Field Notes: The Polar Field Services Newsletter

What the Humble Blade of Grass Can Tell Us about Environmental Change, Farming and Human Ecodynamics in Iceland

A landscape scene from the Myvatn area. Photo: Astrid Ogilvie

A landscape scene from the Myvatn area. Photo: Astrid Ogilvie

Grass probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about the foundations of Icelandic culture and society. But the humble blade of grass has played an incredibly important role in Iceland since the early days of settlement.

For centuries, the fate of the grass and hay crop was literally tied to the lives of farmers and their families who raised and depended on livestock. Historically, changes in weather and climate could mean prosperity or famine and despair. Today, the outcomes of the grass and hay crop aren’t quite as vital to life in the island nation as they used to be. However, there’s a lot to be learned from how environmental and climate changes impacted the hay crop and Icelandic communities in years past.

Astrid Ogilvie, research fellow at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research and senior scientist at the Stefansson Arctic Institute in Akureyri, Iceland, is leading a multidisciplinary team to investigate the long-term sustainability of rural farming in Myvatn. Myvatn is a region in northeastern Iceland with a rich farming history. Their research is focused primarily on the time period between 1700 and the mid-1900s.

Team members (from left to right) Astrid Ogilvie, Viðar Hreinsson, Ragnhildur Sigurðardóttir and Árni Daníel Júlíusson conferring on the project in Reykjavik. Photo: Astrid Ogilvie

Team members (from left to right) Astrid Ogilvie, Viðar Hreinsson, Ragnhildur Sigurðardóttir and Árni Daníel Júlíusson conferring on the project in Reykjavik. Photo: Astrid Ogilvie

In addition to Ogilvie, who is a climate historian and human ecologist, the project team members include: Ragnhildur Sigurdardottir, ecosystem ecologist and geologist who grew up on a Myvarn farm; Arni Daniel Juliusson, environmental and agricultural historian; Vidar Hreinsson, literary scholar; and Megan Hicks, zooarchaeologist.

The National Science Foundation-funded pilot project, titled Investigations of the Long Term Sustainability of Human Ecodynamic Systems in Northern Iceland, is well underway.  Ogilvie talked to Field Notes about this collaborative effort that has participants doing everything from unearthing archaeological artifacts to studying Iceland’s songs and poetry.

Field Notes (FN): What do you hope to learn about the sustainability of rural farming in Myvatn?

Astrid Ogilvie (AO): We have one overarching research question—we are looking at the varying factors that influenced the success of the hay crop, grazing, and the sustainability of these resources.

The reason why we are so interested in hay and grass is that grass was really the only crop in Iceland in the past. The crux of the matter was that there had to be enough grass or hay to feed the livestock over the winter. Many, many times there were famines and farmers didn’t have enough hay. That meant that the livestock could die and, in consequence, so could people. So, grass and hay were really serious issues.

By looking at this one specific aspect of the economy, we also hope to gain a broad understanding of ways in which societies constantly change, adapt and develop, and also maintain and renew their cultural memories with regard to the environment.

FN: Are there any other things you are hoping to learn along the way?

AO: We do have several other goals associated with this project and we’re hoping to have quite a few results. I’m particularly interested in producing very detailed analyses of the effects of weather, climate, and the presence of sea ice on the grass and hay yield. The presence of sea ice means lower temperatures, which impact grass growth.

We’re also looking at the historical developments of different systems of land management and the success or failure of strategies associated with these. To do this, we’re looking at farms in the region and why some failed and others didn’t, as well as changes in livestock management systems.

The project also considers human perceptions of agricultural and environmental change as reflected in poetry and other forms of literature in the overall context of folklore and cultural memory. You’d be surprised how many poems and songs were written about grass!

FN: Tell us a little about the agricultural history of the region. Do people still actively farm the land in Myvatn today?

AO: Myvatn’s history is very interesting, as it was one of the first areas in Iceland to be settled beginning in the late 800s AD. Unlike other areas, it’s been farmed continuously.

Location Map of the Myvatn area

Location Map of the Myvatn area

Part of the reason for this is undoubtedly the rich natural resources of the area, and the region is unique in the way that it has practiced sustainable natural extraction for its most vital resources for an extended period of time. People are still actively farming the land, although tourism is rapidly increasing as an additional form of livelihood.

I also have to mention the unique ecology of the region! Myvatn is a wetland region that was designated a protected area in 1974, and in 1978 placed on the RAMSAR list of wetlands of international importance. The name “Myvatn” literally means “Midge Lake” and refers to the large number of midges in the area. The midge population is of vital importance for the local ecosystem, providing food for the migratory and native water birds that flock to the area, as well as for the fish in the lake.

FN: What types of data are you and your team collecting?

AO: The major emphasis of the project is on documentary historical data. These come from all sorts of different written accounts that give very detailed information about the progression of change over the project time period. We have this information because Icelanders kept unusually good and detailed records from early settlement times onwards.

A document in the local archive at Husavik, not far from the Myvatn area, that shows information and meteorological observations for the very cold year of 1880. Photo: Astrid Ogilvie

A document in the local archive at Husavik, not far from the Myvatn area, that shows information and meteorological observations for the very cold year of 1880. Photo: Astrid Ogilvie

In regards to the documentary records, I want to share a little bit of historical information first. Iceland was governed by Denmark for a long time—until 1944. From the 1700s up to around 1900, officials from around the country were required to send in reports to the Danish government every year. There are reports on everything—reports about the weather, the hay, the livestock trade, fisheries, vegetables grown, people’s health, and so on. I am making a specific study of these reports. They are a fantastically rich data set!

We are also very privileged to have access to another set of unique historical documents that have never been used before. These are provided by project Co-PI Ragnhildur Sigurdardottir from the unpublished archives of her ancestors. These documentary data will be complemented by data from the archaeological record.

Archaeological information is also very important for the project, as it helps to illuminate the documentary records and provides further insights into the characteristics of sustainable or exploitative economies. The project also benefits from the collaborative international archaeological work that has been ongoing in the Myvatn region for over three decades. We are particularly interested in zooarchaeological data, which involves looking at animal bones. We want to know more about the ratio of different animals that were kept in the past. There were mostly sheep, cattle and horses, but over time there were different emphases on the types of animals that were kept.

The project has a significant archaeological component. The photo shows team member Megan Hicks, a zooarchaeologist, at work. Photo: Astrid Ogilvie

The project has a significant archaeological component. The photo shows team member Megan Hicks, a zooarchaeologist, at work. Photo: Astrid Ogilvie

FN: Are there some initial findings you can share with us?

AO: Yes, it’s really quite clear that weather and climate did have an impact on grass growth and hay yield. It’s also quite easy to prove that statistically. Bad weather—either very wet weather or very dry, or even early winter storms and snow—had a negative effect on the hay and grass crop. Variable weather with alternating frosts and thaws could also have a very bad effect. Also, in years when a lot of sea ice drifted to the coasts from Greenland this had a negative effect on the grass. This was mainly because the ice has the effect of lowering temperatures on land.

FN: What can we learn from this project, and from the past, about living in a time of environmental change?

AO: I hope that we can find some sense of how to farm and live sustainably in a particular environment. Even though what we are looking at with this project happened in the past, there are still a lot of lessons for the present and the future. The past can teach us how people once coped with difficult situations and environmental change.

In more general terms, we can already see that by collecting and synthesizing different forms of data relating to one specific aspect of the economy—the hay and grass—we are building up a lot of information on critical connections between society and the environment—the ecodynamics emphasis of the project.–Alicia Clarke

For more information about Astrid Ogilvie and this collaborative project to understand the long-term sustainability of human ecodynamic systems in northern Iceland, visit http://instaar.colorado.edu/people/astrid-e-j-ogilvie/.

Endangered Archaeology: Climate Change Threatens to Swallow Paleo-Inuit Sites from Alaska to Greenland

A site used by a paleo-Inuit people known to science as the Dorset threatens to fall into the sea. Photo: John Darwent

A site used by a paleo-Inuit people known to science as the Dorset threatens to fall into the sea. Photo: John Darwent

When John Darwent returned to a remote corner of northwestern Greenland in 2012 to search for the remains of a paleo-Inuit culture that had occupied the area millennia ago, he found the site dramatically changed from the previous visit in 2006. Several meters of the coast had disappeared, chewed away by storm waves that had assaulted the permafrost. A rare archaeological find would soon be swept out to Baffin Bay.

A year later—and about 1,500 miles away—erosion along shoreline bluffs of the Chukchi Sea at Walakpa, about 12 miles from Barrow, Alaska, revealed an ancient sod house on an archaeological site once considered mined of all of its secrets back in the late 1960s. Anne Jensen and a small team of archaeologists raced to the area to conduct an emergency excavation, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), before the structure fell away when the next big storm pounded Alaska’s North Slope.

A storm in 2013 caused erosion along a bluff about 12 miles south of Barrow, Alaska, revealing an ancient sod house that has been dated to as early as 500 AD. Photo: Anne Jensen

A storm in 2013 caused erosion along a bluff about 12 miles south of Barrow, Alaska, revealing an ancient sod house that has been dated to as early as 500 AD. Photo: Anne Jensen

These events are not isolated, insist archaeologists. Countless archaeological sites are under threat from climate change around the world.

In the Arctic, the pattern has become a familiar one. Sea ice—a buffer between the coastline and open seas—is retreating earlier and returning later each year. That leaves the shoreline vulnerable for longer periods of time to angry storm waves, which pummel permafrost weakened by warmer temperatures like a battering ram on the walls of a castle long under siege. Large blocks of sod then tumble into the ocean along with human artifacts, even whole structures, buried within the soil for centuries if not millennia.

“Every archaeological site in the Arctic is eroding, and we can’t stabilize all of them,” says Genevieve LeMoine, curator and registrar of the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum at Bowdoin College in Maine.

LeMoine is principal investigator on a RAPID grant from the National Science Foundation, in collaboration with Darwent, to recover artifacts from the Late Dorset culture that are entombed at the historic Inughuit village site of Iita, located in Foulke Fjord, in northwestern Greenland. The team will head to the site in June. (RAPID grants are NSF research awards for which funds are set aside for projects with severe urgency, such as a proposal to study the aftershocks of an earthquake.)

Researchers Hans Lennert, Hans Lange and Justin Junge excavate Late Dorset culture artifacts from Iita in Greenland. The site served as a crossroads for various paleo-Inuit cultures crossing into Greenland. Climate change is endangering its long-term viability, so archaeologists are racing against time to save what they can. Photo: John Darwent

Researchers Hans Lennert, Hans Lange and Justin Junge excavate Late Dorset culture artifacts from Iita in Greenland. The site served as a crossroads for various paleo-Inuit cultures crossing into Greenland. Climate change is endangering its long-term viability, so archaeologists are racing against time to save what they can. Photo: John Darwent

“We’re starting to realize this is a broad and inevitable crisis, and we’re trying to figure out how to cope with this impending loss of lots and lots of archaeological data,” LeMoine adds.

Spreading east

The Dorset represent a distinct culture of the High Arctic that were broadly part of what scientists refer to as the Arctic Small Tool tradition. ASTt people, as the name implies, employed small tools made of flint or quartz—a useful technology for a highly mobile culture. Waves of these paleo-Inuit spread eastward from Alaska and Canada into Greenland as long as 4,500 years ago.

The Dorset people had ventured as far as northwest Greenland by 700 AD. Primarily hunters who preyed on seals through holes in the sea ice, the Dorset preceded another culture known as the Thule, whose own migration eastward from Alaska began around 1200 AD. Their move into Greenland occurred rapidly, according to Jensen, perhaps within one or two generations. The modern natives of Greenland are descended from the Thule, who had distinctive technologies that enabled them to hunt whales.

Iita, also known as Etah, was a crossroads for these paleo-Inuit migrations and cultures. Its location on the edge of the Northwater Polynya, an area of open water in sea ice, served as an ideal outpost to hunt marine mammals like walrus. A nearby bird colony of dovekies, or little auks, was also a valuable resource. In the past, Arctic fox and hare had also been plentiful in the area.

“It was a good base camp, and it had resources at different times of the year,” LeMoine notes.

Saving data

How did the Dorset Culture use those resources? What were their lives like—and what led to their eventual demise? What interaction, if any, occurred between the Dorset and Thule people? The answers to a number of such questions may be awaiting discovery just below the surface at Iita.

“The potential importance of the site for looking at Late Dorset culture is very high because it is rare to find stratified sites in the high Arctic,” says Darwent, who was on the team of scientists in 2006 that first discovered signs of Dorset Culture at Iita on an expedition originally focused on Thule excavations.

In particular, Darwent, a researcher at the University of California, Davis, is referring to the layering of artifacts like layers in a cake, thanks to a trick of the local geography. He described the area in a brief project summary following a 2012 expedition funded by NSF:

Iita sits on an alluvial fan created by a fast running creek; however, prior to the creation of the fan, during the time when ice still ran down the fjord, a steep-sloped deposit of gravel was left along the wall of the fjord, known as a kame. This kame is now eroding because of its steep slope; sand, gravel, and cobbles from it now flow down onto the alluvial fan, creating the stratigraphy now present at the site. … First an open surface exists that develops vegetation … then this surface is buried, and then another surface with vegetation develops. And upon these surfaces people lived.

“What makes the deposits special at Iita is not only the Late Dorset material stratigraphically below the Thule occupations; there are three distinct layers of just Late Dorset materials,” Darwent explains during an email exchange in May. “In essence, we have three snapshots of different times within the Late Dorset use of the region.”

Elation at such a discovery has been tempered by the precarious conditions that threaten to plunge Iita into Foulke Fjord. As luck—bad in this case—would have it, the most complex and informative deposits are located close to that erosion face, according to Darwent.

Archaeologist Justin Junge works to recover artifacts at Iita, Greenland. Photo: John Darwent

Archaeologist Justin Junge works to recover artifacts at Iita, Greenland. Photo: John Darwent

“As for timing, I would imagine in the next decade the stratified deposits could be gone,” he says, adding that the whole site is very large and there are some areas that will not be affected. “This summer will give us a good opportunity to see if substantial loss has occurred over the last four years. I am actually apprehensive that a large erosion event could have occurred already.”

Going all out

A lead scientist at Ukpeagvik Inupiat Corporation (UIC) near Barrow, Jensen used funds from her RAPID grant to collect and analyze samples from Walakpa. As late as 2013, the site at Walakpa appeared stable when the face of the bluff sloughed off, exposing a sod house, which has since been dated to as early as 500 AD. The Iñupiat people have inhabited the region for at least 3,500 years.

“There are a number of sites that are very important, and if we don’t get to them fairly soon, they will no longer contain all of this really cool data,” says Jensen during a phone interview from Alaska where she has worked for more than 20 years.

As late as 2013, the site at Walakpa appeared stable when the face of the bluff sloughed off, exposing a sod house, which has since been dated to as early as 500 AD. The Iñupiat people have inhabited the region for at least 3,500 years.

Researchers look over the eroded bluff where a storm in 2013 revealed an ancient sod house. Photo: Anne Jensen

Researchers look over the eroded bluff where a storm in 2013 revealed an ancient sod house. Photo: Anne Jensen

“It’s not just important because it has the cultural heritage of this area,” she adds. “It’s a place that’s been used consistently for a very long time.”

A storm over the 2014 Labor Day weekend took out as much as 11 meters of the coastline along a 100-meter front. More of the site was lost the following year in a different storm. Jensen is leading an all-volunteer effort later this summer to recover as many artifacts and material as possible before more of the coastline breaks away. She’s even donating airline miles to help defray travel costs for colleagues.

“We’ll probably have people staying at my house,” she says.

Reaching beyond archaeology

Jensen’s impassioned advocacy goes beyond archaeology. She says human occupation at many of these sites can provide the sorts of ecological and environmental insights that are often the dominion of ice cores, sediment cores, and tree rings.

For example, at Walakpa, people have brought fish, whales, and other prey to the same site for thousands of years. Tissue samples from those animals are preserved in the permafrost, like meat in a freezer, waiting to be extracted and analyzed.

“You have a frozen tissue archive with several thousand years of time depth,” she notes. “Museums don’t have that.”

Experts can look at DNA and tease out information about animal population dynamics, speciation, even how diets changed and the food web evolved in response to environmental upheavals. It’s even possible now to extract corticosteroids from bone samples to determine if an animal experienced stress during its lifetime, Jensen explains.

“You can date it all,” she says. “You can start to put your food web together and see how they changed over time.

“A lot of it is not just social science data,” she adds. “A whole lot of the data I’m talking about is not going to answer social science questions; it’s going to answer natural science questions.”

Racing against time

It’s difficult to race against time to save the world’s archaeological treasures if there’s not even a starting line: There is no comprehensive list of endangered sites or even a catalog of how many are under threat at this time.

“The scope of the problem is so big,” LeMoine notes.

Jensen says there is momentum in the scientific community to prioritize sites worldwide and create a vulnerability index, based on a variety of factors, from cultural value to preservation cost to the assessed level of endangerment. Pragmatism must be observed in some cases. “There’s nothing you can do to protect some of these things,” Jensen says.

In the meantime, Jensen is advocating for a campaign to collect as much data as possible from archaeological sites, even forgoing analysis in the short term. She says a similar program to collect ice cores from fast-disappearing glaciers in the mid-latitudes captured invaluable data in the form of ice cores before the ice melted away in many places.

“Something similar needs to happen with archaeological sites,” Jensen says. “If you do it in the normal science order, you will get far less data. In 50 years, we’ll get far less data than we would have if we had gotten the primary data and curated it properly.”

Weathering change

How much time is left is anyone’s guess. However, the Arctic is changing more rapidly than scientists have predicted.

Alaska just experienced its warmest February ever and second warmest winter ever in the modern record, according to NOAA. Over the past 60 years, Alaska has warmed more than twice as fast as the rest of the country. Average annual temperatures have increased by 3 degrees Fahrenheit with winter temperatures increasing by 6 degrees Fahrenheit.

Arctic sea ice is at the tipping point, setting a record low maximum extent in 2016 for the second straight year, according to scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in Boulder, Colo., and NASA. Sea ice extent over the Arctic Ocean averaged 14.52 million square kilometers on March 24, beating last year’s record low of 14.54 million square kilometers over the 37-year satellite record.

The longer absence of sea ice is detrimental to the coastline, even in areas like Alaska’s North Slope where permafrost is still relatively stable, according to Vladimir E. Romanovsky, head of the Geophysical Institute Permafrost Laboratory at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, which maintains a network of permafrost monitoring sites in North America and Russia with NSF funding.

Scientist Vladimir Romanovsky studies changes in the permafrost around the North Slope of Alaska in 2007. Warming climate is causing the active layer – the upper portion of the soil that thaws and freezers each year – to deepen. Warmer permafrost is partly allowing coastal erosion around the Arctic, endangering archaeological sites. Photo: Vladimir Romanovsky

Scientist Vladimir Romanovsky studies changes in the permafrost around the North Slope of Alaska in 2007. Warming climate is causing the active layer—the upper portion of the soil that thaws and freezers each year—to deepen. Warmer permafrost is partly allowing coastal erosion around the Arctic, endangering archaeological sites. Photo: Vladimir Romanovsky

That’s because wave energy has more space and time to build up intensity. “It’s going to accelerate the rate of coastal erosion,” he says. “Degradation of permafrost is mostly coastal erosion in the Barrow area.”

In far northern areas like Barrow in Alaska and Iita in Greenland, little of the permafrost is fully thawing, Romanovsky says. However, the permafrost is warming and the active layer, the upper part of the soil that thaws and freezes annually, is slowly deepening, he adds.

Under a “business as usual” climate model where human impacts from atmospheric carbon dioxide remain steady, temperatures in Alaska will climb by as much as 8 degrees Celsius by century’s end. “In this case, according to this scenario, permafrost will be thawing even on the North Slope of Alaska,” Romanovsky says.

Additionally, the high salinity content of some soils in Greenland and Alaska, particularly along the coast, means liquid may already exist in some areas. Where there is water, there is life – microorganisms decomposing organic material. The temperature in the permafrost doesn’t need to reach 0 degrees Celsius before frozen earth in saltier soils thaws, ruining Jensen’s ecological archive of frozen animal tissue as the microbes go to work.

“These things have transitioned from perfect organic preservation to bone mush – there’s nothing that you can recover,” she says. “It’s a very rapid transition. It’s not like we have a lot of time here.” —Peter Rejcek

For further information about the scientists and their work, visit their blogs, visit:

Jensen: https://iceandtime.net/

LeMoine: https://crockerland.wordpress.com/

GrIT Situation Report 8

22 May 2016
Heading back

The snow ramp from ice sheet to parking area. Photo: Julie Raine

The snow ramp from ice sheet to parking area. Photo: Julie Raine

To prepare for the GrIT’s return to Thule, four CPS staff flew to Thule Air Base last week to open traverse infrastructure. Spring has arrived at the airbase: temperatures ranged from 27F to 40F, with a few days of light, quickly melting snow.  The sun’s rays assist with drying out the thick, sticky mud in Thule’s work spaces, but it is unwelcome at the transition where snow disappears all too quickly. The CPS team inspected the transition and found good news:  the snow fence erected in April had caught a large drift; despite the melting around Thule, the transition snow seems to be holding. Having enough snow to create a surface for the tractors and sleds to use to drive off the ice sheet is crucial to returning the vehicles to their parking area on land.

More mechanicals

Out on the ice, the GrIT has traveled over 200 miles since departing Summit on 15 May.  Lighter loads and a packed road (established during the run to Summit) has enabled the tractors to move at speeds of 6-7mph on average, with a few 60+ mile days clocked.  Unfortunately, mechanical issues hamper progress.

A plastic valve cover melted due to proximity to the heat of the tractor turbo, so the mechanics had to rebuild the cover with epoxy and high temperature silicone and then let it cure overnight.  In addition, they removed the steel plates between the turbo and the valve cover and inserted a layer of ceramic glass insulation to keep the compartment cool.

Coinciding with the valve cover repair, the steel towing cable on the crew quarters module broke, having weakened where it was chaffing against the u-bolts. The crew replaced it with a dynema rope, fitting it with as much anti-chaffing protection as possible.

Idler hands

The faulty idler wheel removed. Photo: Robin Davies

The faulty idler wheel removed. Photo: Robin Davies

In addition, the left rear inside idler wheel bearings collapsed on the Case 500. These tractors run with two idler wheels on the rear track, so the GrIT continued for several days with just one idleruntil it failed as well.  The idler’s location on the inside meant that in order to repair it, the mechanics would have to remove the track, a very difficult job in the field.  Instead, the GrIT crew placed the inside idler from the right side track on the left side, leaving both tracks to run on just one idler. To accommodate the 500’s reduced pulling capacity, our team distributed its cargo to the two fully functioning tractors.

Durabase pushing up underneath the Tucker. Photo: Robin Davies

While the DuraBase platform worked very well under the heavy D7 en route to Summit, the GrIT team has noticed some movement and snow pushing up underneath the lighter Tucker load. Photo: Robin Davies

Our team is excited to get back to Thule. Despite the setbacks (e.g., 2 days stopped to repair vehicles), the crews are still moving forward. Daily chores abound, including chipping out the ice, checking the cargo and refueling tractors daily (as seen in the photo below).

Keeping the vehicles fueled up and somewhat free of ice. Photo: Robin Davies

Keeping the vehicles fueled up and somewhat free of ice. Photo: Robin Davies

 

–Julie Raine

GrIT_logo_2016The Arctic Research Support and Logistics Program within the National Science Foundation’s Division of Polar Programs funds the GrIT. CH2MHILL Polar Services and Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratories are working together with the NSF to develop the traverse infrastructure and route to Summit Station. The 2016 spring traverse delivers cargo to Summit Station, and continues efforts to optimize mobility, GrIT will provide direct science support to several projects, retrieving instruments for a soon-to-be-completed effort, and laying fuel caches for upcoming projects. Follow GrIT’s progress here: http://datatransport.org/grit.

GrIT Situation Report 7

16 May 2016
In and Out of Summit Station

GrIT team looking well-rested after a short respite at Summit Station. (L-R) Ben Toth, Galen Dossin, Robin Davies, Pat Smith. Photo: Kaija Webster

GrIT team looking well-rested after a short respite at Summit Station. (L-R) Ben Toth, Galen Dossin, Robin Davies, Pat Smith. Photo: Kaija Webster

The Traverse arrived at Summit 08 May and departed 15 May.

Battling All the Way

The crew endured a few rough days prior to reaching Summit. Snow conditions caused a loss of traction, requiring the tractors to crawl along at 3 mph.  Although the GrIT crew said they did less double-hauling on the last leg into Summit than in previous years, they still made slow progress with the snow conditions and load configurations. Continuing the 4th crew member on the night shift allowed the men to keep forward momentum and they leap-frogged the cargo at night to stay on track.

Within 70 miles of Summit, the Case 500’s turbo failed due to an improperly factory-installed nut, which worked its way loose and jammed into the turbo vanes.

The Case in the shop at Summit. Photo: Robin Davies

The Case in the shop at Summit. Photo: Robin Davies

The GrIT team repaired the Case, but a hydraulic leak developed days later. Undeterred, the team made some field welds, and finished the journey, arriving at Summit mid day on 8 May. The ailing Case went into to the shop almost immediately.

Summit Off and Onload

Weather took a turn, with whiteout and north wind conditions limiting and/or preventing work (because north winds blow Summit’s air “footprint” into the clean snow sector, we avoid running machines in those conditions).  The mechanics completed full vehicle checks while many GrIT tasks waited for better weather. Once the winds shifted, the GrIT team and Summit staff unloaded the various cargo packages.

To help with cargo offloading, the Summit group built a snow berm, the GrIT vehicles were positioned alongside, and the top layer of cargo removed. The team then shaved down the berm to make it even with the next layer, pulled that cargo off, and so on.

The group worked for several days, and everything was offloaded successfully, including some big cargo pieces as shown in the pictures just below.

Next, the crew recovered a GrIT tractor and sled that had wintered outdoors at Summit and prepared it to return to Thule. It took several days to dig out the tractor and cargo sled, and then another to thaw the vehicle enough to start it. Since it wouldn’t hold a charge, the mechanics replaced an alternator–a small cost for wintering outside in -80F degree temperatures.

On the horizon, the pile of snow moved to dislodge the sled and tractor. Impressive! Photo: Robin Davies

On the horizon, the pile of snow moved to dislodge the GrIT sled and tractor. Impressive! Photo: Robin Davies

Heading Back to Thule

At first, the GrIT vehicles moved along well, at about 6.5 to 7 mph.  Unfortunately, after several hours, the Tucker operator noticed an oil leak on the vehicle’s front axle. Upon inspection, the GrIT team found iron filings clinging to the magnetic tip, indicating the Tucker’s pinion bearing had collapsed.

The fuel sled loaded for the return to Thule. The Tucker was loaded on this sled. Photo: Robin Davies

The fuel sled loaded for the return. The Tucker was loaded on this sled. Photo: Robin Davies

The Tucker is tuckered out, so it rides as cargo the remainder of the journey.

The crew is carrying fuel to support two research groups, so GrIT will pause to place a fuel cache at a designated site en route to Thule. Otherwise, it’s horse to barn, or GrIT to Thule. Depending upon progress, the GrIT team estimates arrival at Thule between 27 May and 04 June.–Julie Raine

GrIT_logo_2016The Arctic Research Support and Logistics Program within the National Science Foundation’s Division of Polar Programs funds the GrIT. CH2MHILL Polar Services and Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratories are working together with the NSF to develop the traverse infrastructure and route to Summit Station. The 2016 spring traverse delivers cargo to Summit Station, and continues efforts to optimize mobility, GrIT will provide direct science support to several projects, retrieving instruments for a soon-to-be-completed effort, and laying fuel caches for upcoming projects. Follow GrIT’s progress here: http://datatransport.org/grit.

Mapping Community Exposure to Coastal Hazards in Northern Alaska

The remote northern Alaska coast has some of the highest shoreline-erosion rates in the nation. Photo USGS (Click here for the page hosting the photo.)

The remote northern Alaska coast has some of the highest shoreline-erosion rates in the nation. Photo: USGS

Communities along the far northern coastlines of Alaska are witnessing some of the highest erosion rates in the world. Less and less sea ice cover results in the direct exposure of coastal soils to the destructive blunt force of powerful wave energy. That, coupled with permafrost thaw and sea-level rise, means the region can lose upwards of 50 feet of coastline per year in some locations.

Such a dramatic loss of coastal lands along Alaska’s North Slope has serious impacts on the villages that call the region home. Erosion is putting valuable community assets—like traditional lands, industrial sites, military infrastructure, and municipal utilities—at serious risk.

Community Mapping

Michael Brady, a doctorate candidate at Rutgers University in the Geography Department, is leading a National Science Foundation-supported project to document and map community exposure to coastal climate threats.

His project, titled Mapping Community Exposure to Coastal Climate Hazards in the Arctic: A Case Study in Alaska’s North Slope, integrates Geographic Information Systems, remote sensing, and other mapping tools to identify areas most at risk. What makes it particularly unique is that residents of the communities where he works are active participants in the research process.

“I do community mapping. I develop an erosion risk database in the North Slope, and then I create maps from that data to engage communities to both verify the maps, expand on them, and make sure the maps I create are locally usable,” Brady explained.

Ultimately, the map products that result from his work will be valuable resources to help communities and local officials plan for their needs in the face of a rapidly changing landscape.

Where Erosion and Valued Lands Overlap

Brady’s research takes a deeper look at areas where high erosion rates overlap with things people value.

“Near villages I’m working in, the erosion rates are severe, though not as severe as in other areas. Where I’m looking, we are seeing erosion rates of up to 10 feet per year in some places,” he said.

Over the past 2 years, Brady has conducted dozens of open-ended and semi-structured interviews with residents in Wainwright, Kaktovik, Barrow and Nuiqsut to get a better idea of where erosion is affecting people’s lives most.

During these conversations he and the participants highlight areas of high risk on paper maps. A number of themes emerged from those initial discussions.

“Traditional land use areas were a primary concern. In addition to Native Allotments, there are a lot of archaeological sites and cultural heritage resources that are significant. These are places where there still tends to be heavy activity. For instance, during the summer months communities often still use many of these places,” he said.

Residents also worry about the impact erosion may have on potentially contaminated Cold War sites that are near the marine habitats villagers often use to fish and collect other sources of food.

A cabin along the Arctic Alaska coastline was recently washed into the ocean because the bluff it was sitting on top of was eroded away. Photo: Benjamin Jones, USGS

A cabin along the Arctic Alaska coastline was recently washed into the ocean because the bluff it was sitting on top of was eroded away. Photo: Benjamin Jones, USGS

Utility infrastructure was the final major area of concern. “In Barrow, there are important pump stations for the utility company that if water gets into the system, the whole multi-million dollar operation is disrupted and would need major repairs,” Brady said. “At this point they are literally throwing dirt at it during the heaviest erosion months!”

Collaborative Exchanges

With the information identifying the assets at risk from erosion that villages cared most about in hand, Brady moved the next phase of his work—inputting this into a database and then developing accessible, web-based applications called story maps to share it more broadly.

Brady returns to these North Slope communities this spring with large, 10-foot long printed erosion risk maps of the region to verify the information in the database and speak with more community members about areas experiencing high erosion.

“This is collaborative, community-based research. An important tenant of that process is that it’s not just communities in the North Slope that are learning from the experience of being engaged with this research; I, as the researcher, am learning as well,” Brady said. “So this is reflexive research where there’s a mutual learning process. I’m learning and fine tuning my methods as I learn from people I work with in the field.”

Thawing permafrost accelerates erosion. Photo: USGS

Thawing permafrost accelerates erosion. Photo: USGS

More Applications

While Brady is in northern Alaska, he will also host usability workshops with local officials to explore how this spatially detailed erosion hazard risk information can be applied.

“At the end of this process, what I hope we all walk away with—and that other scientists can learn from, too—is the value of community engagement in research. I hope this process creates long term relationships that continue to grow, as they are the key to long term engagement on this issue,” Brady said.

For more information about Michael Brady and his project to map community exposure to coastal hazards in northern Alaska, visit https://sites.google.com/site/michaelbbrady1/. —Alicia Clarke

GrIT Situation Report 6

29 April 2016
Halfway To Summit Station

Crew members working to re-fasten the pouches to the decks. Photo: Robin Davies

Crew members working to refasten the pouches to the decks. Photo: Robin Davies

Sastrugi Encounters

The crew has surpassed the horrible sastrugi zone, which continued to cause our ARCS (Air ride cargo sled) pouches to detach from the decks.  The battens pulled away from the decks so the crews had to improvise a different strapping method. 

Before they left the sastrugi behind, the WeatherPort tent sustained additional damage, with several new tears allowing snow to blow into the team’s shelter.  The crew used a Speedy Stitcher sewing awl to repair the tent, closing it off to the elements.  They also moved cargo cages away from the tent wall to prevent further damage.

Left: inside the WeatherPort, patches repair tears in the tent wall. Right, sideview: tears are visible in the white WeatherPort, fabric,. The green helium cage is being moved back on the deck to prevent further damage. Gas cylinders must be enclosed in these cages for safety reasons, but they fill up with snow, adding unwanted weight to the decks. Photos: Robin Davies

Sled Mobility Optimization Tests

A new air manifold system developed this season to reduce the amount of time needed to check and maintain pressure in each airbeam pouch (which underlay and support the decks) has been less than a ringing success.  Staff designed a manifold system that fed out of the pouch opening and extended to the side of each deck, allowing the operators to make quick checks to better maintain stable pressure.  Unfortunately, several of the valve stems have snapped off, likely due to cold temperatures causing the material to become brittle. Broken stems allow air leaks, causing the pouches to lose pressure.  The team has gone back to the original method of checking and filling the pouches directly from the airbeam valves.

Left: the red hose of the manifold at the deck corner was intended to provide easy access to all of the airbeams within the pouch. Right: without the manifold, GrIT operators have to unfold the pouch and access each valve individually. Photos: Robin Davies

The old pontoon, removed from under the deck. Photo: Robin Davies

The old pontoon, removed from under the deck, will be folded and stowed as cargo. Photo: Robin Davies

In addition to the manifold issues, some of the airbeams migrated backwards, dislodging from under the load.  The crew had to pull them forward into place – not uncommon, but undesirable.  Finally, one pouch had to be fully replaced with our spare because the broken valve stem could not be fully repaired and continued to leak.

Once all of these repairs were made and the GrIT moved beyond the sastrugi, the loads seemed to settle in and the tractors started to tow them more easily. The D7 was loaded onto its own HMW sled riding on top of tires mounted to the Durabase.  Our team reports that this configuration seems to be hauling very well, and may be a new way to approach heavy equipment transport.  The tires protect the Durabase, which provides a solid platform to which the equipment may be mounted. The D7 has not shifted and they are happy with this load.

From left: The D7 loaded on its tire/Durabase sled before leaving Thule, and on the road packed with snow. Finally, a Case tractor hauling the cargo sled (seen in rear view mirror) passing the D7 sled . Photo: Robin Davies

GL-GrIT-BrazingAJointFieldRepairRobinDavies

Another day, another field repair– a brazed hydraulic return line. Photo: Robin Davies

More Field Repairs

Next, the Case 500 tractor developed  a hydraulic leak when a steel return line cracked at a point where the bracket was welded. Having encountered a similar issue on a previous traverse, the crew carried a spare, but because it was manufactured for another Case model, the crew had to braze the part to fix the leak.

Night Shift

To leverage the advantages of having four crew members, the team decided to add a night shift to “leap frog” loads forward. Three GrIT members move sleds forward through the day while Ben sleeps, and he continues at night. This strategy has helped the GrIT stay on track, literally: at night, Ben packs a trail for the cargo sled to follow during the day. Coupled with improved weather conditions, the team has made steady progress, even gaining 35-40 miles on several days.

The view of the packed road resulting from the night shift. Photo: Robin Davies

The view of the packed road resulting from the night work. Photo: Robin Davies

Science Support Update

The crew has retrieved several data cards from weather stations installed by Zoe Courville’s project, SAGE, an U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded study of sunlight absorption and firn compaction.  Some stations are deeply buried and will require significant effort when it is time to remove them later this season.

Left: The buried weather station. Right: Once we excavate the station, we retrieve the data card. Photos: Robin Davies.

–Julie Raine

GrIT_logo_2016The Arctic Research Support and Logistics Program within the National Science Foundation’s Division of Polar Programs funds the GrIT. CH2MHILL Polar Services and Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratories are working together with the NSF to develop the traverse infrastructure and route to Summit Station. The 2016 spring traverse delivers cargo to Summit Station, and continues efforts to optimize mobility, GrIT will provide direct science support to several projects, retrieving instruments for a soon-to-be-completed effort, and laying fuel caches for upcoming projects. Follow GrIT’s progress here: http://datatransport.org/grit.

Setting up Camp

Staff Make it Happen Near Tutakoke, Alaska

Each spring for as long as we can remember, we’ve installed a field camp for Jim Sedinger near Tutakoke, in southwestern Alaska. Sedinger’s field team works there all season to continue a long-term, NSF-funded study of Black Brant geese. Since 2014, we’ve also built a camp nearby for Karen Beard’s NSF-funded ecology experiment.

Spring 2014: Clearly conditions in Chevak do not favor using snowmobiles for put-in. Photo: Matt Irinaga

Spring 2014: Conditions do not favor using snowmobiles for transport. Photo: Matt Irinaga

But unusual spring weather in the last few years has challenged our plan to haul the field camp gear behind snowmobiles from the storage van where they have wintered in the village of Chevak, to the field site 20 miles away.

We’ve had to devise alternatives to work around early spring thaw, poor snow conditions, and flooding rain, resorting to boat rentals or small plane charters to reach the field site, Never a dull moment,

But this season, conditions cooperated, and we completed the put-in with snowmachines.  Larry Gullingsrud sent pictures to prove it.

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Pausing for a break during an early morning trip from Chevak to Tutakoke. A group of Chevak locals provide invaluable assistance to PFS/CPS staff. Photo: Larry Gullingsrud

The research sites are within ~100 yards of each other on the coast; both flood during fall/winter when Bering Sea weather creates storm surges that crest the beach. Though we anchor and strap gear down at the close of each season to keep it from floating away, when we return in the spring, we contend with gear enclosed in ice and snow, as shown in the pictures below.

AK-Tutakoke-SedingerPutinGettingBOatOut-LarryGullingsrud04 11 2016-04 17 2016

At PFS, strong excavation skills are both a universal talent and a point of pride. Photo: Larry Gullingsrud

Support includes skiffs and outboards for research activities and transportation. The boats are stored over winter on the Niglikfak River with the Chevak village boats. This winter, the river flooded, freezing the boats into a block of ice. At right, PFS staff uncover a skiff to allow the sun to melt the ice on the inside of the boat. We will then lift it clear. The boat will be towed on a sled the 20 miles to the Tutakoke field camp so the research groups can get back to Chevak after the river ice breaks up in late May. Or earlier.

The Beard camp (below, left) features a drainage ditch leading from the main WeatherPort tent to the river bank. This allows the meltwater to escape the depression that was created when we chipped out the ground below the floor panels, thus preventing flooding in the tents. Given these structures will be home to a group of scientists for the long summer, that’s an important step.

GrIT Situation Report 5

April 18, 2016
The Continuing Slog

The Greenland Inland Traverse (GrIT) team has left the crevasse zone and is headed to Camp Century [about 150 miles from Thule Air Base].

Small sastrugi caused by winds. Photo: Julie Raine

Small sastrugi caused by winds. Photo: Julie Raine

The GrIT team has been fighting weather and poor snow conditions the whole way.  They had another stalled day in a Condition Charlie storm, sitting tight and waiting for the winds to die down.  They’ve also had to deal with the worst sastrugi they have ever encountered in this area.

Gl-GriT 7 QmutTractorCrossingSastrugi-Julie Raines

Like a boat crossing tall waves in the ocean, GrIT vehicles are challenged by waves of snow. Case tractors like Qimuttuuaraq (aka Q’Mut, above) get stuck in the soft snow on top, and the varied terrain is unkind to the cargo loads, which must be nudged forward to crest the hump. Photo: Robin Davies

These long wind rows of blown snow are 5-6 feet high, creating a rough passage through this zone as the tractors climb one side and then descend the steep back side to cross over.

The custom-built sleds are suffering as well. The weight of the cargo loads cannot be distributed evenly across the airbeam/pouches, causing wear and failure of some of the pouch attachments to the decking.  In addition, on the descent of one sastrugi, the two fore decks were pinched too closely together, so the helium cylinders on the front right deck got too close to the WeatherPort tent on the front left deck and tore a hole in the tent side.  This WeatherPort is the only covered shelter for materials and work space, so a new hole will allow more snow and wind to penetrate this area.

Recovering Data

Ben Toth retrieving data card from a weather station. Photo: Robin Davies

Ben Toth retrieving data card from a weather station. Photo: Robin Davies

Our team has been able to do the direct science support tasks planned for this part of the trip. They retrieved a data card from an instrument site installed in 2014 by Zoe Courville’s team for SAGE, an NSF-funded study of sunlight absorption and firn compaction.  Data from this and other SAGE instruments, retrieved and forwarded to the researchers, will be used for modeling and analysis.

More Weather at Thule

The GrIT prep crew has finally departed Thule. Held up by cancelled planes and weather, they took advantage of the additional time on station to put away equipment, tools and ensure the transition work area was battened down ahead of the huge wind storms that pounded the area last week. Eighty knot winds blew fiercely, causing lots of the surrounding sea ice to blow out, bringing large patches of open water near base.  In addition, the Thule roads melted under a warm wind in 4 hours, bringing mud season in a month early.  Our staff erected a snow fence prior to the storm, to try to learn how to better harvest blowing snow and create a snow mine near the work area which they could then spread out on their work pad, providing space for the sleds to be set up.  The first attempt was a success, forming snow drifts 3-4 feet high after just one storm.–Julie Raine

Combined Snow Fence Pic with Caption
The Arctic Research Support and Logistics Program within the National Science Foundation’s Division of Polar Programs funds the GrIT.  CH2MHILL Polar Services and Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratories are working together with the NSF to develop the traverse infrastructure and route to Summit Station. The 2016 spring traverse delivers cargo to Summit Station, and continues efforts to optimize mobility, GrIT will provide direct science support to several projects, retrieving instruments for a soon-to-be-completed effort, and laying fuel caches for upcoming projects. Follow GrIT’s progress here: http://datatransport.org/grit.

GrIT_logo_2016

Arctic Grayling May Find It Hard to Go with the Flow Due to Climate Change

The research team’s remote field camp above Iminus Lake in Arctic Alaska. Photo: Mark Urban

The research team’s remote field camp above Iminus Lake in Arctic Alaska. Photo: Mark Urban

It seems that global climate change is becoming predictably more unpredictable every year. That’s especially true in fragile regions like the Arctic where even small changes in temperature or precipitation can have big effects on the ecosystem.

When Mark Urban and his team of biologists arrived in the foothills of Alaska’s Brooks Range last May, for example, they were disconcerted to see tundra green and not the lingering snowfields of winter. The spring thaw had begun unseasonably early. The scientists faced logistical hurdles to hurry to their field sites along the upper Kuparuk River and nearby watersheds where they are studying the effects of climate change on a species of fish called Arctic grayling (Thymallus arcticus).

“It’s so hard to plan. It’s so hard to know what’s going to happen next. It’s very hard to predict what’s going to happen next season,” noted Urban, who co-wrote an editorial in the New York Times with Linda Deegan earlier this year about the abrupt and alarming changes that they have witnessed in the extreme northerly reaches of Alaska.

“In some ways, [unpredictability is] becoming everyday life,” said Urban, an associate professor at the University of Connecticut. He is principal investigator (PI), along with co-PI Deegan of the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, on a 3-year, NSF-funded project to track the seasonal migration of Arctic grayling in an environment becoming increasingly more difficult for the fish to maneuver as warmer summers bleed the streams dry during critical periods.

“At some point, you stop becoming surprised,” Urban added, of what he and Deegan dubbed the Heat Age in the NYT piece. They just happened to arrive on the hottest May ever in the 91-year record for Alaska’s North Slope in what would turn out to be the hottest year ever for the planet in the modern meteorological record. The average temperature last May on the North Slope was nearly 9 degrees Fahrenheit (4.9 degrees Celsius) above normal.

“There are indications that things are warming up now rather than later,” said Cameron MacKenzie, a research assistant with Deegan’s lab at MBL.

Such abrupt and rapid changes make it more difficult for the scientists to do their jobs—both logistically and scientifically. Lack of snow and the fragility of the tundra mean researchers must use more expensive means to reach remote field sites—catching rides on helicopters rather than using snowmobiles to move equipment and people.

MBL research assistant Cameron MacKenzie awaits a helicopter delivering supplies to a field camp that the researchers would normally use snow machines to transport. However, warm and dry conditions in May precluded using snow mobiles. Photo: Mark Urban

MBL research assistant Cameron MacKenzie awaits a helicopter delivering supplies to a field camp that the researchers would normally use snow machines to transport. However, warm and dry conditions in May precluded using snow mobiles. Photo: Mark Urban

More challenging is the effort to understand and eventually predict how grayling will respond to a changing climate when the baseline is already shifting positions faster than a politician in election season.

Nobody is overly concerned that Arctic grayling, a circumpolar species, is in any danger of extinction. However, the fish serve as a key species in the region, and local extinctions or changes in individual fishery populations could affect the ecosystem in that area of Alaska’s North Slope. In particular, the fish play a vital role in linking deep-water habitats where they overwinter in lakes to the streams and tributaries where they migrate to breed.

“The seasonal migration of the grayling acts as a subsidy to these lakes,” MacKenzie said. In other words, after the Arctic grayling feed and fatten up as they migrate to and from their breeding grounds, they return to places such as Green Cabin Lake off the upper Kuparuk River where deep water serves as a winter refuge. A relative of salmon, Arctic grayling are food for lake trout, and their poo is a much-needed nutrient that stimulates the nutrient-poor food web of the freshwater Arctic ecosystem.

But warmer summers are temporarily turning streams like the Kuparuk—where some populations migrate as far as 50 kilometers—into dried-out boulder fields. That’s not a problem until winter approaches, and the Arctic grayling need to return to deeper water to avoid freezing to death in the shallow streams.

The top image shows grayling crowded together while trapped in a pool below a dry channel in the Kuparuk River. The two figures below show the extremes of the dry and wet conditions in Arctic Alaska. Graphic: Cameron MacKenzie

The top image shows grayling crowded together while trapped in a pool below a dry channel in the Kuparuk River. The two figures below show the extremes of the dry and wet conditions in Arctic Alaska. Graphic: Cameron MacKenzie

In August 2011, during a previous phase of the current project, known as Fishscape, a lingering drought caught thousands of fish on the wrong side of a dry section of riverbed. A typical 2-day journey from the summer habitat to the lake took the Kuparuk grayling on average 30 days to complete. The stranded fish “were subjected to extra stresses from increased predation, crowding, and loss in accrued mass over the summer because invertebrate production shuts down in the fall,” MacKenzie said.

Mother Nature helped out when the first snowfall of the season re-flooded the stream just in time for the stranded grayling to retreat back to Green Cabin Lake.

“We were worried they were going to freeze solid in the stream. The timing of these drying events is very critical to their mortality,” MacKenzie said. “We are working on describing what impacts these stresses to the migrant grayling population have on the lake community dynamics and grayling reproduction and mortality in subsequent years. “

The team is able to monitor the grayling using remote-sensing data received from passive integrated transponder (PIT) tags, which track the movement of individual fish as they pass by a far-flung array of antennas along the shore.

The team is also using other methods to tell the life story of Arctic grayling in the waterways of the North Slope. For example, genetics can speak to the connectivity within and between watersheds based on genetic differences among grayling populations in different locations.

In addition to the Kuparuk River, the new phase of the project encompasses two other stream systems—Oksrukuyik Creek and the Itkillik Tributary. The former experiences more extreme conditions—in 2011, 271 grayling trapped between dry areas on the creek died—while the latter is well connected to headwater lakes and the main Itkillik River.

Understanding the genetic variation between the populations in these watersheds is much more than an academic exercise, according to Urban. It is an important step in understanding how populations move, mingle (or not), and meet different challenges. For instance, are some populations more resilient to water temperature changes?

“We can dive down in this history book in the DNA and see the effects of past migrations,” Urban explained. “There’s pretty strong genetic variation.” The genetic work is being led by Heidi Golden, a PhD student at the University of Connecticut.

Another method of investigation involves scanning grayling otoliths with a laser to look at the composition of the fish’s ear bones. Studying otoliths is a bit like reading tree rings. Instead of recording a year-to-year environmental record, however, the ear bones contain chemical tracers that can be matched to specific water chemistry of a stream.

“We can not only get the long-term view of migration [using genetics], we can get the short-term view in terms of the individual fish life by looking at the chemistry of the streams,” Urban said. “We’re kind of the NSA [National Security Agency] of fish. We want to track these things wherever they go, wherever they’ve been, and really understand that. From that, we can predict what might happen as the streams begin to dry.”

Urban said the effects of climate change can be more easily quantified in terms of changes in temperature, precipitation, and even sea-level rise. The more complex questions involve how individual species and populations within a species will handle threats to genetic diversity—if not survival.

“Trying to understand these effects to nature are really important because they can also have profound effects on the services nature provides humans,” Urban said.

One easy prediction: Urban, Deegan and their team will show up a little earlier in Alaska this spring as they return for another field season.–Peter Rejcek

Link to UConn YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3jjVeQ0ZIsI

 

GrIT Situation Report 4

April 12, 2016
Storms and Snowballs

Nice camping spot on the first night out of Thule Air Base. Photo: Robin Davies

Nice camping spot on the first night. Photo: Robin Davies

All is well with the Greenland Inland Traverse (GrIT) team as they make their way through the crevasse zone [the first ~70 miles of the journey to Summit, where the fractured edge of the ice sheet leads to the unbroken ice cap].

During the past two days the team has encountered the steeper hills requiring “double hauling” (using two tractors to pull loads up hills) and “holding back” (having one tractor hold the load back as they go downhill).

Inside the back tractor ‘holding back’ the Microturbine load seen through the windshield on a downward slope ahead.

Inside the back tractor ‘holding back’ the Microturbine load seen ahead through the windshield on a downward slope. Photo: Robin Davies

They did get stopped by Condition Charlie [i.e., severe] weather all day Saturday with very high 70 knot winds and snow, and had some issues with snow clogging the Onan generator that is supplying heat to the microturbine.  The team had to work in very strong winds to fix the issue, but were able to get it done.  Below is an excerpt from the GrIT daily log that illustrates some of the challenges the team is having with mother nature:

Big storm during the night and all day.

The Onan generator quit during the night [because] the air filter was choked with snow. Removing the air filter is not an easy task. With the air filter thawed out and dried it still would not start. The hermi [herman nelson heater] was some distance away … and the drifts too big for us to move it by hand. We used the Tucker to drag it, but it took a while to start the Tucker as the engine bay was completely filled with snow….

6” of snow in the [large WeatherPort] tent, blowing in through where the roof overlaps the end wall.

Everything is well drifted in so it will take a bit of work to get everything moving when this blow is over.

The wind is just starting to ease although it’s still snowing quite heavily.

Snowballs accumulating on the fuel bladders. Photo: Robin Davies

Snowballs accumulating on the fuel bladders. Photo: Robin Davies

Another issue they have encountered are giant snowballs that build up in the open space in between bladders.  This happens frequently when the tractors pull along steeper side slopes and the snow pushes in.  The crews need to stop and clear them out occasionally to prevent them from causing trouble with the fuel bladders.

Despite losing a day to weather, the crew has progressed 50 miles past the Needle area [where crevasses create a narrow passage safe to traverse, leading GrIT members to compare driving this section to threading a needle]. They were preparing for more of the same over the next few days, with possible slower progress due to “Fresh, deep, and soft tractor ruts 6 to 14 inches, occasionally deeper.”–Julie Raine

The Arctic Research Support and Logistics Program within the National Science Foundation’s Division of Polar Programs funds the GrIT.  CH2MHILL Polar Services and Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratories are working together with the NSF to develop the traverse infrastructure and route to Summit Station. The 2016 spring traverse delivers cargo to Summit Station, and continues efforts to optimize mobility, GrIT will provide direct science support to several projects, retrieving instruments for a soon-to-be-completed effort, and laying fuel caches for upcoming projects. Follow GrIT’s progress here: http://datatransport.org/grit.

GrIT_logo_2016