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Reports from the field

Switchyard #6, May 21, 2006

Email from Mike Steele, Ottawa, Canada, May 20, 2006
Well, the last few days of Switchyard buzzed by so fast that I didn't have time to send any updates. My last dreary update was sent on Sunday morning, with bad fog around Alert. Of course it cleared by noon and Wendy and Roger took off and did 4 stations, returning near midnight! Those two are data monsters! I feel extremely lucky to have such dedicated and talented scientists working for me on this project. I stayed up to greet them and we all hit the sack around 2 am. We managed to wake up some time in the AM and Wendy and I took off for another day of monster flying. We visited 4 sites, completing for the first time a series of stations southward from our "main line" to very close to the Ellesmere Island coast. We then got a special treat: our pilot John took us over the hills back to Alert, showing us the kind of flying he does when counting caribou and similar projects. We saw lots of animal tracks.

We got 15 helo CTD stations over 2 sections this year: a record! A preliminary look at the data indicates some really interesting similarities between the 2 sections. I think there's a great story in here.

As usual, this project would not have happened without the support of many people, including:
The National Science Foundation for funding our research
VECO Polar Services, in particular Tom Quinn and Robin Abbott
The New York Air National Guard
Canadian Forces Station Alert staff
Polar Continental Shelf Project
Universal Helicopters of Newfoundland, and our pilot John Innis in particular!
Kenn Borek Airlines, in particular our flight crew for this year Paul, Karen, and Brad. And of course, the support of our people in Seattle at the Polar Science Center: Andy, Sue, Mari, Mark, and I'm sure I'm forgetting a bunch of others. It's also great to work with the field scientists from LDEO, this year: Dale, Richard, and Guy, and Bob from SIO.

I love fieldwork! I'm typing this now from my hotel room in Ottawa, where it's past midnight. Tomorrow, if all goes as planned, Roger and I will roll into Seattle about 11 pm. Don't be expecting us in the office on Monday.... -Mike

Switchyard pictures and reports have been posted at

Additional Freshwater Switchyard of the Arctic Ocean information is available at:

Wendy and John
Picture 1: Wendy and our pilot John gaze at an expendable CTD deployed in a lead. We also dropped a few from the Twin Otter plane. Results were mixed, but we still feel this technique holds great promise.

Finger rafting
Picture 2: A great example of "finger rafting" which makes these really cool rectangular fingers of ice that I guess no one really understands. But everyone likes them.

Bendy lead
Picture 3: Wow this was a great little lead. The ice was very new, very thin. I tell people about how thin sea ice is soft and bendy, not like brittle freshwater ice, but I've never really seen it. Now I have. In the photo I'm pushing on it and it's making these kind of rubbery waves.
Next year I'll bring a camera that makes movies.

Rollercoaster ride in the helicopter
Picture 4: Here's a shot from our rollercoaster ride in the hills at the northern tip of Ellesmere Island. Going up! On the other side is where your stomach drops out as John follows the contour of the land down, down, down.

Switchyard #5, May 14, 2006

Email from Mike Steele, Alert, May 14, 2006
Today is Mother's Day, and we have a mother of a fog bank sitting over Alert. Worst weather so far. The Twin Otter might fly if the satellite shows a "hole" up north, but the helo is definitely grounded today. Thus my email today!

We arrived in Alert on a sunny clear day, and the next day Wendy and Roger got 3 stations on our "main line" to the NW of Alert. The following day and all days hence there's been low cloud that prevents flying to any northern quadrant. Perhaps this is "summer" already? Perhaps flying in May is becoming a losing proposition?

We've resorted to one of our back-up sections, a series of 5 stations across the northern mouth of Nares St. That area seems always slightly better for helo flying, even some sunny patches. The ice there is amazingly broken up, with few large ice floes and LOTS of brash and huge huge piles of rubble. Our pilot John Innis is a magician, finding a suitable landing place amid this junk every time. My first look at the data indicates we may have some interesting results

There's no breakfast on the weekends here, just "brunch" starting at 10:30 am. I guess I can handle that, considering I've eaten more meat, cheese, and high fat meals in one week than I usually eat in a season! It's ok if you're spending the day chipping ice holes and tromping around outside, but it's really not ok if you spend the day typing emails... –


Switchyard #4, May 11, 2006

Email from Wendy Ermold
Things have been going pretty well here, with a few glitches. On Wednesday, Roger and I were able to do 3 stations on our primary track. Two of our CTD casts were beautiful, with good oxygen traces, even. One of our casts was completely non-existent though, and it happened to be the one farthest from Alert. We were really disappointed. The fog has been hovering over our primary track since, so we have not been able to get back out there as yet.

Yesterday, Mike and I flew out to Nares Strait (which is a low priority area for us, but our only option because of fog), and were able to do 2 stations. Again, the CTD recorded only one beautiful profile. Today, Roger and I prepared our backup CTD for the field, and we feel pretty confident that we'll be able to capture all of our casts successfully. Today is still foggy over our main section, but we're planning to try a flight out this afternoon back to Nares Strait. So, we should have good idea of how our backup CTD is functioning by tomorrow.

I'm going to send a few pictures:

Hope all's well on that end! I'll try to keep in touch....

First Loading
Picture 1. Loading the helicopter for the first flight. Note we have a different chopper this year! Blue! It looks the same on the inside, though. John Innis is our pilot this year, same as in 2004! Also in the picture is his mechanic (name?), Mike, and Roger...

Roger in ladies room
Picture 2. The CTD hit the mud on our last cast of our first flight. When this happens, we like to soak the CTD in a bath to make sure all the mud particles dissolve off so they don't get sucked into the instrument. Only the ladies room's have tubs though, so here's Roger where one wouldn't normally expect to find him.

Mike at Nares Strait
Picture 3. Here's Mike at Nares Strait, ready to lower the Niskin to capture some water at about 5 meters. Both ends have been cocked open so it's ready to be lowered into the water.

Wendy at Nares Strait
Picture 4. Here's me, showing how warm it is! It was -4C and calm enough to take off my sweatshirt for 30 seconds to get a shot.

Switchyard #3, May 10, 2006

Email from Mike Steele, May 10, 2006, Alert
Switchyard Update: We arrived here yesterday, after an over night in Thule. The NYANG crew was superb and I have to say, all the C130 flights were way more comfortable than most commercial flights I've been on. There's always a nice comfy duffel bag (or your nice comfy neighbor's parka shoulder) to snuggle into. We took the day yesterday getting ready for today, talking to our instruments, sorting through gear, planning our stations. Wendy and Roger are attempting to do 3 stations today on our "main line" centered on 84N, 65W. We have lots of alternate stations planned in case it's foggy there. LDEO/SIO people are also preparing to fly, perhaps later today.

Christian Haas and a group of 5 other scientists from Finland and Scotland are taking ice and snow observations flying an EM "bird" on a helo and also by snow machine on the surface. Rene Forsberg and 2 others are flying a laser/microwave combo of remote sensing from a Twin Otter. We have been discussing collaborations for next year and beyond.


Note: For those of you who watch the evening news, Glenn Farley a reporter from King5 in the Seattle area interviewed Jamie Morison and Keith van Theil this morning about their work at the North Pole Environmental Observatory.

Switchyard #2, May 9, 2006

Email from Roger Andersen, May 8, 2006
Switchyard 8 May 2100 local Thule
Right on schedule so far, and we are scheduled for an 8AM takeoff for Alert tomorrow (Tuesday) morning. I am sending this from a PC in the Knud Rassmussen Library at Thule AB. So far weather has been good all the way. Thule is colder than Kanger was, but the streets are muddy and not freezing. Our flight here from Kanger was uneventful, except that we were combined with several groups besides Switchyard, and the total cargo volume required Herc pallets piled to the top of the fuselage, with no passageway aft. The NY ANG crew did an amazing job of loading within a tight set of flight rules. We assume, but have not heard whether, Andy made it to Alert with the Twin Otter on Saturday. Hopefully, we will be seeing him by noon tomorrow at Alert.

Andy Revkin’s latest article about NPEO and monitoring climate change, “Shivering and Unsung, Scientists Monitor the Arctic Year After Year After Year,” is in today’s New York Times.

Switchyard Report #1, May 8, 2006

The Freshwater Switchyard of the Arctic Ocean field work, supported by the National Science Foundation, is now underway.

Participants include:
Polar Science Center, Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington
Roger Andersen, Mathematician and field scientist
Wendy Ermold, Physicist and field scientist
Andy Heiberg, Logistics manager
Mike Steele, Lead scientist

Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University
Dale Chayes, Research engineer and Sr. staff associate
Guy Mathieu, Scientist
Richard Perry, Research staff associate and field enginner

Scripps Institute of Oceanography
Bob Williams, Field engineer

Information about the project is available at

Email from Roger Andersen, May 8, 2006
Spectacularly clear and warm morning in Kangerlussuaq. We are hanging around the KISS Building (Kangerlussuaq International Science Support) hoping Robin Abbot (Veco) will slip us some meal tickets to the Danish Cafe at the airport, in between getting another flight off to Summit and other parts of Greenland. Most of us took a walk up the hill behind the base last night, maybe 4 miles or so, and we got within about 200 yards of three musk oxen. We expect to fly to Thule about 11AM local.

Email from Roger Andersen, May 7, 2006
Kangerlussuaq, Greenland
On a very full ski Herc, with a stiff tailwind, the complete Switchyard team made it to Kanger from Scotia, NY in six hours non-stop. The plan is for us to go just to Thule Monday, then into Alert Tuesday morning. Considering everyone's travel problems this spring, Mike, Wendy and I have had smooth sailing so far. Even the flight change at Chicago was at the next gate over. The Lamontians picked up Bob Williams of Scripps and we three PSCers at the Albany airport in the Lamont van, and Bill Smethie took us to Stratton Air Base at 5AM this morning. Dale Chayes, Richard Perry, and Guy Mathieu represent Lamont this year. It's a busy week for the 109th; four C-130s flew north to Kanger this morning. At Kanger I met Ingve Kristofferson, whom I think I last saw at Fram 4 in 1982. Ingve is a Norwegian scientist at the Norsk Polar Institute, on his way to Station Nord for some sea ice work in the fjord. It's stunningly warm in Kanger, probably in the 50s (F) at least. Occasionally a puff of wind down valley will remind us that the ice cap is just a few miles away. Otherwise, things are ops normal.


Polar Science Center
Applied Physics Laboratory
1013 NE 40th Street
Seattle, WA 98105

University of Washington

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0230427.
Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the
National Science Foundation.

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