Friday, August 6, 2010

Trying to fill you in on our adventures of the last week!

Here is the post I had from last Sunday (I can't believe how much time has passed)...

After a nice days reprieve in Anchorage, we were off to Valdez via Glennallen. The road from Glennallen south to Valdez follows the Alaska pipeline which brings all of the oil extracted from the north slopes of Alaska (the ANWR region) down to the port of Valdez where the infamous Exxon oil spill in ’89 occurred. Of course that is now dwarfed by the recent gulf spill but anyways…

It started off rainy and just down right miserable. We were upset that we probably wouldn’t see anything, but about an hour into the drive, the clouds lifted just enough that we could see many of the mountain peaks and distant glaciers. We stopped for some photos of the Matanuska Glacier, which is a rare valley glacier just kind of hanging out in southern Alaska not really doing much. It is kind of disconnected from the climate changes that are causing most of the other Alaska glaciers to retreat at an alarming rate due to global warming. This one hasn’t moved much over the last 1,000 or 2 years.

Reaching Glennallen before lunch, you come to a T intersection. The road sign there gives you options to go left or right and points out the 3 main points of interest (aka the next closest location of civilization). If you go right, you head to Valdez (which we did). Left takes you to Fairbanks (which we took on my first visit to Alaska back in March), as well as Canada! (see the picture). Despite being at least 500 miles away, there isn’t much between Glennallen and Canada in the way of civilization!

The drive south on the Richardson Highway to Valdez was quite scenic (minus the Thompson Pass which had visibility around maybe 100 ft). There were copious amounts of waterfalls down the steep rock faces, and several glaciers including the two tongued Worthington glacier (photo). We found out fairly early in the day that the weather was also crummy in the Valdez area, so our flight up to the lake was not going to happen. This meant we needed a place to stay, which we found just outside of the town of Valdez. Before arriving, we passed a group of cars parked on the side of the road with a ton of people out with their cameras. There was a black bear in the creek! The salmon were spawning, and dying (pink salmon go back to the river to spawn, and die within a day or two of it, so the creek gets pretty well filled with dying and dead fish). The birds have a field day, and apparently the bears do too. Better they eat the fish than me! Anyways, we got several shots and videos of the bear splashing into the water, grabbing a flopping salmon, then scurrying back into the woods to eat his catch. He did this several times, and at one point was within 30 feet of me! He actually gave some of the closer photographers a dirty look at one point causing them to back off.

With our extra time we checked out a hydroelectric plant that dammed the sister lake to the one we were interested in. This one is accessible via a gated road which the nice person manning the plant was happy to lend us. The road was quite steep, it reminded me of climbing the Superman roller coaster at Six Flags New England and then going down that first steep drop, except we used our brakes. (I’m not even exaggerating, I’ll hopefully get a photo or video up of it).

After a night of camping, we woke Sunday morning to more rain, which meant no flight out. We went back and checked out the lake, put the boat in, and took some cores. They looked to be pretty much worthless to us, the dam really messed up the sediment we were interested in so we called it quits. The forecast sounds for better weather tomorrow, so we are praying for an early flight up to Allison Lake.

I'll try to add some pictures tonight before my flight back to Flagstaff.. as well as lots of other notes on our adventure (getting stuck at the lake for 2 days in the rain etc)

Friday, July 30, 2010

Back to civilization (aka Anchorage) and the rest of the photos from Adak

First picture: recognize the roof? That's an old McDonalds! Second picture... I think used to be someones residence... note the bunk beds still semi in tact. Third picture... One of many bald eagles we saw on the island. Apparently they are quite the nuisance, and the head biologist on Adak is constantly getting calls of having to get them out of the dumpsters. It kind of gives you a different perspective on the famous american icon. Finally... A typical workday... there is lots of weight on the bottom of those ropes!

Well I have safely made it back to Anchorage. Our last day was a 12 hr workday, kind of unexpectedly. The weather being so cooperative allowed us to scout out other lakes that may have a good record. Before we knew it, we were on the middle of a lake, working hard, and it was 6 pm. That would have been fine, except we had to fly out the next day, and in order to fly out, the boat and raft had to be disassembled, deflated etc, and all cores and everything else had to be packaged up for shipping. In total, we shipped 1,100 lbs of stuff back to Anchorage. A few hundred pounds of that is in the form of mud in tubes which we will FedEx back to Flagstaff to hopefully become my Master's Thesis!

After a week of lifting 1,000 lbs in and out of a truck on a regular basis I can say that lifting my 30 lb bag of luggage through the airport is nothing! Our adventures got quite comical as the last couple of days the mornings were rainy and the truck bed was extra full so we were squeezing the 4 of us in the front seat of a regular cab (meant for 3, and with a shifter in the middle, made for even more of an adventure). Add that to the tape deck with a selection of 2 pre-made 'mix' tapes that came with the truck (there are no radio stations on Adak) and we were really cruising in style. The person clearly went through some mood swings while making his/her mix, as there were 6 Bob Dylan songs in a row, 5 love songs, followed by increasingly bitter songs. I'm not sure we made it much past the bitter songs, but we concluded that he was on the island by himself missing a girl back on the mainland, who over time refused to come out and finally broke up with him (the break up songs were next on the mix we just never made it that far).

We now get to unload and reload for our next adventure. I will post again tomorrow night, but after that we will be camping near Valdez.

And one last good story before I forget... So Alaska is full of bears, I'm sure you don't need me to tell you that. Typically, they roam around the vast forests that exist in Alaska, so it isn't so often you see a bear roaming around Anchorage. Well when we arrived to the Univ of Anchorage dorms tonight, there was a sign warning of a black bear sighting. Apparently, they have been spotted all over town, which is unheard of. One was even walking down the path between our dorm and the next one just two nights ago!

Here are some Anchorage bear news stories to keep you entertained ...

Also... it is finally getting dark in Anchorage at night. When we were here just a week ago, the sun would set around 10:30 and rise around 3, with it being dusk for the 4 1/2 hrs in between. Now it is actually dark out, and we have lost at least an hour of sun.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


In case that first link doesn't work... try this and let me know if you have any issues. Click here!

More Pictures for your entertainment!

Well the sun has finally come up, some coffee and oats (with instant milk... I really miss fresh milk) to get me going. Today we are going to go into the warehouse, and split open our cores to see what our mud looks like!


I tried uploading them but somehow they got stuck somewhere between my computer and this blog, but they are on my picasa account. So if you go here

that is the first picture, then just click right and you will see the others that I have uploaded with captions below them. Enjoy!

An Update in Adak

What a busy few days it has been. There is no cell service, and internet is slow and you have to pay for it. I will post the notes I have been taking the last few days and some pictures that will hopefully entertain you. Today was much more of a repeat of yesterday, with more success, a bit more fog, and certainly another long day.

Top right: our lovely home, with our spacious truck (there are 4 of us so we get to alternate who sits in the back, and the truck is a manual so the person in the middle has to move everytime Darrell goes for reverse)

Left: View of the active volcano Mt. Moffet on Adak as we flew in!

Picture to the right: loading up all of our gear we had shipped out earlier in the week. (1100 lbs worth!)

Arrived in Adak!

We got here after a few hours in the air flying southwest from Anchorage. What a unique place. The airport is the most bustling thing in town, it has 2 runways, and has 4 flights a week, two in, and two out. Other than that, there ain’t much happening and you have no way else of getting here. That includes all of the groceries, mail, etc which is ridiculously expensive.

If you read the wikipedia it will give you the jist of why such a place like this exists, which was for military operations, but now its main form of employment is cleaning up the mess that the military left here. It is kind of an eery place, especially when you see the classic McDonalds roof on a building with a faded M on its side that hasn’t been touched in 30 years. Many buildings like this exist. The grocery store (conveniently located across the street from our little home in what looks like 80s suburbia) was an old gym. The basketball hoops are all pulled back, and talk about a bargain, a can of soup (Campbell’s or equivalent) is only 5 bucks! Let’s just say it was cheaper for us to ship all of our groceries here ourselves for the week.

Weather can be kind of unpredictable here, being a small island formed from a volcano in the middle of the North Pacific, the winters usually hover in the 20s and 30s, while summers get up to about 50, with lots of rain. The e-mail from my professor in preparation of this field season can be summarized in one of his sentences “bring lots of rain gear and reading material”. Aka, expect lots of rain, and to be working in it, except when it is especially bad we will just be hanging out inside. Well, day 1, and we got lucky. I hope this is a trend that continues, but by about noon time there was just some patchy fog and for the most part visibility was great. There was some wind, a good amount of sun, and we were all in great spirits. It took us almost half the day to load up the truck with our 1,100 lbs of gear we shipped out (on one of the two planes a week that fly in from Anchorage), assembled our boat and raft. Lunch at the lake was calm and filling, and coring for mud went off without a hitch. The contraption that Darrell (my professor) has come up with is pretty ingenious. Thanks to this great contraption, good weather, and a bit of help from the coring gods, we recovered just over 18 feet of mud from the bottom of this lake. You may not be excited by this finding, but you should be, as we were giving each other high fives and could not have been happier.

It was a lot of hard work, imagine doing what we did on the video for a few hours (there was a 40 or so pound weight attached to the bottom of the ropes we were pulling up and down in the water to hammer the pipe deep into the mud. We can’t wait to split the cores open and see what we find inside. There is likely lots of tephra which is great to have. Tephra is the volcanic ash (which mostly turns to glass) that rains out after an eruption. Considering we are on an island with an active volcano, and many near by, there are lots of tephra deposits over the last several thousand years (the age of the mud we hope we’ve recovered). What is cool is that each eruption and each volcano has a unique signature (its chemical composition can be measured and vary from volcano to volcano). People have (and continue to) study this and relate them to eruptions from certain years, and can be a great asset when determining how old our mud is!

It is about 10:30 and the sun has finally gone down, it is time for bed. Another (hopefully) successful day of coring is ahead of us.

The next 3 pictures: top left: Adak suburbia, all the houses are the same! They were most likely built during the ramp up around the cold war time of the Reagan era (1980s). Top right: Heart Lake, our core site for the first two days.

Bottom pic: Close up of our lake with one of the volcanoes in the background. Note the yellow pontoon float, that was our base for coring!

Evening of July 24th

My hands are recovering from a wet, raw day in the field. The weather was promising as we loaded up the truck, with almost calm winds, and some high overcast clouds. But no sooner did we arrive at the lake did the rain drops start falling, and would stick around for the majority of the day. And to top it off the winds started to kick up. We really had gotten spoiled with a warm sunny first day in the field. But none the less, we boated back out to our site where our ‘banana boat’ as we called it was anchored from the night before and started debating about which new location to core. After some fun moving the raft (banana boat) around, we found a prime location. Of course here the water was only about 15 feet deep, and we had a tube that was 18 feet long, resulting in a bit of the tube extending up above water. Darrell and I took our turns attempting to push the tube down, stomp it down, and jump on it and hope our weight would push it down. Ultimately it worked, but it took a few times. Only 6 inches below the surface mud is a fairly thick (several inches) of tephra (that explosive material from a nearby volcano) which is never easy to core through. Once we were through that the tube really started to gain some depth, and we hammered it through almost 11 feet of mud.

Evening of July 25th

What a great day in the field we had. Really, you could not have asked for better weather. The wind was almost absent for the vast majority of the day, which led to very clam waters, easy to navigate and stabilize on when you are trying to core for lots of mud in 50 + foot deep water.

Our commute today was a bit longer than the last two as we were heading to a new lake, Andrew. It is up near the ‘restricted Parcel 4’ area of Adak, which is very prominently fenced off due to ‘live ordinances’. I suspect there were land mines, war heads and all other sorts of goodies left unaccounted for in this area that make it less than ideal for travel in. Conveniently, our launch site, which was home to a former recreation area (an old playground clearly built in the 80s, a building with a fireplace in it and restrooms, and an old dilapidated dock, was all located right next to the fenced off area. Anne also found a nice stream dirty with acid and rust stemming out into our nice lake.

Getting to the site was also another adventure, dealing with an old map and roads that were current at the time of publishing (presumably the 60s) are in varying states since then. Our trip out there was certainly bumpy, with huge pot holes and lots of brush. But have I mentioned the abundance of bald eagles here??? They are everywhere! Having never seen one up close before, I was amazed by how many we saw, sitting on poles, on the grass, pretty much everywhere. Well on our commute today we must have seen at least a dozen of them so we stopped for some great photo opportunities.

Anyways, we got the mud we wanted, and decided to call it a day (it was 6 PM after all and we had been up since 8). I think today was our earliest day though, typically we get home for dinner around 7-730. We have had such a successful trip (thanks in part due to the weather cooperating!) that we may run out of things to do! We are here until Thursday, so depending on what the weather brings us the next 3 days, we will attempt to retrieve another core from Andrew Lake, collect water samples for isotope analysis from a suite of lakes around the area, and maybe get adventurous and split the cores. It is certainly time for bed, its just past 10 and I am zonked.

I'll have more pictures in the AM if i get time, though the internet is slow here, and back in Anchorage Thursday night may be better!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Hello from Anchorage

Hello everyone,

as promised, I will try and keep this blog going during my two and a half weeks of field work. This summer, I am over in Alaska. I flew into Anchorage on the 20th, and have spent the last day and a half getting acclimated, and packing up all of our stuff. We fly out this afternoon to a small island known as Adak, check out the link from Wikipedia to learn more. Briefly, it is an old military base that is now government property being cleaned up. There are some great lakes that hold potential for reconstructing climate over the last 8,000 years. We are way out on the Aleutian Islands (the ring of volcanic islands that trail out into the middle of the Pacific, Adak is about 1,000 miles SW of Anchorage. Two flights a week fly there, and we get on one of them today. We will have a week there, and likely no internet access or cell phone service. Though if I do get access to either I will be sure to do my best and update the blog, hopefully with a nice picture or two.

I can't wait for another summer of field work. It will not be light 24 hours a day like Svalbard was, but here in Anchorage, it never gets very dark at night despite the sun going down for 3 or 4 hours a night. The weather promises to be in the 50s, but with a good chance of rain. Keep watching for stories of our adventures out in the field!


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

An update from the USA

I took a slight hiatus from the blog but I am back. Even though our field season has been over for a week now, there is plenty more work to be done. Most of the physical effort has been put in, and now it is time to put the brain into overdrive and start making sense of all this data and mud we safely transported back to the states. Some people will be working with data more so than others. Like I mentioned before, in my case, I get to look at mud! (If only it were that simple)

The picture on the right is many pictures stitched together of one of my cores that we sliced open this afternoon. Using a combination of tools including a saw on a stand we first had to slice the plastic core tube in half. Sounds simple, but if you are a tenth of an inch too deep in cutting, you will split the core too quickly, splatter and possibly destroy all your hard earned mud. So when you get 90% through the side of the tube, you take a knife and cut the rest by hand. Then with a tripod that has a guitar string attached to it, you slide the core through it, evenly splitting the mud into two sections. (I bet a picture of that would help, I'll try to get one tomorrow morning when I go back for my next core)

Then, voila, it is split! Using a razor blade u can scrape off the uneven blobs of mud, running the blade parallel to those really nice laminations you see. So remember all that talk of varves from earlier? In that photo, you can probably vaguely make out those varves. Looking at them in detail (ie. up close) will reveal more detail about their thickness, grain size etc. Each little varve tells a story, which of course our jobs as climatologists is to decipher that story. The way someone once explained it to me is to think of a varve as an ancient language, and we have deciphered bits and pieces of this language, but there is still more work to do, and each lake can tell its own story a little differently.

Svalbard was a great experience, and as I get more pictures organized I'll keep posting here. Also, like I said, just because the fun field season is over doesn't mean the work and learning ends. As I learn new things about what my cores are telling me, I will share them here. If all goes well, I will have data and a poster to present at conferences in the spring.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

A bright Sunday morning in the Arctic

I believe I may have mentioned it before, but the day of the week really means nothing when you are out working in the field. We leave the Isfjord Radio Basecamp Tuesday afternoon to head back to Longyearbyen, the 'town' about 25 miles from here. Before we can leave, we need to retrieve all of the equipment that we hauled out to Linne the first few days we were here to conduct our research. Then of course is the task (or what most of us are referring to as the challenge) of packing everything up to take back to Longyearbyen, as well as Friday's long day of flying back to the states.

Yesterday, we all hiked to the glacier, which was about 17 miles round trip. And of course when that 17 miles is across loose rocks, moraines (where glaciers reach their maximum distance down a valley, dump all of their rocks and sediment and start to retreat), and rivers and small ponds that overtopped some people's boots (not fun!). At any rate, the view from the glacier was incredible, as well as the fact that we were standing on a thick sheet of ice that is thousands of years old. This is real life Earth processes in motion, changing at a scale we can visibly see from year to year (for better or for worse). Glacial mass balance measurements have been recorded and tracked from year to year (Glacial Mass Balance = Total water in (via snowfall,
rain etc) - Melting) and for the last 50 years that mass balance has been negative, along with the majority of glaciers these days. Using GPS, we measured the perimeter of the glacier's extent, and in comparing it to GPS data taken in 2006, it has retreated approximately 90 meters. That is about 100 feet a year, and that starts to add up over decades. To the left is a picture looking up at the glacier. It was a little foggy the other day when the photo was taken, but it wraps up around the bend into the clouds.

Since Thursday some others had hiked to the glacier, we all stayed back and worked on our cores and other odds and ends on Friday. The day started out foggy, but turned out to be beautiful and sunny, with hardly any wind. The Arctic Ocean was like glass, and we took advantage of the weather by going for a swim (and by swim I mean running in and running out as quick as possible because the water could not be any more than 40, and that's being optimistic). And here's the proof...

On the left is us together (Alice, Jacalyn, Chris, Franklin, and I) before the swim, and on the right is us in the water (I'm in the middle with my hands over my face, probably screaming in shock).

So that is about all for updates here. Last night was the brightest I have seen midnight the whole time we have been here. The sun is fairly low in the North sky, but there were only a few high cirrus clouds in the sky. More to come later.