Saturday, July 21, 2007

Arcitc treasures

To me, one of the best things about this research is getting to experience a whole different side of nature. Joe and I were talking about meditation the other day, and he asked me where I go when I meditate, and this is exactly where my mind takes off to. When I'm out in the field by myself I like to sit down and meditate; the presence of so much life around me overwhelms me sometimes. I love the feeling so much that I'm sometimes scared to open my eyes, only to look around and see the presence of man again...

Here are some pictures of some of the wildlife I've seen around Barrow :)

A caribou paying us a visit at biocomplexity.

Two guillemots conversing.

Snow bunting!

A pacific loon at one of the ponds I GPS...gorgeous
The same loon, two weeks later :)
Right behind me, a snowy owl watching for lemmings.

Silent Hill? Oh...ITEX

Well, Craig came back last Saturday and it's been one heck of a week! Sunday I had a nice sleep in, but was awakened to find out that Perry and I were summoned to work the ITEX (International Tundra Experiment) site that day. This is my favorite site of all, as well as my favorite experiment! You can find more information at the ITEX website...just because I'm too lazy to explain the concept even though it's a simple one :P Our site looks almost exactly like the one on that website, boardwalks, open top chambers, researcher wearing Extratuff boots...yep, all there!
So I was happy to hear that; my usual commute is to the Biocomplexity site and it was refreshing to get to go to a new place. Poor Perry was definitely not thrilled about going to ITEX, the last time he went he hyper extended his knee on the boardwalk. So now there is bitterness clouding his thoughts about ITEX....hehe.
A picture of t he d ry site.

Here's Perry doing some reflectance measurements using a spectrometer that costs about the same as a BMW. Sometimes I'm scared of handling this stuff :S

We got a foggy day, and it made the site look kind of creepy. The coastal bluff is just to the right of this over a hill, so we carried our shotgun in case a bear decided to stop by!
A control plot

An OTC plot; more shrubs present inside it :o

The view before we get picked up from ITEX...Silent Hill memories came back to haunt me! Ahhhh!


Monday, July 9, 2007

Everyone needs to watch this:

There will be a test on it! :P

Saturday, July 7, 2007

This is my third post in two be sure to scroll down and read! :)

Just thought I would mention that some of my fellow UTEP crew members also have blogs, and these are the links in case you are interested in looking at their pictures, etc. Although Amorita is a picture clepto :P

Amorita's blog
Perry's blog
Alex's blog
Santonu's blog

The Polar Plunge

So the next day after the NSF visit, everyone decides it's time to go take the "polar plunge" and join the Polar Bear Club. This is the one thing that I've been dreading the entire trip, even before I came here....but at least now I get to say, "I swam in the Arctic Ocean."
Gathering everyone up for the event in the cafeteria; note Hiroki's "surf board" on the ground.

We couldn't have picked a worse day to do it either; it was foggy, windy, cold, and there was still ice in the ocean...but that's what it takes! Some people decided to go in swim suits, some in just underwear, others decided not to wear anything at all!
So when we finally picked out the place where we were going to take the plunge, everyone was walking towards the shore very slowly...or at least I was. I got there and my toes were already freezing because of the wind chill, so I'm taking my sandals off and I look up, and the first to run towards the water is Adrian, he wasted no time. After that, people started going in one by one, or two by two. It's basically run in, and get the heck out! Dave walked out of the ocean so calmly.

Amorita and I decide to go at the same time, and finally we run towards the water. I'm trying not to think about it...and my feet were the first to touch the water but since they were already really cold, I didn't feel anything at first, s I dove in completely. The shock is so intense that the first breath after you get out is hard! No time to feel cold, my body was in shock. It wasn't until I ran to my backpack and felt the wind that I truly felt cold, extremely cold. Nevertheless, Rob, a high school teacher from South Carolina that was here as a research assistant insisted on a picture with the what the heck.

This was after we dove in...I may look happy, but I felt like I had no toes anymore :(

In conclusion, it was a terrible experience! I don't think I'll be doing that anymore, I got sick the next day :( I don't know how people stayed in the water, or how some kept going back in...I was shivering like a Chihuahua the whole time after! So everyone started throwing their towels on me, as you can see in the above picture. Santonu got scared and basically made me rush to the truck, which had the heater going full blast...that felt nice. Here's a picture of Hiroki "surfing", he's one crazy guy!

Meanwhile, Amorita and I continue to annoy the crap out of Dave at the lab ;D

Friday, July 6, 2007

A lot has happened since I last posted a blog, and it is always my intention to post a blog right after an event, but I'm usually so tired that I head straight to bed or I talk to Joe on the phone for a little bit.
I should start with the visit from the NSF (National Science Foundation) representatives to our Biocomplexity site, which is located at the Barrow Environmental Observatory (BEO). The arrived on the evening if the 27th, and left early on the 29th. Since they were the ones that funded a couple of million dollars to do this experiment, you can imagine the rush to put together presentations, talks, clean up, etc. The senior scientist sent all of the researchers an e-mail with the schedule for the NSF visit, and to my surprise, my name is on there. Crap, I was giving the field talk about the hydrology component of the experiment and I wasn't sure if I was prepared, or rather, I wasn't. But Craig and Dave did a good job and went over everything with me until I was comfortable with what I knew. Needless to say, the talk went really well for me, but more importantly for UTEP; we came out as a very strong team :-)
So on the same day I gave the talk, Lewis had his nalukataq going on, and it was the last one of the season. I found out that these celebrations are held for every whaling crew that is successful at catching a whale during the season. Lewis is the main manager here at BASC part in a lot of the community's eventsą„¤ So during the day they have the Nalukataq, which as I have mentioned, consists mainly of the blanket toss and people throwing candy everywhere. There is a part in ceremony during which the whaling captain (Lewis in this case) says a prayer and some words. Then they start passing out the maktak to all the families present. It's such a beautiful gesture that I love from their culture;, and he really loves it when his researchers go out there and take one crew will go out to hunt a whale or seal and they share the meat with family and friends.
So one of our team members had the courage to actually get on the blanket that evening, and I managed to capture a pretty good picture of him in the air. Way to go Alex!

So right after the nalukataq we went straight to the gym to get good seats for the Eskimo dancing that takes place afterwards. Nobody was there yet and we were the first to arrive, so Amorita, Perry, Adrian, and Alex thought they could sneak in some climbing time...but alas, they were told not to.
The dancing came later after we waited for a while. They first set the blanket made out of seal skin in the middle of the gym and the drummers and singers sat next to it. The drums make very impressive and loud sounds, and they are made out of the liver of a whale. Herman, one of the assistants at BASC, told us they make one drum per whale liver. Soon the gym was packed with people and the dancing started. really fun to watch the natives dance, they have a lot of fun with it and they always try to encourage us to go up there. The different whale crews would take turns and go up to dance a so It'sng, but then it's a free-for-all. So all the researchers finally worked up the courage to go up there, and we did! It was a lot of fun and the drums are so loud that they give you a rush. Our song ended and we tried to go back to our seats, but they yelled at us to get back up there and dance one more :) The dancing continues for much of the night, but we ended up leaving around midnight after a very nice Eskimo lady was telling us about their jackets and the different skins that they use. Some of the common furs they use are from wolverine, timber wolf, polar bear, seal, and sea otter.

So I was very happy that I danced with Eskimos, it was an experience that I will never forget! All of this happened on Thursday, the 28th of June.

Meanwhile, summer can definitely be seen all over the tundra, so I leave you with a nice picture of Ranuculus nivalis, otherwise known as snow buttercups. This is the first flower to appear in the tundra, and they are everywhere right now :-)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Field work and Nalukataq

Today was a good day out in the field. Although I have not been getting much sleep lately, I was energized and managed the hike without a problem. I've been assigned to monitor water levels for the Biocomplexity experiment at the Barrow Environmental Observatory. It is much more complicated than it sounds, because we have to use a differential GPS system that has centimeter accuracy! So what the usual routine consists of is taking the GPS equipment and hiking a good...I would say between 3-4 miles around the site with it. With the battery, receiver, and controller on my back, the extra 25-30 pounds of weight start to wear me down towards the end. The hike wouldn't be so hard if it were on a hard surface, but the tundra is very mushy and sometimes the moss behaves like a sponge and sucks my boot in!
I went out at around 10 am today, and it's nice when you're the only person out there for miles. I love going out there by myself; it's a great feeling to have nothing but wilderness all around you. As soon as I arrived at the control shed, it was off to do water levels! I usually hit pond #12 first, since it's right next to the control shed. I put the GPS receiver on top of the pole that is in the pond, and I usually wait to get radio link, then GPS then records the elevation from the top of the pole. After that, I use a measuring tape to measure the distance from the top of the pole down to the water. I do this for ten ponds in or around the experiment site, and process the data here in the lab.
Anyways, back to being out there by's great! Today I saw a loon, geese, swans, lemmings, pharalopes, sandpipers, ducks, and the Alaska state bird, mosquitoes! Ah yes, I'm sure many of you have heard the horror stories, well, it's true...they're ginormous! Luckily though, they are not too bad up in Barrow because the wind usually takes care of them...but today was a gorgeous day and we had hardly a breeze, so I saw many of them hovering around me :\ But I love the wildlife here; I have also seen snowy owls, an arctic fox, and a weasel. Later on Craig said we would all get the chance to go to Ivotuk, and I'm counting down the days ._. He said that we would be able to see moose, caribou, and bears! I like to go out to the field with Craig, like many people that worked with him out there before me, I've also felt his intensity when it comes to field work, and it makes me nervous at times but its a big part of what makes him such a great leader. One time when we were hiking out to the BEO, he spotted bubbles of methane in one of the ponds. He's just so knowledgeable and passionate that I miss him being out there with us sometimes, he's great inspiration :D

Monday we went to a festival that the native people here call Nalukataq. I believe it celebrates the end of whaling season? When we arrived they were having a blanket toss; it was a bunch of people gathered around holding a blanket made out of seal skin. They use this to toss a person pretty high up in the air! When we arrived they had the blanket toss going, but only for the little kids. I don't think I'm going anywhere near this thing, I've been deathly afraid of anything that resembles a trampoline :\ Shortly after the blanket toss they distributed muktuk (whale meat) among some of the families that were there. Many of them were waring their traditional coats, and the little kids looked very cute in them. We will be attending the next nalukataq tomorrow, and I hope to see then what they have been practicing so much for: music and dancing! I'm also happy that tomorrow I get another day in the lab, although it gets very boring if there is nobody around, so we'll see. I think I'll probably make time for a nice walk down the beach! But for now, I'll end this blog with a picture of when we went to The Point :)