Greetings from Barrow, Alaska! It has been two days since we first arrived and we are well into adjusting. Though, this is one of the strangest places that I have ever been, the people we have met so far are extremely nice and accommodating.
A few things we have encountered: jacked up food prices; restaurants that claim to be Italian but in fact have a menu that extends into every other culture as well; water delivered by truck; going to extreme measures to keep your personal water bottle from freezing; leaving your snow pants on all day; no recycling at all; and having to plug in your car when you turn it off, or just leave it running outside even for stops of a few hours. We spent our first day in Barrow getting our bearings, going to safety meetings, getting land use permits, gauging the conditions of sea ice, moving into our little house, and going grocery shopping.
One thing that stuck out at the safety meeting was the polar bear hazard. Polar bears are entirely adorable, but clearly, despite my fantasies, are also curious, territorial, and brutally dangerous.
As they are endangered, it is an offense to “take” a polar bear in any way, such as harassing, harming, or killing the bear. In some places, such as the Alaskan oil fields , even a photograph is considered a “take”.
Though in Barrow photos of polar bears are entirely legal, we were advised not to attempt any because if you are close enough to take a picture of a polar bear, you are probably not in a safe position. Who knew? Luckily out in the field we will always have an armed bear guard to expertly watch out for signs of bears.
After our safety briefing, we headed to hut #142 an enormous garage, to familiarize ourselves with the relevant equipment for our expedition. The men in the shop included Mike, Scotty, Raymond, and Nelson. They brought out chainsaws (a long bar and a regular bar), a generator, an ice saw, and auger (a giant drill), as well as chaps and other PPE (personal protection equipment).
We practiced firing up the machines with engines, such as the chainsaws and generator. Then came my favorite part: test-driving the snowmobiles. Though we all had previous experience with snow machines, why turn down giving them a spin? Plus these vehicles will be our primary transportation in the field; pretty fun, right?
That afternoon we continued to set ourselves up for our field work the next day. We found a workshop for the ICE-MITT boxes (in a building called, mysteriously, The Theatre, played with the GoPro (we may have conducted an experiment where we froze it in ice), and planned for the new few days and weeks.
The next morning we woke up at 8 am to darkness and got ourselves ready. Nelson was our bear guard for the outing and helped set up all of our equipment such as the hand drill, the ice auger, the generator, and the snow mobiles. We piled all of our equipment into a plastic sled for Ross to tow behind his vehicle and took off.
The mission of today’s fieldwork was to explore multiple sites and determine the ice depths. We need ice that is at least a meter deep in order for us to drill a core that will fit perfectly into the ICE-MITT box. We visited seven points in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, beginning just off the coast opposite Imikpuk Lake.
From there we made our way around Point Barrow, where Nelson kindly welcomed us “to the Northernmost point in the United States.” We measured our final depth just outside the entrance to the Elson Lagoon before heading back across the frozen lagoon to our headquarters at NARL (Naval Arctic Research Lab).
At each site we used the hand drill and auger to drill a 3 inch diameter hole through the ice until we hit water. Then, using a Kovacs Ice Thickness Gauge we measured the thickness of the ice and finally the snow thickness on top of the ice. At a few of our sites the ice was more than a meter thick, but others did not live up to that standard. The ice closer to the town is not as thick as normal at this time of year due to some uncharacteristically warm weather in December.
However, off of the coast of Point Barrow we found ice greater than a meter in thickness and took our first ice core! Therefore, at 1 pm, with the sun hardly 30˚ above the horizon and the temperature ringing in at -10˚F, we made our way back to NARL with our first successful trip under our belt.