Field Notes: The Polar Field Services Newsletter

Monthly Archives: September 2010

Last day to vote!

Ed 'n' Friends. Penguin Ranch near McMurdo Station, Antarctica, November 2005. Photo: Ed Stockard. All rights reserved. Used with permission

“Here is a self portrait while working at the Penguin Ranch outside of McMurdo Sation, Antarctica,” writes Ed. “I think they bonded with the hat!”

We’re glad Ed Stockard shares this photo with us despite the “risk to my reputation or masculinity,” because it symbolizes the endless attraction and dare we say charm of the U.S. National Science Foundation’s polar programs:  in the midst of the everyday, you’re never far from the matchless and the amazing—the opportunity to do or see something you can do or see no where else in the world. That’s pretty attractive.

If you’re curious, Ed was supporting a long-term study of penguin diving physiology led by Paul Ponganis of UC San Diego. The work continues, and Dr. Ponganis has expanded it to include leopard seals. For more basic information on the Penguin Ranch studies, including exerpts from the PI’s 2008 research journal, read this LiveScience piece.

We asked Ed to share some of his favorite shots with us in honor of his being selected as a finalist in the Air Greenland Photo Contest.  The contest ends today so be sure to visit the site if you haven’t yet done so.

–Kip Rithner

Massive iceberg is on the move and splitting up

The slip of water separating Greenland's northwestern coast from Canada's Ellesmere Island is called the Nares Strait. The giant iceberg that calved from Greenland's Petermann Glacier in August has broken in two and entered the strait. Map courtesy Arctic Portal (http://www.arcticportal.org/)

The enormous iceberg that calved off Greenland’s Petermann Glacier Aug. 4 has split in two during its trip through the Nares Strait. Andreas Muenchow, an associate professor at the University of Delaware who has been tracking the berg via satellite images, told CNN that it broke after repeatedly running into a small rocky island called Joe Island west of Greenland. 

“The forces of the ocean currents and the winds wiggling it on and off the island were too much,” Muenchow said.

The larger piece is about 152 square kilometers (59 square miles) or roughly 2.5 times the size of Manhattan. The smaller piece is about 84 kilometers (32 square miles). Muenchow and colleagues looked at historical records dating back to 1876 and determined that the original berg was the biggest to have calved off Petermann in that time.

Image courtesy Andreas Muenchow, University of Delaware

The iceberg entered the Nares Strait, which runs between Greenland and Ellesmere Island, at the beginning of the month. A European Space Agency satellite captured its progress and the agency created this animation of the berg’s travels:

Petermann Glacier iceberg progress toward Nares Strait

Meanwhile, Ohio State University Professor Jason Box has been thwarted in his attempts to reach the glacier to retrieve data from instruments he left last year at the site of the break. These include two time-lapse cameras that should have recorded the calving event.

He raced off last month to Greenland with colleagues in hopes of reaching the glacier and equipment. But the group was unable to arrange for a safe helicopter flight to the remote location and Box has returned home.

“Needless to say, it was difficult to turn south without the data,” he wrote Monday on his blog.  He’s hoping that a flight can be arranged for one of his colleagues before mid-October when daylight becomes too scarce for such a long trip. If that proves impossible, they’ll plan on a trip in March, he said.

­­– Emily Stone

Inside the Crevasse

Cool Pix
Inside a crevasse near McMurdo Station, Antarctica. Photo: Ed Stockard. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

“Quite possibly the most amazing and fortuitous moment I have ever had with a camera in my hand,” Ed Stockard writes.

“This was taken in the IMAX crevasse on Hut Peninsula outside of McMurdo Station, Antarctica. I had taken a small group of DV’s [distinguished visitors] to the crevasse. I was the snowmobile mechanic and a member of the winter SAR team and had the blessings to lead trips here. While in the crevasse the sun shone through the small opening behind and above me. The light of the sun appeared to move down one wall and up the other side. I had a short time to ask this person to move into the light!”

The crevasse (a crack in an ice sheet) is a local landmark near McMurdo Station, the largest of three NSF-funded stations on the 7th continent. Its name denotes an IMAX film crew that visited to shoot footage for the polar IMAX adventure, Antarctica, which was released in 1991.

To celebrate the selection of his photo as a semi-finalist in the Air Greenland’s photo contest, Ed has been sharing some of his favorite shots with us. We encourage you to check out Ed’s photo of a red and white twin otter tail on the Air Greenland contest site, and vote! Preferably for Ed, but vote! You’ll be entered in a contest to win Air Greenland swag, and if Ed wins, he’ll receive two travel vouchers on Greenland’s national airline. 

Ed is helming Summit, the NSF-funded research station on Greenland’s ice cap, as a staff of five prepare the place for the winter. He’s shooting pictures of the adventure, and you can tag along by visiting Ed’s flickr site: http://www.flickr.com/photos/coastaleddy/.  Recent photos include shots of the season’s first sunset. Gorgeous.–Kip Rithner

Arctic Aurora Watch

Aurora over Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, February 2010. "This photo was taken right outside the front door of the KISS building," Ed Stockard writes. "They were intensely bright as indicated by the lit up streets and community center. This is a 41 second exposure." Photo: Ed Stockard

Space Weather News for Sept. 12, 2010
http://spaceweather.com

ARCTIC AURORA WATCH: A magnetic filament on the sun erupted during the late hours of Sept. 10th, hurling a bright coronal mass ejection (CME) into space.  The CME is not heading directly for Earth, but the cloud’s southern flank could deliver a glancing blow to our planet’s magnetic field on Sept. 12th or (more likely) Sept. 13th.  People in Alaska, Canada, Iceland, Greenland and Scandinavia should be alert for Northern Lights in the nights ahead.  Check http://spaceweather.com for updates and movies of the eruption that prompted this alert.

Get your batteries ready, folks in the high latitides, and prepare for the sublime torture of the aurora! 

Ed Stockard, a contestant in the Air Greenland photo contest, has visited Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, in February a number of times to assist with flight operations for Summit Station winter staff turnover/resupply. So he’s experienced the aurora cat and mouse game many times. “Aurora photography for me has been hit and miss,” he writes. “Well maybe there are a lot of misses.

“I’ve found that I have to be proactive and have the camera ready on the tripod and batteries charged up. The northern lights can come and go quickly. On some trips to Kangerlussuaq I don’t see any due to weather or lack of solar activity. I subscribe to alerts at spaceweather.com to give me clues of high activity times.”

Have you voted for Ed Stockard to win the Air Greenland photo contest yet? Well, do it again!

Ed’s photo has been selected by Air Greenland as a finalist in the contest. The artist has done all he can; now you need to vote. If he wins, Ed will receive two travel vouchers from Air Greenland. Vote for Ed!

PolarTREC Field Report: Karl Horeis

“I’m getting so into digging for artifacts. I love it. It’s so satisfying. It’s like reading a good book – once you start, you can’t stop. And really, we are turning back the pages of history. To think no one has touched these tools for thousands of years, and then we get to be the one to touch it first. We are the ones to bring them back into the light after eons in the cold blackness below ground.” – Karl Horeis, July 28, PolarTREC teacher

PolarTREC teacher Karl Horeis gets his hands dirty in Raven Bluff, Alaska, during an archeological dig as a PolarTREC teacher. All photos courtesy Karl Horeis

A Motivated Teacher

Meet Karl Horeis (pronounced hore-ice), a super-enthusiastic third and fourth grade teacher from Wheat Ridge, Colorado. Horeis spent two weeks working with an international archaeology team at the Raven Bluff excavation site near Kivalina, Alaska, as part of the  2010 PolarTrec Program.

This hand-drawn map shows where Karl Horeis and his crew spent much of the summer on an archaeological dig.

In the video below, he gives us an introduction to the project during the May PolarTREC orientation in Fairbanks.

Karl Horeis PolarTREC intro

Intrepid Curiosity

Horeis, who met his wife, Kitty (also a teacher) while working in Antarctica, grew up in Portland, Oregon. Throughout his life he explored the West by hiking, climbing, and sailing. Since 2007 he’s been teaching at Foothills Academy, an independent preK-12 school in suburban Denver.

PolarTREC Immersion

Horeis’ journey to Raven Bluff began during the PolarTREC teacher training in Fairbanks in May. Unlike most other teachers, the project’s lead scientists live in Fairbanks, so he was able to spend some time getting to know them.

The Team: Back row, left to right: Courtney Cooper (BLM), Stand Hermans (Hermans Helicopters), Stefan Heidenreich (University of Cologne), Bill Hedman (BLM), Daryl Vandeweg (BLM), Gerad Smith (BLM, UAF), Ian Buvit (Central Washington University), Karl Horeis. Front row, L to R: Craig McCaa (BLM), Ines Medved (University of Cologne), Jeff Rasic (University of Alaska Museum), Jess Petersen (BLM, UAF).

First, Horeis met Jeff Rasic, curator of Archaeology at the University of Alaska Museum of the North and sometimes archaeologist for the National Park Service. Rasic specializes in the archaeology of northern hunter gatherers, particularly the peoples living in Alaska at the end of the ice age.

He also met Bill Hedman, an archaeologist for the Bureau of Land Management (Central Yukon Field Office), who, with a colleague, discovered the Raven Bluff site in 2007. They talked about the upcoming expedition and Rasic gave Horeis a lesson in knapping, the method by which ancient peoples made stone tools from flint, chert and obsidian.

Enlisting and Engaging His Students

Experiential education; Karl Horeis's students learn what their teacher will be doing in Alaska by doing it themselves.

Following the training, Horeis returned to Colorado and enlisted his students to help him prepare for the field. First, he salted the school’s garden boxes for a mock dig. Students excavated obsidian tools, corn cobs, pottery shards and some items sent over by.

Next, Horeis brought archaeology a little closer to home by having his class investigate plains peoples and cliff dwellers who lived in and around Colorado. The Denver Museum of Nature and Science sent excavation kit boxes for the kids to dig up real artifacts.

Just like the pros! Third and fourth grade students at Foothills Academy practice excavating with tools provided by the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

Finally, they talked more about Horeis’ Alaska trip – theories about the Bering Land Bridge and what life was like for the people who lived in northern Alaska 11,000 years ago.

Back To The Field

In July, Horeis flew back to Fairbanks where the field team gathered for required BLM field training. During the aviation course they learned about fire safety and first aid. In the bear awareness class they learned about bear behavior then practiced spraying bear pepper spray. The course culminated in firearms training…just in case.

“We each had to be able to fire 5 rounds from this shotgun in 25 seconds and hit an 8”x11” target at 50’ – pretty wild for an elementary school teacher,” says Horeis

Going Further Afield

After two days in Fairbanks, the team flew to Kotzebue, a small town of 300 people that sits isolated on a peninsula about 30 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Horeis explored town and familiarized himself with his computer and satellite phone back at the BLM bunkhouse.

Next, a small Cessna flew them to the Red Dog Mine, an open pit zinc-lead mine with an airstrip.  At the Red Dog, they met up with Stan Hermens of Hermens helicopters for their final flight out to Raven Bluff, about 30 miles from the Inupiat village of Kivalina.

Final Destination

The team erected their tent city on a gravel bar adjacent to Raven Bluff on the Kivalina River, a sixty-mile long ribbon that flows from the western Brooks Range to the Chukchi Sea.

Karl Horeis digs deep at Raven Bluff.

Raven Bluff’s unique location next to the river and perpendicular to prevailing summer winds resulted in artifacts being quickly buried in thick layers of soil. The researchers hoped to find fluted projectile points – tools like knives and arrowheads, which would provide insight about the earliest peoples to the Americas. Fossilized plants and bits of bone could help constrain the age of the tools as well as provide some insight about what these people ate.

Archeology 101

Horeis spent a couple of days watching and learning from his team, washing and sorting (stone or bone) artifacts. After that, Horeis was rewarded with his own meter square pit – Test Unit #8.

First order of business – remove the turf and waste fill from last year’s survey pits. Next, he carefully scraped away layers of soil, centimeters at a time, using a trowel or hand broom. If he found something right away, he was to sort it.

The remaining soil Horeis shook through a screen and carefully combed over what was left.  His best day of field archaeology was the day he found two microblades, tiny chert precision-cutting tools.

“I was giddy to be the first one to touch this ancient tool [for] very first time in 11,000 years!” Horeis effuses, “These were the ancestors of all Native Americans!”

Roughing It

During two weeks in the field Horeis experienced fog, rain, drizzle, and mosquitoes, managed to fit in a few hikes across the tussocks, surveyed for more sites from a helicopter, and hosted two Kivalina high school students, Tia Adams and Jackie Norton, who came out to help with the dig. The trip ended with a radio interview back in Kotzebue before the long flight back to Denver.

Home Again

Now that school has started, Horeis is eager to share his experience with students. He’s having them excavate again, but this time, Horeis says, it’s a lot more realistic.

He’s assigned four students to each field crew. Each crew measures a one meter unit and then divides it into quadrants so that students have their own area in the excavation pit.

Horeis’ objective, he says, is to “pass on my enthusiasm for archaeology. This is the ultimate detective story. I tell them that archaeology is like puzzle pieces scattered around. We have to find the pieces and put them back together. There is excitement in the mystery and in developing hypotheses. And, of course, the dig is really fun.”

Karl Horeis’ next big adventure: being a dad. He and wife, Kitty, welcomed bouncing baby boy, Holt, in March. So, everyone is happy he’s back from the tundra.  —Marcy Davis

A Journey Through Alaskan Natives’ Past, Present and Future

In May, the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center at the Anchorage Museum opened the doors to one of the most comprehensive exhibits of Alaskan Native artifacts ever displayed. The exhibit, Living Our Cultures, Sharing Our Heritage: The First Peoples of Alaska, features more than 600 objects representing Alaska’s diverse Native cultures.

During potlatch and spirit-possession ceremonies, a high-ranking Haida woman or man would wear a magnificent headdress with a carved wooden frontlet, a crown of sea lion whiskers, and a floor-length train of white ermine pelts. The frontlets resembled masks but stood above the forehead. Some depicted crest beings, and others were portraits of individual persons. Before a dance the whisker crown was filled with swan or eagle down, which drifted out during the performance and fell onto the spectators like snow. Image credit: Donald E. Hurlbert, National Museum of Natural History Imaging, Smithsonian Institution

The objects on display represent the master works of Alaskan Native art, technology and design, ranging from traditional clothing and hunting tools to ceremonials objects like beaded dresses, elaborately decorated masks and feast bowls. Living Our Cultures is a labor of love that was a long time in the making. Museum officials, Native elders, translators, artists and scholars spent nearly a decade selecting and interpreting the objects.

These child-sized Sugpiaq boots have uppers made of caribou leg skin and are encircled at the top with seal fur. Embroidered bands are narrow strips of sea lion esophagus, both natural color and dyed, which has been cross-stitched with caribou hair. Image: Donald E. Hurlbert, National Museum of Natural History Imaging

Aron Crowell, a Smithsonian anthropologist and director of the Arctic Studies Center, points out that the Smithsonian Institution has a long history of collecting important Alaskan Native objects going back to the 1800s. After nearly 200 years, there are more than 30,000 pieces archived at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C.

“The Smithsonian and the Anchorage Museum created a partnership back in 1994. The idea right from the very beginning was that a selection of these pieces in Washington D.C. should come back to Alaska and be accessible to Native communities and to the general public so they can really learn about the cultures of Alaska,” Crowell said.

An overview of the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center, taken from the center’s southeast corner. This image shows the center’s 10 floor-to-ceiling artifact cases and a video installation, which plays on seven large-screen, floor-mounted TVs. The graphics in the cases depict contemporary Alaska Native life. Image: Chuck Choi/Anchorage

A specially designed 120-foot gallery was created to house the objects and provide visitors a truly unique experience. There are seven massive community cases that display Alaskan cultures from north to south in real space, giving visitors the feeling that they are encountering these different groups as they make their way from the southern shores of Alaska to the most northern Arctic coast.

Master Works on Display

As guests walk the media-rich, interactive gallery, they come in contact with all 20 of Alaska’s Native linguistic groups, witnessing rare objects and historical photographs and hearing oral traditions.

One thing that might stand out to visitors is the wealth of indigenous technology that enabled people to thrive in northern climates and become successful hunters. Take Inuit clothing as an example. Initially one might admire the aesthetic beauty of the garments, but a closer inspection reveals tight stitching, specialized designs and careful selection of materials all intended to insulate the wearer from fierce winds, water and the blistering cold.

“One of the most important tools for hunting in the Arctic and for being able to move into those northern environments is the needle.” Crowell points out. “They had to have that knowledge to create the clothing that is needed for survival.”

Also on display are the masterfully crafted hunting weapons and watercraft. Historically, many Native cultures, particularly those living along Alaska’s vast coastline, depended heavily on the fish and marine mammals harvested from the ocean. The exhibit contains darts, harpoons, floats and lines and nets all intended to help with the very difficult task of capturing marine species like whales and seals. A selection of kayak and boat models illustrates the skillfully produced equipment used for open-water hunting and travel.

“The ways that people devised to survive, travel and gather food in the north represents many thousands of years of research and development. It’s quite amazing. You can also see how the designs that were developed have been adapted—you can find may Inuit technologies over at REI!” Crowell said.

Artistry and Craftsmanship

This Inupiaq feast bowl was collected in 1934 in Wales, Alaska. The ivory carvings on this bowl represent adult bowhead whales, a beluga whale and other animals. Blue beads on the whale figures mark the location of the animal's life force and the place where the harpooner aims. Image: National Museum of the American Indian Photo Services

Ceremonial objects and regalia give visitors a sense of the artistry and craftsmanship of these cultures. One of the more unique ceremonial objects is an Inupiaq winter feast bowl (ca. 1934) collected in Wales, Alaska, along the Bering Strait. The top of the bowl features whale and walrus figures carved from walrus ivory. Crowell explained that the carvings represent one hunter’s life experiences—the animals that he had seen and hunted year after year. Each carving is inset with a single blue bead where the head and spine of the animal join, the spot where it’s believed the animal’s soul resides.

The exhibit also features decorated headdresses worn during special ceremonies, like those used during the spirit possession ceremonies conducted by the Haida of southeast Alaska. For these special events, high-ranking Haida men or women sported intricately carved wooden headdresses embellished with sea lion whiskers and a train made of white ermine fur.

In addition to the ceremonial wares and centuries of hunting technology on display, the words and songs of today’s Native Alaskans are prominently featured throughout the exhibit’s listening booths and videos.

Alaskan Natives: Past, Present and Future

Living Our Cultures, Sharing Our Heritage: The First Peoples of Alaska is an evolving effort that depends on the input and knowledge of Alaska’s Native citizens. Crowell and others at the Anchorage Museum are working on an ongoing basis to arrange a series of workshops and special programs with community groups to learn more about the pieces on display.

“We have a pretty high-end studio with video and recording capabilities right in the gallery. So we’re able to open the cases and bring pieces in and sit down and talk about them with community members,” Crowell explained.

Through the use of recently recorded video and photography, the curators and others involved with the exhibit’s creation hope that visitors understand that Alaska’s Native communities are alive and well today, and not cultures of the past.

“I hope people will walk away from this exhibit with a better understanding of the cultural diversity of Alaska and that people from all the Native groups are living their lives today, they’re going forward, they’re living in the present and in the future. These are pieces of their heritage that have meaning for them today.” Crowell said.

Living Our Cultures, Sharing Our Heritage: The First Peoples of Alaska is on display through 2017, with plans to become a permanent fixture. If your travel plans don’t include a trip to Anchorage, you can see everything on exhibit (artifacts, pictures, essays, maps, recorded conversations with elders and more), plus some materials not currently on display at the exhibit’s revamped web site, Sharing Knowledge.  —Alicia Clarke

Blowing in the Wind

"This photo of Arctic Cotton Grass was taken late in the evening in coastal Greenland with the sun highlighting the plants against a dark background," Ed Stockard writes. "It was quite breezy. I set the ISO for a quick picture and this was snapped at 1/500 of a second." Photo: Ed Stockard

Vote for Ed Stockard!

Cottongrass (Eriophorum angustifolium), this snowy-showy member of the sedge family, is widespread in the Arctic, growing in peat bogs and acidic wetlands in the summer, almost as if nature wants to remind visitors that snow is never far away. Here, Ed seems to have captured something more Seussian than snowy in the blowing cotton: It’s Thing One, Two, and Three!

Have you voted for Ed Stockard to win the Air Greenland photo contest yet?

Ed’s photo of a red and white polka-dotted Twin Otter tail servicing a small science camp has been selected by Air Greenland from more than 1500 entries–he’s a finalist in the contest. The artist has done all he can; now you need to vote. If he wins, Ed will win two travel vouchers from Air Greenland.  Contest ends 15 September. Vote for Ed!

Enjoy more Ed Stockard photos on his flickr site, and come back and vote! www.flickr.com/photos/coastaleddy/

Polar Careers: Robert Sohn, Gearhead/Volcanologist

When Robert Sohn isn’t exploring volcanoes at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean or designing autonomous underwater vehicles, he enjoys rock climbing, playing soccer and surfing. Photo: Chris Linder

For some, exploring volcanoes under thousands of feet of frigid water might seem impossible. For Robert Sohn the challenge of unlocking the volcanic secrets on the Arctic Ocean’s sea floor is a calling. Sohn is an associate scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) who mixes volcanology and the study of hydrothermal processes with the development of autonomous underwater robots specially suited to weather extreme conditions.

As a kid growing up in Indiana, Sohn wasn’t particularly interested in volcanoes. His curious nature pointed him to science, and he earned a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering.  It wasn’t until graduate school that his interest in volcanoes erupted.

“I’ve always had a kind of gearhead interest in instruments and machines and I’ve been studying underwater volcanoes since I was in graduate school. So it was a confluence of those two lines of training that led me to where I am now,” Sohn said.

Sohn’s interest in volcanoes and technology has led him to the bottom of the Arctic Ocean and to some unexpected discoveries.

The Surprise at Gakkel Ridge

A bathymetric image showing the physical characteristics of Gakkel Ridge. It was created from sonar data collected by the AGAVE team. Image: Martin Jakobsson

In 2001 researchers with the Arctic Mid-Ocean Ridge Expedition (AMORE) to Gakkel Ridge detected thermal characteristics in the water column that indicated volcanic plumes almost everywhere along the ridge.

“This was astonishing to hydrothermal researchers like myself!” Sohn explained.  “This is the slowest spreading tectonic plate boundary anywhere on Earth. So it should have very limited amounts of hydrothermal circulation. Yet the sensors were returning signals from everywhere. This was a very enigmatic result. We wanted to explore the sea floor with robots to try to find these volcanoes and learn more.”

AGAVE

In 2007, with funding from the National Science Foundation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Sohn along with an international team of scientists launched the Arctic Gakkel Vents Expedition (AGAVE) to pick up where AMORE left off.

Robert Sohn helps with the launch of JAGUAR, one of the AUVs developed and built by Sohn and other Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute faculty. Photo: Chris Linder

Using specially designed autonomous underwater vehicles and a state-of-the-art camera and sampling system developed by Sohn and other WHOI engineers and scientists, the team uncovered evidence of violent volcanic explosions that shocked the scientific community.

“The conventional wisdom for the longest time had been that volcanoes under 4,000 m of water were under such high pressure there could never be enough gas in the magma to make them explode,” he explained.

AGAVE also resulted in the discovery of the Asgard volcanic chain; the first observation of orange-yellow cotton candy-like microbial mats thriving on the volcanoes’ surface; a suite of mapping data; and the discovery of basaltic glass fragments that cover large areas of the Arctic Ocean’s floor.  Three years on, scientists are still working to analyze the full breadth of physical and biological data from the mission.

Arctic Attraction

Sohn’s quest to explore and study volcanoes has taken him all over the world. He’s researched volcanic activity throughout the Caribbean, Atlantic, and Pacific Oceans, as well as Hawaii, Costa Rica, Yellowstone National Park, Cyprus and a host of other locations. But the challenge of studying volcanoes covered by 4 km of frigid water and permanent layers of ice has always attracted him to the Arctic.

For Robert Sohn, working in the Arctic is an alluring challenge with many scientific treasures waiting to be discovered. Photo: Chris Linder

“It probably makes my life more difficult, but I’m always intrigued by a good challenge,” Sohn laughed. “And for the kind of research I do, the Arctic is the ultimate challenge.”

He’s also drawn to the Arctic because of the potential to make new, exciting scientific discoveries. Because the Arctic is so unexplored and there’s so little data available to volcanologists, the region is ripe for unexpected discoveries. And AGAVE illustrated that point perfectly.

“The coolest AGAVE discovery was finding the exploding volcanoes. It was totally unexpected,” he said. “It was like a scientific treasure chest at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean, and we had to figure out how to open it. Plus opening that treasure chest was a huge technological challenge.”

The next great challenge for Sohn: exploring life under the Antarctic ice shelves. He is currently working on a proposal to develop autonomous underwater vehicles to study the biological communities under the Ross Ice Shelf.

For more information about Robert Sohn and his research, visit:  http://www.divediscover.whoi.edu/expedition11/index.html

–Alicia Clarke

The Storm Subsides at Penguin Ranch

Ed Stockard took this shot at an emperor penguin research site in Antarctica dubbed Penguin Ranch. "Thanks to my wife Torre, who was a post doc with the project, I landed a job taking care of the camp and the birds," Ed recalls. "I took this one morning in 2005 after a storm. The emperor penguins had been huddling together when a bit of sun broke out." Copyright: Ed Stockard. All rights reserved.

The job at Rancho Penguino was “one of the best jobs I’ve ever had (other than working for PFS),” Ed says.  A look at this heretofore unpublished shot and one might have some idea why. Click on the picture to get a larger view of the emperors.

Yesterday we mentioned that Ed Stockard has been selected as a finalist in Air Greenland’s photo contest. The winning photo will now be decided by popular vote, so vote! The winner will receive two vouchers for travel on Air Greenland. Vote for Ed!

By the way, the gold plumage on the ears and chests of emperor penguins is a mystery of nature to us. What purpose does it serve in the white, blue and black world of the emperor penguin to be tickled with a brush dipped in saffron?–Kip Rithner

Extended Continental Shelf Project Nears End

View from the U.S.C.G. Cutter Healy on Sept. 3, 2010. The image was taken from a web camera. To see more images, click the photo.

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy should be in port today, Labor Day (September 6), after about five weeks cruising the Arctic Ocean with the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Louis S. St- Laurent to map areas of the seafloor and to image the underlying sediment layers. The expedition, known as the Extended Continental Shelf Project, is collecting data that will be used to designate sovereign rights to the underwater region.

According to a blog post from the Cutter Healy, the ship has slowly been working its way north mapping the sea floor. The ice, which had been pretty light, was thickening as the ship neared the North Pole, which, as of Aug. 24 (the last date where there was an update), was about 600 miles away.

As of Aug. 24, the ship was about 600 miles south of the North Pole. Photo courtesy U.S. Geologic Survey

The Cutter Healy is escorting the Canadian Louis and conducting flight operations almost daily with the Louis’ helicopter. Most days, the chopper departs from the Louis, stops by the Cutter Healy to pick up some ice observers, and flies in front of the two ships to survey ice conditions that await. Other days, the helo just flies between the two ships, taking members of each crew to the other ship for an exchange day.

A helicopter provides transport between the Canadian and American ships. Photo courtesy U.S.G.S.

The survey will enrich the scientific data set of the area and could have greater implications for other endeavors. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that the Arctic may hold 1,670 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 90 billion barrels of oil; this represents 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered gas and 13 percent of its undiscovered oil.

Under international law, as reflected in the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, every coastal country has a continental shelf out to 200 nautical miles (nm) from its coastal baselines, or to a maritime boundary with another coastal country. However, the continental shelf of a coastal country extends beyond 200 nm (the “extended continental shelf”) if it meets criteria outlined in Article 76 of the Convention. (Note that this legal definition of “continental shelf” is different from that traditionally used by marine geologists.) Knowing where these limits lie is important because coastal states have sovereign rights over the continental shelf for the purpose of exploring and exploiting its natural resources—including those resources on the seabed (such as deep-water coral communities or mineral crusts and nodules) and beneath the seabed (such as oil and gas).

Stay tuned for an update of the expedition once the two ships return to port and complete the 2010 expedition.  —Rachel Walker