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.