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Friday, April 30, 2010

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Home, warm home

Well, I've been back in warm Southern CA for almost three weeks now. It was quite an adjustment to return...to work of a different kind, to being able to move freely in my clothes, to eating half as much food, to not having my "team" around me 24/7. The adjustment was rather bittersweet.

Things that I'm grateful to have experienced and will miss:
- an incredibly stimulating and diverse group of people to work with
- being a part of a huge undertaking in science that will be used for decades
- being woken in the middle of the night to see the sky dance
- the thrill of building something as unique as an igloo and then sleeping in it
- looking in the eyes of a wild and free female wolf
- pukak
- salsa dancing, cookie eating, group karaoke, shared belly laughs
- hot shots in my mittens
- accents!
- qumatak races
- snow sparkles

Thanks for joining in this experience with me. Thanks for adding to it with your thoughts and questions. I always love hearing from you.

Check out an article in the local paper: http://www.ocregister.com/articles/stafne-change-climate-2332054-students-trip and consider signing up for your own trip...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Holy Coldness!

-52 C!!!

Today was the coldest day yet! It was our last morning in the field and we stalled until about 10:30 hoping it would warm up. Nope! I had to lay down on the floor so two team members could decompress and zip me, I had so many layers on today. Then as soon as we went outside, there was a flock of ptarmigans. Of course my camera was not in the outer layer. By the time I got the camera out, with some assistance, they flew away! I did get one quick shot. Unfortunately it is not close enough for you to see their feet. They are so cute because their feet have super fluffy feathers all around them to serve as snow shoes and keep them from sinking into the snow.

We were trimming trees again today and my group got the forest site, which was great in the cold weather because we had a long, difficult walk, which got the blood flowing and warmed us up. Another group snagged the snow shoes so we spent a lot of time wallowing. I actually resorted to crawling because it maximized my surface area! It was a challenge to trim a branch higher than 150cm above the snow whey you sank so far down. We had a difficult time reaching them and laughed alot, again warming us up. It was so cold today that eyelash icicles were adorning everyone's face. MAC could market that look!
Last night was an amazing light show! I took a few shots but it was sooooooooo cold out, both my camera and I suffered. I watched until I was nearly frozen and the lights died down. Then I went to bed. We were woken up in the wee hours of the morning to "Get up! The sky is amazing!!!" So I climbed out of my bunk, layered up, and headed outside. Holy coldness, I didn't last long! BUT there is an aurora viewing dome here. It is a plexiglass dome about six feet across on top of the building...and it is heated. By the time I got up there, most people were heading off to bed. So I sat up there with a friend and some cocoa and enjoyed a spectacular show!!! The entire sky was full of lights dancing and pulsing in their green ethereal way. I think that the patterns in the sky on my igloo night were better, but last night the entire sky was full!!! Everywhere you looked there was movement. It was absolutely incredible and something I hope you get to see in your life.

Oh, I took a picture of the inside of the qamatuk for you to get a "feel" for my daily rides... One of our drivers is nicknamed "Crash" and another tries to pass the guy in front of him on a regular basis. It is a new amusement park ride! I might even miss those rides...
Your challenge for today is to come up with three specific questions for me regarding this experience. One must be scientific or field research based, one environmental, and the third can be personal or general or another from the first two categories. Bring them with you to class on Friday. See you soon...

Monday, February 23, 2009

Seven layers...a new record!

Layer 1: thin silk thermal shirt
Layer 2: thick silk thermal shirt
Layer 3: cashmere sweater
Layer 4: thick turtleneck wool sweater
Layer 5: hooded fleece jacket
Layer 6: 700 fill down jacket
Layer 7: windproof gortex shell

That is what I wore on my top half today. It was cold!!! And after yesterday, I did not want to be cold! Seven layers!!! Holy moley. I needed an assistant to zip up my shell because I was so puffy! But, I was toasty warm today. Check out the weather post. This is the first thing we look at before we go out every day. The key number is the Wind Chill!!!

It was another long day in the field. This morning we headed out to dig some more snow pits at two different sites. We dug two pits at each site and collected 44 snow cores. Phew. It was a 45 minute qamatuk ride each direction... I was really thankful for my seven layers! Check out the photo of the qamatuk. We sit on cushions in the box towed behind the snow mobile. The one in this picture has our gear tobagan in the back.
We headed back for a warm lunch, something I missed terribly yesterday, and then headed out again. This time we split the team up. A few people headed out with Dr. Pete to collect more core samples (the bigger the sample size, the better the results!) and the rest of us went out with a grad student studying tree needle dessication in varying ecosystems. He is comparing trees in the tundra, forest tundra (which has just a few trees) and forest. For each tree we needed to collect 9 samples. He is looking at needles on different sides of the trees: the NorthWest, which is where the majority of the wind comes from (and there is a lot of wind!), the South, which is the side of the tree that gets the most sunlight, and the East, though I can't remember why. On each of those sides of the tree, we took a sample from the canopy, which is the section above the wind damage, the middle where the tree is sandblasted with blowing snow, and one from below the snow level. There are no canopies on the "trees" in the tundra...if you can even find a tree. The people sampling there had to dig alot and were blasted by the wind. In the forest, the trees blocked the wind alot, but we sank into the huge snow drifts. Walking was a challenge, but I did get to try stomping around in snow shoes, which was fun. And the walking is so difficult it warms you up, which is a bonus! We made it back to the center just in time for dinner. I was so tired upon our arrival that I just laid down on the floor...but my hungry stomach did not allow me to stay long. :)

Three more people slept in the igloo last night and they all took my hot water bottle recommendation. Something to keep in mind if you ever need to sleep out in the cold...

One of the girls on my team has experienced one of my Arctic fears...she got frostbite on her nose! She got a black spot on the side of her nose and then the skin peeled off!!! Luckily she looks pretty normal today...no bits fell off! But today the tip turned dark and we are waiting for the peeling phase...

I wish that I could take a picture that would capture the perspective that I have through my goggles. No matter what I do, on long qamatuk rides my goggles frost up, usually from the top down. So my vision is blurred by ice crystals as I look out onto a world where the snow is blowing all around due to the wind, catching sunlight as it flies above the white sparkly landscape. It is quite surreal and magical in a cold way.

Here is the narwhal tusk from the Eskimo Museum. I was really surprised at how big it was! Blog Challenge for today is to do a little research on narwhals. Habitat? Size? Food source and predators? Uses for humans? Tusks - who has them, how big are they, and function. And three fun facts... :)
I have to go check for more northern lights... Ciao for now!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

I was warm!!!

Last night two of my Earthwatch buddies and I were the first to try out our newly built igloo. I was soooooo nervous about being cold, so I brought a few things to add heat to my sleeping bag... a water bottle filled with hot water and a freshly baked potato. I know, it sounds crazy, but did I mention that I was nervous? I also got to sleep in the middle because I was the shortest and that is where the igloo entrance was located. I didn't mind because it meant maximum body heat and minimum chances of snuggling up with a block of ice. To enter the igloo, there was a tunnel dug underground so you had to crawl under and up to get inside. That also allowed a low spot in the igloo for cold air to sink into. We lined the bottom of the igloo with caribou hides for insulation and a vent hole in the "ceiling" provided for ventilation. It was surprisingly warm inside, once I crawled into my -40 rated sleeping bag. (That rating is for survival, not comfort!) But I was quite comfortable. My spud was pretty useless, but the water bottle provided warmth the entire night. I had the mummy sack cinched tight around my face and my hat pulled down over my nose. At one point in the night I reached up to touch my nose because I could no longer feel it. That is when I pulled my hat down over it. In the morning, there was a ring of ice around the opening of my bag from my breath freezing! I am quite tired today, so even though I slept alot, it must have taken alot of energy for my body to stay warm.

Maybe I'm also tired because we had an amazing Northern Lights show last night! Every time I decided it was too cold to be outside, I would go back in and then feel like I was missing something and head out again. The truth was, every time I went back out it was more and more amazing!!! Tonight I will try to photograph them again, as I couldn't juggle both the camera and the igloo living last night.

Today was the coldest I have been yet! We rode in the qamatuks over hard packed snow for about 45 minutes! Then we spent the entire day in the field. We sampled two different stations and then had a "picnic" lunch of nearly frozen sandwiches and rock hard chocolate chip cookies. We did build a fire, but it produced virtually no heat - just a lot of smoke! We then went to a third sampling station and by the time the 45 minute ride home was over I was nearly frozen solid. With wind chill it was -42 today! Ugh! I'm tired, so no blog challenge for you tonight. Look for one due Tuesday. If you want to talk to me again while I'm here, talk to Ms. Duffy about possibly doing a conference on Tuesday at lunch.
Stay warm!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Tonight's the night!

Well, the igloo was finished today and tonight I'm sleeping in it! I'm really nervous!!! It may be the coldest night of my life! :) The way an igloo is built is quite fascinating! It is truly an amazing design... something we should get the physics teachers to build in class! It's all about angles and pressure. Anyway, we are not skilled Inuits, so ours is not quite airtight. It may be a drafty night! We will put caribou skins on the floor to act as insulation, of course topped with the modern technology of a thermarest! :) Three of us will fit in there at a time. Many people in our group wanted to sleep in the igloo, but not on the first night. So, I'm being a brave (did I mention I'm nervous?) first volunteer. If you don't hear from me again, it's been great knowing you...

Today I felt like I really experieced the Sub-Arctic! This morning was a typical morning of snow pits and coring, followed by lunch back at the research center. The only excitement of the morning was when Pete, who was driving the snowmobile that was towing my qamatuk (box) today, drove 60 km/hour! It was quite a ride!!! This afternoon was a different story, however. The wind that I've heard so much about started to blow. When we went out to sample, it was -42 with the wind chill. NEGATIVE FORTY TWO!!! Holy moley! Not an inch of skin could be exposed. You could almost lean back into the wind and it would hold you up. It erased our footprints from behind us and stole our body heat. The tundra snow was carved by the wind. In some places it looked like a storm swept ocean. In others, like rock carved by wind...the kind you might see in Utah. Other places had hard sculptures that looked exactly like waves. The interesting thing to me, which is rather counterintuitive, is that the snow "waves" form facing into the wind rather than away.

Last night we had a little viewing of the aurora borealis. Here is my first photo attempt. I have to play with the settings a bit, which was impossible to do in the dark with my three pairs of mittens on, but it didn't turn out too badly. I had my camera on a tripod, but was trying to hold a heat pack on the battery to keep it from freezing. I think next time I need to keep my hands off of it so that I don't wiggle the camera. Live and learn...

Stay warm tonight and think of me! :)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Snow fun!

Today was a day off. Phew. My body is a bit sore from digging snow pits. Remember the movie Holes? That is a bit how I feel. :)

Slept in today. Drank a FULL cup of coffee since I wouldn't be stuck out in the field all day, which put me in a much better morning mood! Just trust me that first period would be a little uglier without my coffee mug! :) And then we headed off to the musher's place. Dog sledding was awesome! The dogs we met are actually training for a big 260 kilometer race, so we gave them a bit of a workout today. Normally they only pull their musher and gear. Today they pulled their musher and two of us. The lead dog was an alpha female. She kept trying to run on the side of the trail to find the harder packed snow and was quite frustrated that the rest of the dogs would not follow her. The dogs nearest the sled were paired up. They were the ones that were the strongest pullers. I can imagine that sledding would be a great way to see the countryside! I definitely could have gone for several more rides!

Then we headed into town to warm up, have lunch, and go to the Eskimo museum again. I stood next to a narwhal horn and had my photo taken. I had no idea how huge they are!!!

The afternoon was filled with igloo building. We worked for almost two hours and only got one layer on! We are not natives! :) Glad we have the option of sleeping indoors! Hopefully we will finish tomorrow, since we have to take turns sleeping in it. This picture was before we started working, so it is a little taller now. The entrance is a tunnel underneath! It creates a little sink hole for the cold air to settle down in, making the inside "warmer." I'm continually learning that temperature is relative!