Posts Tagged ‘Alaska’

Exploring Juneau

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012


Juneau's famous Mendenhall Glacier

The next day was a travel day, and we flew from Barrow to Anchorage to Juneau. So two days after we left Barrow we finally met with Molly McMannon, director of IOOS, and Ed Page, director of the Marine Exchange of Alaska in Juneau before heading to the Coast Guard’s Alaskan headquarters. There, we sat in on a meeting between the scientists and members of the Coast Guard, in which the scientists explained how the Coast Guard could use the technology being developed by Rutgers, IOOS, and the Marine Exchange to help keep the coastlines safe. Everybody had something different to offer, and together they were a very strong collaboration.
Afterwards, we all headed to the Marine Exchange where we went on a trip up the harbor in the

Boats on the harbor

company’s boat. When we came back, we were able to see where we went exactly, as the Exchange specializes in vessel tracking. They were able to show us exactly where we were in comparison to other boats that were also being tracked. We were also given a tour of their facilities, and although they were in a small building they still had a lot going on inside. We then paid a visit to their shop, where a small and extremely weather resistant structure was being built so that it could be placed out in the field and the technicians could work inside out of the elements. Although these kinds of things aren’t necessary in New Jersey, in harsh Arctic conditions it can be very difficult to work without some sort of shelter. Overall, the Marine and Exchange and Rutgers were totally different, but it was very interesting to see new approaches to the same problems.

Bald Eagles were common in Juneau, and locals went so far as to call them "the pigeons of Alaska"

Later, Steve took us to check out one of Juneau’s best pizza shops, which in the end could definitely compete with some of the best New York style from home. That evening we explored downtown, culminating in Carey and Amanda spotting and running from a small black bear wandering around the streets. Apparently, it’s relatively common to see bears in town, and although Alaska seems like a cool place to live that’s something that would be hard to get used to.

Barrow Adventures– Day 2

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

On our second day in Barrow we went to UMIAQ where we met up with Steve from the Marine Exchange of Alaska. He would be working with us, setting up green energy sources for the project and working on the AIS system. We made it out to the CODAR site and saw the ice had moved back in shore, close enough to walk out on, something that is very unusual for this time of year. So our bear guide, Tony, took us over and went on the ice with us. Tony was awesome. He has lived in Barrow his whole life and shared so many stories with us about living in Barrow and their culture. Later, Hank and Steve fixed the noise problem the system had. They also did some wiring and checked out the site

Amanda, Tony, and Carey hanging out on some sea ice

It was then time to do some checking of the AIS and antenna. We tested the system by walking in a semicircle around the antenna with the transponder a few times. After that was finished, we put the transponder on the back of one of the ATVs and turned into simulated ships to test the AIS system. We rode around with a GPS so our locations were recorded and Hank, Steve, Scott, and Mike checked to see how far we could be detected.

Driving the transponder around Point Barrow

This day was colder than our first day in Barrow, so after all the tests were done, we did a quick ride out to the bone-yard one last time and for 10 minutes were the most northern people in the United States. After admiring the Arctic Ocean and beauty of Point Barrow, the group headed back to town and went to lunch. After lunch we went to a shop where they make scrimshaw, which is made from whalebones and baleen. We got to talk to some of the artists. One was named Vernon. He started making scrimshaw when he was 17 and has been doing it for 20 years now.

Joe and Hank checking out Joe's Museum 

That evening, when dinner was over, we went to Joe’s Museum. Joe was a water deliverer in Barrow for 26 years and had collected artifacts and Arctic animals all his life. Joe had a lot of stuff and could be classified as a hoarder, but was nice and extremely knowledgeable of the history of Alaska. Joe also had the sweetest dog named Laker, who was the highlight of the tour for Amanda.

Our midnight polar bear plunge

The most exciting part of our trip so far came next. Amanda, Carey, and Mike did the real Polar Bear Plunge. We ran into the Arctic Ocean and ran right back out. While in the water it wasn’t cold, but as soon as we got out, the coldness hit us and we sprinted to the car where we had tons of towels and blankets waiting for us. We quickly rinsed off and went to bed to get ready for our string of flights the next day.

Barrow Adventures–Day 1

Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

We were still on East Coast time, so we all woke up in Fairbanks around 4 am to complete daylight. Not long after, we headed off to one of the most laid back airports ever and boarded a plane to Barrow.

A Barrow welcome sign

Barrow's airport-- its one x-ray machine can be seen on the left

Barrow’s airport, it turns out, is even more laid back than Fairbanks. It was one room, and only contained about 30 people; it was definitely far from Newark or JFK. We took a ride over to UMIAQ, or Ukpeaġvik Iñupiat Corporation, an organization that offers scientific support and from which we could rent the 4-wheelers needed to head out to the CODAR site (because of the terrain, regular vehicles are not allowed).
The CODAR site was built by UAF and is located on Point Barrow, the northern-most point of the United States. It was assembled offsite, disassembled, brought out to its location, and then reassembled in 6 days. The total weight of the structure is 6,000 pounds, 3,000 of which are from batteries. It was built on 12 beams that are not actually attached to the ground, but just rest on top of it; the weight of the structure keeps the building in place. The entire unit leaves no footprint; it could easily be taken apart and moved and no one would know anything was ever there. The site is completely green, running on solar power or wind power, but with sufficient backup power for 5 days.

Scott, Hank, and Mike outside the CODAR site

The point of going to the site the first day we were in Barrow was to see the equipment and get a better understanding of how the plan for vessel detection was going to work out, as well as diagnose the source of some noise that was interfering with the HFR system. We got to see the CODAR system, the power supplies, the antenna, and the AIS system. Actually getting to see all the technology that was going to give the results we read about and studied was very interesting.
Hank was with us, and as UAF’s CODAR technician he spent some time working on the noise issue while the rest of us went out to the whale-bone yard. Every year after the annual whale hunt, the Inpuiat natives bring the remaining whale carcasses at the whale-bone yard in hopes of keeping the polar bears away from town. We were then able to stand at the actual Northern-most point in the US, and got to check out the sea ice a little more closely, even spotting some seals!

Amanda next to the whale-bone yard. It smelled pretty great.

After a little more work at the CODAR site, we headed back to town and saw another multistatic CODAR system. It had a tuning system, which allowed for clearer and farther data collection, an idea that could be useful at Rutgers.

Welcome to Fairbanks!

Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

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.

UAF's Lab. Their freshwater glider ballasting tank has a window on the side so students can observe what's going on

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.

Riverboat Tour in Fairbanks

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!

Why Alaska?

Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

This July, we got the opportunity to go to Alaska and visit Point Barrow, the northernmost point in the US and the testing site for the use of CODAR SeaSondes and AIS, automatic identification system, in vessel tracking. As the artic sea ice retreats, there will be more and more room for  ships to travel through this new passage, and as oil drilling gets underway vessel traffic will become common.

A view from the air of sea ice off Barrow's coast

Ultimately, the Coast Guard will become responsible for the safety of people out on these new open waters, and it will become increasingly necessary for Homeland Security to know what kinds of ships are out there. This is where the CODAR SeaSondes and AIS come in, and why we’re traveling to Barrow. This technology will help the US prepare for and adapt to changes happening in the Arctic.

-- Amanda & Carey