wrong, will go wrong." That was probably the theme for today. Today's plan was to test out all the equipment on the water, to give us all practice using the equipment and learning how to collect the data we will need to gather over the next few weeks.
We began the day getting the equipment moved down from our lab space to the dock where the boats are tied up. This was pretty amusing, as we have some really heavy equipment and we decided to get it down the ¼ mile or so by bicycle.
Rebecca rides down to the dock with the two gravity coring devices.
George rides down to the dock with the CTD's and other equipment.
We loaded it all up onto the boats, and right away things started to go wrong. Ross and George were working on...
Close to Home Today
Today we stayed in town all day as we were setting up equipment to begin data collection in earnest tomorrow or Thursday. We went in to breakfast to find a note that there had been polar bear snooping around town at around 4 am. At dinner someone from the Chinese team had posted several pictures. I'll try to get some copies to post here.
For most of the morning we were greeted by hordes of tourists who had come off the latest cruise ship to dock here. It's funny to be in this incredibly remote place and see the influx of tourists. They kind of look at those of us working here as some sort of curiosity – I've even seen a few of them taking my picture. I guess I'm one of the locals now...
Tourists coming into Ny Ålesund off a cruise ship.
Setting up the Equipment...
## Doing the "Recon"
Another Geology Puzzle at the end of this journal!
Today was our third day of "Reconnaissance," or getting a sense of what is out there so we can begin doing the research with some purpose. We went back out on the boats, but this time we parked the boats at two different locations where we could see glacial features very close to the tidewater glaciers. You may remember from yesterday's post that glaciers that end in the ocean are called tidewater glaciers.
My first taste of glacier ice. I wonder how old this ice is? Hundreds of years? Thousands?
It was good practice to get ourselves in the boats with all our gear and to practice landing and securing the boats at a site where we want to get off. Getting ourselves in and out of the boats at a beach is no problem,...
Hey kids! Geology Puzzles at the end of this journal!
Glacier Reconnaissance, Day 2
Today Ross and Julie took us out to do more of what they call what they call "reconnaissance". By this they mean looking over the landscape to see what's out there, how things have changed since they were here last, and getting the students to think about the big questions (and little questions too, I suppose!) that would lead to an interesting research project.
Yesterday's reconnaissance was out on the fjord, but today's was on land. We hiked up next to and onto the Austre Brøggerbreen glacier. It was an incredible feeling to walk up onto a glacier and see and touch the various features that I've heard about and only seen in books and videos.
The hike was very pleasant – the weather was cooler today...
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