Welcome to Fairbanks!
For our first full day in Alaska, we stayed and spent the day with three scientists from The University of Alaska Fairbanks: Hank, Rachel, and Peter. Hank was our main guide, and had worked in the COOL Room as an undergrad at Rutgers. When he got the opportunity to work in Alaska he decided to take the job despite his fears that he’d be living in an igloo, but he hasn’t left yet. We were able to tour their lab and see the similarities and differences between their lab and ours. While Rutgers has a more concentrated focus on gliders, UAF took a broader approach, utilizing a somewhat more diverse range of monitoring technologies.
Peter, Hank, and Rachel also explained their work in the Arctic and plans for the future. They currently have three High Frequency Radar installed on the Chukchi side of the Arctic and are working on getting three more on the Beaufort side. UAF also hopes to release 20 drifters into the Arctic and have one mooring to track currents and other data. UAF will also be utilizing their three-unit glider fleet: one with an eco puck, and two with 10-day durations, possibly flying in the same areas as the drifters. Flying gliders in the Arctic is difficult because of coastal jets that travel at 2 m/s, much faster than the gliders can fly, so the robots get carried into the jet. They explained that this jet happens when water from the Bering Strait is channeled into shallower water. Some other problems UAF encounters are only having the Navy satellite model for the Arctic which isn’t in real time and really only generates images on the 4-5 clear days a year because of all the ice and the cloudiness that results from the ice melting.
Future plans for Hank, Peter, and Rachel include a 10-day cruise for flying gliders through Hannah Bay. The cruise will be survey work for vessel tracking and HF off of Point Barrow on the Norspin II. Hannah Bay is very shallow and has the same coastal jet problem, but is still an important area to study since the ice dynamics are controlled by troughs and valleys, something the gliders can sample. The main reason for this research is to understand how the Arctic Ocean works because of the drilling that is going to start in the area. Shell, ConocoPhillips, Statoil, and PB are all interested in drilling for oil in the Arctic, particularly in the hot-spot Chukchi Sea.
After learning all about their Arctic research, we caught lunch at a Thai place (who knew that Alaska would have such diverse cuisine?) followed by a riverboat tour that was considered a quintessential tourist-friendly Fairbanks experience. That evening, we all went to Peter’s house and had a dinner of caribou meat and reindeer sausage with a group of scientists from Fairbanks and their families. And because it just so happens that Peter’s house is right next door to a musk ox farm, we were lucky enough to be able to check that out too. Already, we felt right at home in Fairbanks. However, it should be noted that while they may have had beautiful mountains and glacier-fed rivers, they couldn’t hold a candle to Jersey in terms of smog and traffic!