Saturday, July 16, 2016

Permafrost Tunnel and Super-Site

Permafrost, ground that is continually below 0C for two or more years, is a notable feature of the Arctic. The CRREL Permafrost Tunnel (drilled into a hillside) is a virtual time machine where ancient vegetation and fossils from long extinct animals can be easily seen entombed in the frozen ground. Ice wedges with an age of over a hundred thousand years are another amazing feature to be seen.

Many meters underground Misha K (with the flashlight) explains permafrost formation processes. We can see both the main tunnel and the offshoot tunnel (with yellow walkway)
Hands-on experience (literally) with vegetation entrapped in permafrost that is well over 10,000 years old

After being in the sub-freezing temperatures of the permafrost tunnel, everyone was ready for some sun at lunchtime

Next stop for the day was the Super-Site flux tower which has been operated by IARC for over five years. This tower measures the energy, mass and carbon balance of a Black Spruce forest and aims to distinguish how much the upper canopy and understory vegetation each contribute to various fluxes.

The Super-Site Flux Tower has various instruments all the way up the tower
Guo explains the instrumental set-up at the tower and answers questions about observational methods
Vladimir, Marc and Sophia observing and probing the very wet and thick moss layer
Mmm ... tasty blueberries direct from the Alaskan forest
Andrea, Danica and Charles return from the forest with a bounty of blueberries

A final stop was made at a section of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System. This engineering feat transports oil all the way from the Arctic Ocean, across a full North-South transect of Alaska, to the port of Valdez on the Pacific Ocean.

The pipeline. The vertical silver items are cooling fins that form part of a thermosiphon (a device for keeping the adjacent ground cool so that permafrost does not thaw and damage the pipeline).

IARC Summer School 2016

Over my years of research I've probably visited University of Alaska, Fairbanks (UAF) more than any other campus - and I'm back again to help teach the IARC (International Arctic Research Center) Summer School (I also taught at the school in 2013). A diverse group of very bright graduate students and early career scientist have come up to IARC at UAF to learn about Earth System Modeling with an emphasis on the Arctic. Student backgrounds range from permafrost to sea ice to biogeochemical cycling and beyond.

Pontificating about modeling: going old-school and using a (white) board

On the first evening Vladimir, who has been running the Summer Schools for well over a decade, organized a BBQ.

Vladimir and food for 30 (notice we are in the healthy zone of the supermarket!)

Fellow Instructor Gijs de Boer is the burger patty master

One afternoon we took a walk to a local research site to investigate some permafrost. For many students this was a new experience and provided a nice taste of the Arctic (complete with mosquitoes!)

Vladimir, Santosh, Marc and Charles measuring the active layer thickness in local Fairbanks permafrost
Hrishi (with the Infrared thermometer), Hyunsuk, Danica, Nicole (holding the moss plug) and Daniel in the forest site taking note of the temperature gradient in the moss. It was 26C at the top and only 5C at the bottom (after being exposed to warm air)
Nicole and Marc taking measurements of subsurface ground temperature

The temperature down near the permafrost was, as expected, near the freezing point. The infrared thermometer was registering temperatures of 0.0C to 0.2C

Hrishi, Niki, Lei and Danica getting first hand experience with organic soil and mosses

Observation can involve all the senses - Julia is giving moist moss the sniff test

The 2016 IARC Summer School Crew