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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!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Dehydration 101

I have never been this dehydrated in my life! I wake up in the morning and the first thing I think is that I can't have my usual cup of morning coffee. I turn my head to the side when I walk by the water fountain. I'm thirsty all the time... But I am TERRIFIED of having to go to the bathroom in the field!!! Did I mention how cold it is here? Or how many layers I wear daily??? There are so many details in field work that you have no control over... The weather. The wind chill. The site itself... Check out the video I made prior to my trip - a trial run of all of my layers. This is what I go through twice each day!


Today we went to two sites again, one before lunch and one after. The morning one was a peat polygonal. We dug one snow pit in the wedge between the peat. The snow there is deep with an ice core underneath. Look up peat polygonals online and find out what will happen to them as the climate continues to heat up. What will happen to the peat and what will that then do to the climate? (Part A of today's challenge)

We then did two snow pits on top of the peat itself, on either side of the wedge. On the peaks the snow was only about 6 cm deep! Actually the shallow pits are more difficult than the deeper ones! It is a challenge to measure the density and hardness of the layers when they are so thin.

After lunch we went to a wooded area. My group's first sample site was between several trees. One person started digging and two of us started coring. The core sampler is 150 cm tall, which is about 5 feet. When I pushed it into the snow I almost did a face plant! It went down 137 cm! You can imagine how long it took us to dig to the bottom of our pit? We actually had to dig steps into the snow because other wise we couldn't get back out. And then we had to take temperature readings every 5 cm! Wow...it was a little different than our morning site!

Oh, that reminds me of one of your questions! One of you asked why we take so many core samples. In science, the more samples you have, the better your results. You will be able to see trends more clearly, AND you will be able to see mistakes, or outliers, more easily. If you have 100 samples and one of them is totally out of range of the others, you can be sure it was a mistake. (Maybe some untrained volunteer did not know how to use the tool.) If you have only five samples and one is really different, you may think that it is a normal occurrence. Think of that when you are doing your field research! The more times you go to your site to collect data, the easier it will be for you to make conclusions when you analyze your results! See how I look out for you? :)

Part B of your blog challenge for today is to create a hypothesis about snow layers. In one of our pits, the layer closest to the ground was not very dense, with lots of air in between the layers. It was about 10 cm thick. Above that was a more dense layer with smaller snowflakes, about 14 cm thick. Above that was a thin layer of very dense, almost ice-like, snow...maybe 1 cm thick. It was topped with 1 cm of light fluffy snow. Create a hypothesis about WHY the layers had different densities. What could have been happening as the snow came down, as time went by, etc. Remember, the bottom snow is the oldest. :) Create a diagram labelling each layer, with your explanation next to it to turn in to Ms. Duffy. Respond to me with bullets explaining your layers, with the bottom as Layer 1, working your way up to Layer 4. This challenge is due on Friday. Talk to you tomorrow! Please come with some good questions for me!!! :)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Tundra, Sea Ice & Wolf Tracks...Oh My!!!

Today has been our first full day in the field. We set out about 9AM in about -33 degrees C (wind shield -42C) with out tools to measure everything you ever wanted to know about snow. Obviously, the secret is in the layering and making sure that no skin is exposed during transit on the snow mobile. We surveyed two different sites, a polygonal peat plateau and a tundra site. Both had relatively shallow snow cover (up to 40 cm, Canadians do everything metric so I am counting on you to convert temperatures and distances.) but we were fully exposed to wind and sun, which can be quite strong. I had no idea there were so many types of snow!!! The process is not that complicated but it takes time and a great deal of attention to detail. It really is a skill to tell various layers of snow apart. I added a picture with some of the snow categories for the unbelievers out there.

After our tundra sampling, we took the snowmobiles out onto the sea ice on Hudson Bay! We trekked onto the bay to see a ship wreck. Check out the wreck and the thrust up pieces of ice. Below is a picture of a crack in the sea ice with wolf tracks running across. The tracks were probably made last night by the male wolf, who is hanging around for the female we saw a few days ago...

Tonight we had a lecture on climate change and it was interesting to see how the data we have collected is being used in the studies.

One thing that has become very clear is that people up here spend a very large amount of time eating. Breakfast (at 6:45), lunch (12) and dinner (5:30) all consist of enormous amounts of high calorie food. I also have a backpack full of snacks because the calories keep you warm in the field. I guess beach season up here is pretty short...though today while I was lying on the snow to photograph a really cool snow WAVE I was accused of sunbathing!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Bouncing Boxes & Sparkling Snowflakes

Today was our first day of sampling in the field. It was a gorgeous day for Churchill in February...only -20 and no wind. I layered up in my six layers plus heat packs, goggles, balaclava and Arctic pants, loaded all the research equipment and data sheets and headed out to get in the "sled." Somehow when they told me we would be riding in wooden boxes pulled behind the back of a snowmobile I didn't really envision a WOODEN BOX TOWED BEHIND A SNOWMOBILE! :) That is exactly what it was! Four of us piled into each BOX, claimed a cushion if we could, and off we went. Ow...

We were divided into teams of three at each sampling site where we had to dig a pit and investigate the various layers of snow. For each layer we had to measure depth, temperature, density and compressibility, as well as analyze the type of snow particles and their size within each layer. Then we had to take 11 core samples, noting depth and weight of the snow core, and bringing three of the samples back to the lab to measure conductivity and pH. We then moved to another location within the site and repeated the process. The photo is of our second snow pit, with thermometers placed at 5cm intervals in the layers. Our location today was a Borrow Pit, a site that was excavated at one point. One of the things we are looking at there is the effects of anthropogenic changes on an ecosystem. What does that mean?
Tomorrow our plan is to go to two different sites, where we will go through all the above steps again... That means I will take 44 core samples tomorrow!!! No complaining about how many times you have to go to your field research sites! :)
On Thursday, you must go to Tutorial in Mr. Wilson's room, P-38. This is mandatory! Your blog challenge due Wednesday is as follows:
1. Define what "anthropogenic changes on an ecosystem" means and give one example.
2. Come up with two GREAT questions for me, Dr. Pete, or my Shell Inc. teammates. On Thursday you will be able to speak to me LIVE (I know how much you miss me!) and I want some good questions from you! The video conference is an excellent opportunity for you to earn some extra credit if you do more than the required showing up! ;)
This blog challenge should be turned in to Ms. Duffy AND sent to me by clicking "comment."
Talk to you soon...

Sunday, February 15, 2009

It's not cold here!

Bob, my very friendly Winnipeg-ian airplane companion, made me promise to say that! "It's not cold here...it's beautiful!" It is truly beautiful, and only -20 outside. :)

I'm fairly certain your four day weekend has not been as eventful as mine! :) My travel fear almost came true as I sat in the Denver airport waiting to board my flight to Winnipeg. They announced that due to poor weather in Winnipeg, we might have to be diverted to FARGO!!! I felt like I was in a bad movie... Luckily, that did not happen, we landed in Winnipeg on time, and I made it to the train station on time to catch the train to Churchill. Phew...the train only leaves every two days!!!

The train ride was amazing! Like many of you pointed out, we passed through several small towns, often letting one or two people off or on, and some beautiful ecosystems. The Boreal Forest was dense with trees, all covered in white. You could not see far off the tracks. As we headed farther north, the trees thinned and the vistas got wider, due to the greater prevalence of permafrost. And then farther still, most of the trees had branches only on their southern sides. Why do you think that was? Sometimes the train travelled at speeds less than 10 mph due to the instability of the tracks on the permafrost and the amount of snow on the tracks! It definitely was "the scenic route!" We saw a red fox and ptarmagins outside the windows, but no moose or caribou.

Several of the people on my Earthwatch team were on the train as well...one other high school teacher from New York, a doctor from Australia, and, wait for it...the rest of my team all work for Shell Oil!!! They are coming from all over the world, and Shell is paying for their trip. Is studying climate change and making your living on fossil fuels a conflict of interest? Or do we need to find a way for both issues to work together? What are your thoughts? What should I ask them?

I am at the Churchill Northern Studies Center now. Tonight was our first introductory lecture with Dr. Pete and tomorrow we begin sampling. We will be collecting snow cores, analyzing snow crystal shape, and measuring conductivity due to Hudson Bay spray and pH at 11 different sampling sites.
Today I rented snow pants worthy of Arctic conditions and explored the town of Churchill. The Eskimo Museum (they used the word Eskimo, not me) was full of interesting artifacts. I learned that if you are attacked by a polar bear, you should present your forearm to the bear because he will not be able to get his mouth open large enough to fit it. When he tries, you should stab him in the neck. Hopefully that is practical knowledge that I will never need!!! In fact, the likelihood of my seeing a polar bear at this time of year is slim. BUT I did see a female gray wolf today!!! She was amazingly beautiful! Her fur is worth about $1000 so hopefully she will not make herself so visible in the future...
Here are your questions to have ready for Tuesday morning:
1. What should I ask the Shell employees regarding fossil fuels and climate change? See the questions in the above paragraph.
2. What does it mean to create a "baseline of data?" (That is what we are working on in Churchill.)
3. If you were Dr. Pete and had 14 volunteers collecting your research data at 11 different sites, what are some of the variables you would control? How would you prepare us (the data collectors) to do quality work? Be as specific as possible.
Love to hear from you! Be nice to Ms. Duffy...she will take names! :)
Remember...you can respond to me directly on the site, but you MUST turn in your Blog Challenge answers to Ms Duffy on the due date to receive credit!!! NO LATE BLOG CHALLENGES WILL BE ACCEPTED FOR POINTS!!! :)

Friday, February 6, 2009

Blog Challenge 3

Somehow the topic of climate change has become a political issue. In order to become a good citizen, you need to learn to separate science from bias and opinion. So let's explore a bit of where the bias might have come from and see if we can focus on the science...


1. Define "global warming" and "climate change."
2. What is the main difference between the two above phrases?
3. How do you feel when you hear each of the above phrases? Is there any difference in your reaction to the two?
4. Ask your parents how they would define each, and how they feel when each is brought up. Why do you think that is?
5. What would you like me to ask Dr. Peter Kershaw, the head researcher, about his findings on climate change over the course of the past several years?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

No Bear Wrestling!!!

Great job on your responses to Blog Challenges 1 & 2!

Check out the picture of what one of your peers thinks I will be doing up in the Great White North! While I hope to SEE a polar bear from a safe distance, there will be no wrestling matches! :)

If for some reason you were unable to respond to one of the previous blogs, you can earn replacement points by responding to this one. To earn the points you need to research and come up with two fun facts and one question for further thought on one of the following topics:

1. Polar Bears

2. Northern Lights

3. Climate Change

Make sure you put your period - name in the "Name/URL" box of your response.

Monday, February 2, 2009

10 Days to Departure - Blog Challenge 2

OK~We are working out the kinks in this system... Here are more specific directions on how to respond to the blog in order to get your grade:
  1. Click on "Comment" below blog
  2. Answer the questions in the Comment box
  3. Below the comment box click on "Name/URL"
  4. In the "Name" box type Your Period - Your Name - an example for John Smith in fourth period would be: 4 - John Smith

Blog Challenge 2:

Churchill sits on the edge of the Hudson Bay. Do a little research on Hudson Bay and tell me:

  1. What was Hudson Bay's role in the last ice age?
  2. What percent of the bay froze last winter?
  3. What percent of the bay froze in 1959?
  4. Why do ice caps exist?

If you were me, what is one thing you would be sure to see while you were in Churchill? What should I take pictures of?

Have fun! Keep counting down...