Monday, July 9, 2007

cache of blogs: Volume 1; Perpetual Vacations

I have been very busy lately, and just returned from Nome today, the 28th of July. I was not able to publish another post pre-Nome, so here it is now. More will be comming:
It is interesting how the entire town of Barrow seems to always be on a perpetual vacation. The whales come, they must go, then nalukataqs up the yin yang. Then the seals are out on the ice, so they must go. Then the geese come in, so they must go. In the defense of the locals, however, I must say that they live off subsistence hunting.

The entire week of the 4th of July was like one big holiday. The 2nd was Founder's Day for the North Slope Borough (and Perry's Birthday :) ), which is the seat of government for this area (by the way, the North Slope of Alaska refers to the area of land above the Brooks Mountain Range and includes Barrow, Prudhoe Bay, Point Hope, Point Lay, Atqasuk, Ivotuk and several other small towns). The 4th of July celebrations begin on the 3rd, and include games, dancing and races....boat races, foot races and so on.

The 5th of July----HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM
Sandra, Dave and I headed out to the ITEX site to do some reflectance measurements. I love the ITEX site, I find it peaceful and it is really pretty out there. I also like that there aren't as many people or edifices. All of the flowers were blooming, the pink columnar Pedicularis lanata (wooly lousewort) is beautiful and is one of the first flowers I saw after the thaw. They are bright pink and fuzzy with leaves that are fern-like. and bright yellow Ranunculus nivalus (snow buttercups), the even brighter yellow Papaver Macounii (the Arctic poppy). I really like the Tundra rose, which is yellow with separated petals. There are several buckwheats here too that are blooming and are a hue of red.

Sandra came with us to check out the site, it was her first time out there and she relished the beauty as well. I have been trying to keep up with my insect collecting, but I am finding it difficult to massacre pretty little bugs. I tried to catch a huge bee with its pollen sacs full, but I didn't have a large enough vial. Anyway....

After our fieldwork, we went back to eat and go catch Chico's talk at the Heritage Center. Chico is from El Paso, and works with a logistics company called VECO Polar. They support research in Antarctica, Greenland, Russia, Alaska and all over the Arctic. This guy is quite inspiring and has traveled all around the world. He didn't go to college, but he is always educating himself, is very motivated and a hard worker. I'm really happy I got to know him. BASC holds what are called "schoolyard talks" in which the public and anyone who wants to go is invited to hear a speaker. The talks are on scientific research and other interesting topics. Chico's was on his some 16 years of working and living at both poles while supporting research. His resume includes a culmination of 14 years in the Antarctic and 4 in the Arctic. It made me even more excited to go to Antarctica than I thought possible after hearing his talk. Here are a few highlights that stuck in my mind after the talk:

About 98% of Antarctica is covered in ice and snow at a low average of 1.6 km thick. It is the coldest, driest and windiest contenet on the planet. What I thought was really interesting is that the precipitation is very very low, and the the interior is actually considered a desert. The little bit of precipitation packs and packs year after year. It is the coldest place on Earth, with temperatures reaching between -130 and 59 degrees Farenheight. Chico told us he was once caught in a reallybed storm that chilled everything. They had to run into an emergency hut (they are located all over) for shelter, and the temperature dropped so low that anything made of glass just shattered; this was during winter.

There are three stations on the continent; the Palmer Station on the Arctic Peninsula, McMurdo Station by the Ice Shelf, and the South Pole Station in the interior. Palmer station is accessed by way of South America, and then traveling via boat. McMurdo is accessed by traveling from New Zealand, and South Pole Station can be reached via McMurdo.

The Antarctic is also home to several bizarre phenomena, including the "sun dog" or parhelion, which is a halo or atmospheric optical phemonenon that looks like a bright spot next to the sun.

There are also the southern lights:

I was captivated after hearing about nacreous clouds, also called polar stratospheric clouds (PSCs). The image on the screen was eery; a feathery ghost-like cloud hovered over a research base reflecting several wavelengths of color. Even the name had an ominous undertone...nacreous. PSCs are clouds that form at very low temperatures (-176 degrees Farenheight) and at high altitudes (50,000-80,000 ft.) They form in the winter in the stratosphere and are composed of a mix of ice, nitric acid and sulfuric acid. They are basically ice with a liquid coating of nitric acid tri-hydrate. The toxic mix is responsible for ozone depletion, and a study by NASA and Naval Research Institute found that exhaust from the space shuttle can create them. They are also caused by aerosols.

The interior is dangerous; there are huge crevaces below the surface that you can't even see. The researchers and workers are clipped to each other by rope wherever they go. Chico fell into a crevace and said it was analagous to being blindfolded and walking off the edge of a building when you don't know where the edge is. He said he was scrambling and fumbling in the darkness as fell trying to get a grip with his ice axe. The people in front of him didn't notice for a while, but they came and pulled him out (they were all tied in). As he was emerging from the darkness, another guy fell into another crevasse, and they fell in again later on that day! He said any day could be your last, but you would go out with a bang.

Chico and his team members tied together

A pic of Chico and some researchers exploring a huge crevasse

There is also another intersting phenomenon: crazy people doing a polar plunge! You are tied onto a rope for the plunge in Antarctica.

I also enjoyed hearing about the various fauna of Antarctica, especially the leopard seal. They are small and stealthy and agressive. Chico said that one of them tried to bite through the rubber zodiac, and that they had to hit it with an ore. There are stories of them biting at people's feet, and one incident of a marine biologist who was snorkeling being dragged down to her death by a leopard seal.

There are also better tempered fur seals, which used to be hunted down for, well, their fur.

And elephant seals, and penguins, penguins, penguins. There are large colonies of them in a few spots. I particularly like the regal emperor penguin. Oh yeah, there is an area where a glacier rose up and broke off, trapping a small population of seals. They have inbreed, and over time have become fat and big mutant seals!

An elephant seal yawning or yellingThe overylying message behind Chico's talk: Live life to the fullest. Take advantage of the opportunities you are presented with because you never know when you are going to get a chance to experience something again, or where fate will take you next.

After the talk we headed out to eat at the Aurora cafe, and then went to a dance. It was a lot of fun, they called people out based on age group. I think the elders were the best dancers of all.

Comming very very soon....My adventures preparing for component fluxes and Nome, and my trip to Nome. (After a short recovery)

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Polar Plunge and 4th of July Celebration

Well, it seems that no one really got pics of me or the rest of the BAS C crew dancing, and, well I was dancing so I couldn’t take any myself. I was so engrossed in the on goings that I didn’t even think to take a lot more. Sorry folks; but there are some things that you should know. (The following information was completely ripped off from Sandra's blog...evil laugh laugh laugh): The drums used in the ceremony were made from whale liver and a drum was made for each whale caught...pretty interesting. Now on with the adventure:

Dave after a long day of dealing with Sandra and I bugging him

So, what do you get when you have many many stressed out scientists working long days and going insane?

Well, I'll tell you: You get a group of 20 freaks ready to go jump in the Arctic Ocean on a cold, windy, foggy day! That's right folks, we chose to take the plunge on one of the worst weather days here in Barrow (by the way, today was sunny with a temp of about 65 degrees Fareinheight, nice!).

Sandra, Perry and I returned from Brower's Cafe only to hear that there was a polar plunge planned for the evening, 8:00 sharp. We had a few people in the field still, and they hadn’t heard the news. Sandra and I looked at each other in disbelief. All day the sound of wind was howling at the windows, and the fog covering the town of Barrow thwarted several photons of light that tried to travel to the surface. In other words, the weather was bad; it was foggy, cold and windy. to find that the GVSU (Grand Valley State University...Michigan on plants with ITEX) wanted to go jump in the ocean that very day since one of their crew members was going to leave that weekend. Word went around, and a group of about 17-20 people were rallied. All were ready to take a much needed break from computer screens, data, data, more data and field work. Rob and Santonu were the first to prepare; Rob entered the lab with a sun hat, sunglasses, a towel and sunscreen ready for a day at the beach. All seemed well, spirits were high and Santonu claimed to be "Champion of the Polar Bear Swim," and I quote "Last year I made it all the way to Russia!" We'll see.....

We all congregated in the cafeteria at 8:00pm ready and willing to take the plunge. I decided to go ahead and sport my shorts since it was the beach. It may have been foggy, damp and windy, but what difference would that make if I was just going to jump into some freezing cold water anyway. So after psyching myself out the ambient temperature wasn't that bad to me, it felt warm in my head. Hiroke (SDSU group, and probably mispelled) decided to bring a "surf board" that was constructed of a rectangular piece of plywood. The philosophy of the lemming was set in strong the day of the polar plunge; we were all going to jump in the ice-cold liquid together!

We were stuck waiting for Perry for a while; he was in his room preparing for his big performance. I drew his "fox logo" on his back, and "polar bear club" on his bum. Once we were all gathered we piled into three trucks and headed out towards the point. We decided to go north since the sanitation plant's settling pond is right near town and the current washes it south (ewww). We stopped at an area just before "Duck Camp" and took off to the grey shoreline. I had to sit and psyche myself a little more; everyone delt with the reality of the cold in their own way. Rob laid his towel out and decided to treat the event as if it were Myrtle Beach in June.

We were all shocked when saw Adrian already in his trunks sprinting toward the sea. He dove right in, flipped and got out, got dressed and ran to the truck in no time. Santonu was second to submerge, and was in and out just a speedily as Adrian. After that, everyone kind of jumped in at different times in a fashion that would parallel the sinusoidal motions of the waves; a few here, a few minutes later another few and so on. A group of three nudes ended up in the salty waters cheering in victory. Perry jumped in wearing only his bunny boots (military grade white snow boots). We all laughed. The other two nudies: Mai and John from SDSU.

Adrian "The Shark" smiling and drying off after his speedy plunge

Santonu, #2 in the polar plunge, in and out in 1 much for the "Champion"....Russia?!

All of the nudists are to the left, it's odd how they all massed in one area.

Hiroki running out of the icy cold water

I jumped in a while after several people went in; I was laughing taking pictures and enjoying the reactions to the arctic cold water. Sandra and I decided to go in together (misery loves company). I had my swimsuit with me luckily (which was a little snug after a month of cafeteria food...too snug) and unrobed. We both sprinted to the sea, my feet felt the frosty cold water first, and then I decided "oh well" and dove right on in. I freestyled out a way, flipped, and swam back. I could feel the shock of the cold water immediately, you kind of take a short breath in. I wanted to stay in the water longer, but even my ironclad mind was no match for my physiological responses; I had to get out. I kept thinking "4 minutes, 4 minutes." It takes 4 minutes before your body's muscles will contract and remain imobile in the given conditions. Anyway, I swam to the shore with gusto and sprinted onto the beach. My toes were stinging from the cold and pebbles on the shore. I looked down and saw that they were still nicely colored, so I didn't worry too much. I got to my three towels and dried off, threw on my hat first, then my socks, then my sweater and pants. The air felt warm after being in the water. My legs stung a little when I was pulling my pants on. Rob was running around with his state flag (South Carolina) and even jumped back in, as did Hiroki.

Sandra was standing there for a while shivering, so I threw the big puffy goose down jacket I brought on her. I told her to cover up and get in the truck (we left it running with the heater on), but she said she couldn't move. Everyone moved quick to get her warm and got her into the truck, Santonu especially. The next day she was sick again (she was ill the previous two weeks). :( Since then, we have refered to her as a chihuhua.

Anyway, after everyone took the plunge and was dressed we all headed for the warmth of our trucks and headed back to BASC. What a day! I wasn't over though, we didn't have enough so we put on a slide show of the whole event, then called it a day. I was dead tired after the jump. I guess the Nalukataq, lack of sleep and cold took it out of me and I knocked out. The next day I was still tired, but was happy. I survived the POLAR PLUNGE!

Mai doing well after the plunge

Rob on his 1st, 2nd or 3rd swim, we don't know which.

Dave running for his towel...Run Dave Run!

Just after our plunge, Rob wants a pic with the ladies for a complete day at the beach.

I don't remember exactly when, but sometime between the polar plunge and Perry's b-day, Santonu cooked some awesome curry. He and Adrian added a few jalepenos to add a little spice and flavor...mmmmm. We went to one of the SDSU huts to eat and share the food, and Mai made a good dish too. Jason brought some wine that I enjoyed as well.

July 2nd was Perry's birthday, so we went out to eat that evening at Osaka's. We are all aware of Perry's obsession for Japanese culture, and especially his beloved Shiba Inu. I made him a really cool birthday card that consisted of a cardboard cutout of Japanese icons and a shiba that said "Happy Birthday." I was surprised at how it came out. I began just making the sun and playing around, but it turned out pretty good. I think he liked it :) Dinner was awesome; I have really come to enjoy eating at Osakas as a break from the usual cafeteria food and Pepe's we have stuffed ourselves with. I'm sure we will be eating there more often since we learned you get reimbursed if you eat out. Yay!

HAPPY 4th OF JULY!!!!! Well, it's that time of year again when we remember our "independence". Anyway, Barrow is crazy around this time; the whole town seems to be on a continuous holiday with the Nalukataqs, seal hunting and so on. The 2nd was "Founder's Day" in which the North Slope Borough was established (the seat of government). All public offices were closed, there were lots of cookouts, and we got some free stuff. (Duffle bag, gloves, patches, stickers...) It made it very difficult to get the permit for Atqasuk filed. The 3rd everyone was off too (by everyone I mean the townspeople and natives at BASC, not us); the 4th of July games begin. Every year they have races, games and a parade that lasts for three whole days! A few of us decided to make a float for the parade, Jason from FIU put the most effort and time into it (many couldn't The theme: a play on BASC "Barrow Arctic Surf Club", catchy. I designed a polar bear surfing and Chico helped me out. We worked the next day drawing, sawing, painting, and hammering the darn thing. Jason and John made a very nice wave with a sun on it, and a palm tree. Jason and Santonu cut out lettering for the "Barrow Arctic Surf CLub" sign. I didn't like the way all the huge blocks of wood showed, so I thought it would be a good idea to add a bowhead wale tail on the back; it turned out pretty good.

The next day our float was unveiled and I decieded to wear my shorts and sandals for the occasion. It was cold, but I braved it out after seeing Rob wearing only his swim trunks. The parade progressed through the town and we threw out candy to all the people. The elder women were nuts for the candy and were yelling at us to throw it to them. I think we had the only float really; all the other people in the parade were on cars and boats with signs on them. The locals really liked our work and said they never had anything like it before. Some people rode on 4-wheelers in our group, and the shorebird group taped bird pictures onto the machines. I hope we raised their parade standards :) After the parade we all went to Pepe's for lunch. Rob and Hiroki ran in a little race; 9 miles. Rob took first, Hiroki 3rd (Hiroki ran in his socks!).

We all headed back to work at the lab with our belly's full and minds completely useless. I tried to get some work done, but I was not very successful. I decided to shower and do some laundry until the BASC barbeque began. There were lots of burgers and really good deserts. We were at the "theater" right next to the beach. After stuffing our faces yet again, a few people headed out to the point and took another polar plunge; I decided to stay at the party and play some hackey sac.

Later that evening (9 or 10 pm) Sandra, Perry, Chico (VECO Polar), Marina (archeology group), Erin (SDSU), Jason, John and I headed to the beach for a good ol' fashioned bonfire. We took the 4-wheelers on the beach, and Sandra was joyous! We saw a jellyfish and some other kind of invertebrate in the arctic waters. It was a beautiful evening, and it almost looked like sunset (but the sun never set). The reflections of the light off the sea was quite picturesque.