Tuesday 26 April 2011 – Ice Camp! First Sampling Day.

Finally, the labs are set-up (took most of yesterday), all our gear is clean, organized, and ready for use, and was a sunny (almost 19 hours worth) and not too cold day, at least compared to wintertime temperatures.  On the ice the temperature was 7°F (-14°C) and inside the tent, even without the heater, was a balmy 40°F (4.5°C).  Compared to the temperatures we experienced in the winter, it was like a day at the beach.

As has become our normal sampling routine we all met-up at 9:00 am to stage our activities. Staging occurs in the facility where the snow machines are garaged, a building cleverly named “Building #36.”

Building #36 – our field staging area.

Actually, most of the building names are left over from the days when the lab site was operated as a Naval Research facility, so you can understand where the clever naming system came from. After suiting up and sorting out who was riding and who was driving, we headed out on the ice.  Our destination was a site about 1.25 miles offshore that we had previously identified as a suitable sampling site that is oceanographically representative of the region.

A lead team of UMIAQ support personnel and two of our group set-up the camp yesterday and made preliminary observations of ice thickness, light penetration, water temperature, etc. So when we arrived today we knew exactly what to do.

Ice camp – April 2011 (71° 18’ 7”N 156° 43’ 16” W).

Since we were able to use a trail cut by the Department of Wildlife (with help from our logistics team of Polar Field Services and UMIAQ) the ride out to our ice camp was surprisingly smooth given the roughness of the terrain around us. Actually, preparing ice trails is a major component of the logistics support needed to conduct our studies and required months of planning and work to complete.  So we were especially grateful for how nice the trail was.

Once we arrived on site (about 20 minutes after leaving building #36), we all got busy.  The Yager group immediately occupied the smaller of our two ice tents and began their intricate sampling procedure using a special collection bottle called a Niskin bottle. For those of you are not oceanographers, a Niskin bottle is a device used for obtaining seawater samples from a specific depth. The bottles were originally designed by the early 20thcentury Norwegian polar explorer and oceanographer Fridtjof Nansen and further developed and patented by Shale Niskin. By using this type of sampling device Tara and Karie are able to collect intact water samples without disturbing the water including the dissolved gases that they are especially interested in measuring.

Tara and Karie sampling from a Niskin bottle.

The rest of us occupied the second larger tent and utilized a specialized submersible pump to collect the larger volumes of water needed for our studies.

Zac and Marc sampling – using a pump (photo by Lollie Garay).

While we were all busy sampling the water underneath the ice, Lollie and Andriane were hard at it photographing us, the ice, under the ice, and everything else that caught their attention.

Both Lollie and Andriane came equipped with underwater cameras which they deployed through an ice hole.  Lollie is planning on posting some of her videos on our project’s website www.arcticnitro.org, so check it out if you’re interested.

Everyone worked efficiently and by around 11:30am we were finished and headed back loaded down with carboys full of water. Since the assays and measurements we are making require that we process them as quickly as possible, we are always in a hurry to get the samples back to the lab. I didn’t fall off this time, but there was some excitement.  Ask me about it sometime.

Finally a little after noon we arrived safely back to the labs where we all quickly dispersed to process our samples. Zac and I spent the next 6 hours in the cold room filtering water and setting-up a new experiment designed to test the hypothesis that bacterial growth will be stimulated by the addition of humic acids as a carbon source  but will need to assimilate additional nitrogen to do so. I’ve asked Zac to write a little bit in this blog to describe his experiment and its rationale in easily understood English, so stay tuned for that.

After a quick dinner in town at the Brower Café (not Arctic Pizza for a change), it was back to the lab for a few more hours of lab work. As I was finishing the sun was just setting (11:45pm) providing the perfect ending to a long but exhilarating Arctic day. I’ll sleep well tonight for sure.


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