May 4: Barrow Bound!

It’s been a year of planning and preparation, ordering and organizing, testing and troubleshooting, but today we’re finally off to the Arctic!

Rotten Ice Team at SeaTac

The Rotten Ice teams waitng at SeaTac for our flight to board. Photo by Carie

We’re all feeling pretty excited to be headed North to the ice. Shelly just got back from fieldwork in Greenland little over a month ago, but she’s buzzing and anxious about this busy trip (“Gaaaah just board the flight already!! How can people be sitting? Let’s GO!”). This is Karen’s first trip to Barrow since 2001 and she’s beaming like a kid. Bonnie is toting a shiny new spectrometer that arrived Friday after quite a bit of “is it going to be here in time??” nailbiting. She spent months on the ice as a grad student but this is also her first time to Barrow in a decade. Mónica spends plenty of time out on ships and marine research labs, but this will be her first time in Barrow. Julianne, the anthropologist following us as her study subjects, is excited to finally see us in action (vs. sitting at our desks).

Plane to Barrow

On the tarmac with our plane to Barrow. Photo by Carie

But nobody is as excited as me—this is my first trip to the Arctic. It will be the closest to either pole I’ve ever been (second-closest was last February on the Antarctic peninsula where I got to see penguins jumping out of the water from a kayak and spent a wet night in a bivouac bag in a rainstorm). What will the ice be like? Will my new boots keep my feet warm and dry if we end up wading through melt ponds? Will we see polar bears?  Then there’s the science excitement: I came to this project with a good deal of geomicrobiology field and lab experience, but in warm dry places, hot springs, and Californian beaches. I’ve never drilled an ice core, never seen a sackhole, never ridden on a snowmobile. I’ve done many of the measurements and experiments before, and spent hours on a microscope looking at ice cores other people brought back from the Arctic as well as ones I tried to grow, but now the practice period is over; the samples we collect will be ours, taken by us for our science objectives. This is what I’ve been preparing all year for.

Mt. McKinley from the air

View of Mt. McKinley, highest mountain peak in North America, from our flight to Barrow. Photo by Carie

Along with the excitement, I’m more than a little bit nervous, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. With three PIs with different areas of expertise—Bonnie the physicist, Karen the microbiologist, and Mónica the chemist—it’s an ambitious multidisciplinary project and we’re going to be busy. We have a laundry list of several dozen measurements to take on the ice and in the Barrow lab before we come home, and will be bringing some 2762 samples from 60+ ice cores for various additional analyses back with us. Our science goals involve a type of ice that has never really been targeted for study before. In addition to tried-and-true standard measurements and methods, we’ll be doing some things that have never been done on sea ice before, in some cases techniques that we invented ourselves and are hoping will work this summer!

Rotten Ice Team luggage

The Rotten Ice team loading personal luggage and some last-minute equipment into the van on our way to the lab at Barrow. Photo by Carie

I’m nervous because… Did I remember everything? I had my first adventure already when I left my wallet and ID on a sidewalk in downtown Seattle on my way to the airport (thankfully found by a passerby who helped track me down in time for me to take a quick taxi ride back from the airport to get it and turn around in time to make my flight)…am I going to get to the lab to find that I forgot some critical piece or bottle or filter or reagent or other detail for an experiment? And… will it work? Will we be able to drill enough cores and get enough melt and brine to do everything we want to do? Will we have time to get everything done? Will my pet experiment be sensitive enough to detect what we’re looking for in the ice we get? When the Murphy’s Law of Fieldwork comes to bite us, will we be ready with enough duct tape and cleverness?

Van with equipment pallet

APL van getting loaded with pallets full of equipment for our trip to Barrow

Boot Box

…including some very fashionable boots. Photos by Carie

Of course we will. We’ve got enough duct tape, zipties, and buckets to build a makeshift lab. More important, between our five sharp brains, we’re not short on creativity or willpower. Our team has worked hard to dot our i’s and cross our t’s in preparation for this fieldwork. We shipped up three pallets full of lab and field equipment in order to build ourselves a science home-away-from-home in Barrow. We have a binder full of checklists, sample lists, protocols, and labels. We’re prepared. We’re ready, ready as we’re going to be. The fairer questions is, armed with our drill core, fleet of snowmobiles, and laundry list of samples to collect, is the ice ready for us?

Cross your fingers that our last-minute shipments make it to Barrow to meet us, and let the science begin!!


Barrow Hut

Monica and Karen stand outside our summer home sweet hut. Photo by Carie

Follow our project and our blog on our Rotten Ice page