By Geoff Abers
While the R/V Langseth plies the waters offshore the Pacific Northwest, we have been recording its source with seismic equipment on land. Lamont ran seismometers in Washington, deployed by two Columbia graduate students, Helen Janiszewski and Zach Eilon, and myself, and received some “logistical support” (shovels, batteries) from colleagues at the University of Washington. Anne Trehu of Oregon State led a parallel Oregon deployment. Like the Langseth, we are making use of national shared instruments; our gear comes from the PASSCAL Instrument Center in Socorro, NM, a facility of the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology and supported by the National Science Foundation. Writing this reminds me that modern science tends toward major collaborations; most field seismologists nowadays have to be masters of logistics. Much of my job was negotiating with myriad landowners to get permission to place our (small) equipment on their land, including timber companies, state agencies, civil safety organizations and even people with big backyards.
Our sensors record the same seismic signals as the ocean bottom seismometers the R/V Oceanus deployed, and we will combine the data later. They can detect Langseth signals up to 100 miles inland! This is something extraordinary, and difficult to believe until seen. The on-land data allows the project to extend over and past the fault zone that underlies the coast off Washington and Oregon, the Cascadia Megathrust. While the existence of the fault has been long recognized, growing evidence suggests that this fault is building up strain, and is capable of generating great (magnitude 9) earthquakes. Still, unlike most other subduction zone faults there are almost no small earthquakes on it, and so we know relatively little about it. The signals from the Langseth will reflect off the fault, at 15 – 20 miles depth near the shoreline, and be recorded on the seismometers we deploy farther west. The reflections should tell us a great deal about the thickness and internal structure of the fault zone, and the nature of the rocks on either side. While we cannot predict earthquakes, these data help test physical models of what active faults are like deep in the earth where we cannot otherwise see them.
In mid-June we recorded data in Washington from the Langseth far offshore, and in early July the Oregon group did the same. The Washington work should be completed in a second phase in mid-July. All of this means lots of trips and a good deal of time driving between the Washington beaches and the Mt Rainier foothills. Most of our sites are in recent clearcuts accessed via logging roads, so we can avoid large trees that occupy the rest of the Northwest (they shake the ground too much and block GPS signals). The clearcuts are old and the roads are not used much, so we spend much time clearing branches and cutting small trees that fell across the road to get to our sites. My students did not expect they would be lumberjacks when they came to grad school in New York!
At the end of the first deployment we met the Langseth in Astoria. We had been driving the biggest SUV that I could find – a large Suburban capable of carrying seismic equipment, big batteries, tools, and people, over any road. Nevertheless, next to the Langseth, the Suburban is very small. Stepping across the shoreline to do science clearly requires a whole other scale of operation.
Geoff Abers is associate director of the Seismology, Geology and Tectonophysics division of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.
After a day of coring on Tuesday, we decided to give our arms and backs a rest and collect water and plant samples. We take these samples so that we can characterize the chemical signatures of each plant type, and water from different parts of the system. Then, we can recognize those same signatures in the samples we take from our core. We can use the chemical signatures of the core samples to reconstruct how the vegetation and distribution of moisture has changed in the peatland through time.
While we were collecting our samples, we had a chance to meet some of the characteristic tundra wildlife.
By Helene Carton
As part of our study of the Juan de Fuca plate from its birth at the mid-ocean ridge to its recycling at the Cascadia subduction zone, the R/V Oceanus has the task of conducting Ocean Bottom Seismometer (OBS) operations and oceanographic measurements: this is done in close coordination with the R/V Langseth, which tows the high-quality sound source used to generate the waves that the OBS listen to.
The Chief Scientist Pablo Canales from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, three graduate and undergraduate students from Boston College, CSIC Barcelona in Spain, and Dalhousie University in Canada, and myself from LDEO boarded the ship at the Oregon State University Hatfield Marine Science Center on Yaquina Bay on sunny June 6. The two teams of OBS engineers from Woods Hole and Scripps Institution of Oceanography were onboard, and all the ocean bottom seismometers had been loaded, some neatly aligned on racks on the deck, others stored inside a dedicated container. The CTD (conductivity-temperature-depth) instrument stood firmly secure on deck, wrapped in its protective bag. Looking forward to our departure the next morning, we enjoyed some delicious seafood meals onshore.
The course of operations has us visit a series of eighty-five “sites” carefully defined ahead of the cruise, typically located about ten miles away from one another, identified as red, blue and yellow dots on the colorful map of the seafloor topography on display in the ship’s main lab. In between sites the ship transits at a speed of about 11 mph. While at a site, we are either deploying an ocean bottom seismometer (dropping it off the side of the ship using a crane), interrogating it to get its precise coordinates on the ocean floor, picking it up using long poles equipped with a hook at the end, or sending the CTD instrument probe the water column all the way down to 20 meters above the sea bottom and then bringing it back up.
Our small science team has been keeping itself busy, with duties involving helping with deployment and recovery operations on deck (and occasionally getting our pants and hard-toed shoes soaked!), processing the CTD measurements to better understand the movements of water masses in this region of the NE Pacific, and taking a preliminary look at data downloaded from seismometers that, a few days ago, were still listening for sound waves at the sea bottom under 2000 meters of water.
Several times we have crossed paths with the R/V Langseth while she was towing equipment and recording data, and remained a precautionary distance of several miles away: in lieu of waving from the deck, watchstanders on one ship greeted watchstanders on the other ship through messages in our mutually-visible electronic logs!
In the course of our time at sea so far, we have seen whales, seals, dolphins, porpoises, and birds. Towards the end of our first suite of CTD casts, the sensors got intruded by jellyfish, which resulted in some unusually wiggly signals. We have also seen (and sometimes picked up!) a variety of floating debris, perhaps from the tsunami that struck the Japanese coast in March 2011. After traveling through the Pacific Ocean such debris have started washing ashore on the beaches of Oregon.
Our adventure at sea continues until July 14 (after a brief port stop in Newport conveniently timed to coincide with the July 4 holiday!), with the final recoveries of all the OBS.
Our first day in the field was a wild success! We visited Imnavait Creek Peatland, named for the small stream that drains out of it into the Kuparuk River. We chose this location because it has the potential to be much older than many other peatland sites. During the last ice age, the area of the creek escaped being scoured away by a glacier, so could have been accumulating sediment during that time. Unfortunately, previous attempts to recover cores that reached these old sediments were hindered by equipment failures. This time, we used an auger specially designed to core permafrost soils, and we were able to core more than two meters of sediment, about a half meter more than had previously been achieved. Hopefully the additional sediment will allow us to understand how peat accumulation differs during ice ages. We won’t know exactly how old the sediments are until we get our cores back to the lab and determine their ages using carbon-14 dating. Stay tuned! See a video of us using the permafrost auger below.
Hello from the land of the midnight sun! We have just arrived by way of the famous Dalton Highway at Toolik Field Station, a Long Term Ecological Research site of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. We pulled up to the station just in time for dinner, a quick trip to the field station’s wood-fired sauna, and a dunk in Toolik Lake to wash off the dust of the road. Now it’s time to try and block out enough sun to get some shut-eye before a long day of coring tomorrow. Check out some pictures from our 360-mile drive below.
Heading west from coastal Oregon we are able to make our initial seismic images beneath the seafloor continuously as we go. Where once our data would have been recorded on magnetic tapes only to be analyzed long after the expedition was over, thanks to the wonders of modern signal processing, we can now make images almost immediately as the signal is detected at our hydrophone receiver array. For most of us looking at these images, all the action begins at the seafloor and below. But there is the whole deep ocean above and for some members of our science team, this is the primary subject of interest.
Berta Biescas from Dalhousie University and her student Guillermo Bornstein will be using the seismic data we are collecting to study the ocean currents that circulate within the water mass above the Juan de Fuca plate. Within the Cascadia Basin, as this region is known to oceanographers, the great eastward flowing North Pacific Current arrives from the other side of the Pacific Ocean, and is deflected by North America, splitting into the north flowing Alaskan Current and the south-directed California Current. These water movements lead to upwelling along the coastal zone of nutrients from the deeper ocean that then supports the abundant marine life of the region.
With the high density of our soundings and the high fidelity of our recordings we can actually image reflections within the ocean that arise from small changes in temperature and salinity associated with these currents and upwelling water masses. To help understand these reflections, we are taking very closely spaced measurements of the temperature and salinity of the ocean using eXpendable Bathy -Thermograph probes. Every 10 minutes along our track Berta and Guillermo load up the XBT launcher and send one into the ocean. As the probe descends through the water column it relays back to the ship measures of temperature and salinity.
A good XBT is a deep one – some record to estimated depths of 2000 meters below the sea surface, two thirds or more of the ocean depth in this region. Later these measurements, along with other data from our cruise, will be sent to national data centers, where they may be used for additional studies, contributing to our knowledge of the temperatures of the global ocean.
Every year, when the height of the dry season comes to northern Thailand, the air gets foul. The extent of the problem is dependent upon, among many factors, the weather and more specifically the temperature profile of the air. When a temperature inversion sets in, warm air aloft “caps” the cooler air that has descended into the valleys and prevents circulation (the normal state of the atmosphere is a lapse rate of decreasing temperature with altitude). As a result of an inversion, air pollution from cars, buses, burning, cooking, construction, etc., gets trapped in the valleys and basins and develops into an increasingly toxic brew. This doesn’t occur to extreme levels every year, but I have experienced it several times in Chiang Mai over the past decade, and this past season was pretty bad (see Thailand: pollution puts Chiang Mai off the tourist trail).
Photos of Chiangmai air pollution this past season: All pictures were taken at midday, no clouds, just smog.
The levels of fine particulates became very high, and this causes major respiratory problems for many people, the very young and very old in particular. But clearly it doesn’t do anybody any good. Because I am prone to bronchial infections, when the air got bad this year I suffered for weeks with a severe hacking cough that may have led to my herniated disk injury. In a wonderful twist of irony, I traveled to Bangkok, Saigon and Taipei to get cleaner air to help me overcome my illness. It worked too, but when I returned to Chiang Mai before my return home I began to deteriorate once again. (See my blog post, That Thousandth Cut, for the backstory.)
The costs of this problem are very high, due to major health problems for a large and poor population, and flight delays in the region due to poor visibility. Since it is a very specific set of conditions that leads to these inversion events, it would be important to explore the effects of regional temperature projections and how this might effect the occurrence and duration of future events. More importantly, are there ways to mitigate the effects of these inversions? Obviously, producing less fine particulates and reducing the primary pollution sources is paramount, but for that there needs to be the will at the highest of levels, and since the overall problem knows no borders, there isn’t the will. Much of the blame each year goes to the hill tribes who burn the surrounding mountainsides, but it seems that much of the source is more localized than that, and much of it is regional pollution that sits over the entire region. Whatever the source, however, something needs to be done. The problem is that when the rains come the awful air is cleared out, and with it any sense of urgency to act. It is then forgotten about until the next inversion comes a year later. This short-term memory does not help.
This from a Chiang Mai based website on the problem:
Air Pollution: Key facts from the World Health Organization
- Air pollution is a major environmental risk to health and is estimated to cause approximately 2 million premature deaths worldwide per year
- Exposure to air pollutants is largely beyond the control of individuals and requires action by public authorities at the national, regional and even international levels.
- The WHO Air quality guidelines represent the most widely agreed and up-to-date assessment of health effects of air pollution, recommending targets for air quality at which the health risks are significantly reduced.
- By reducing particulate matter (PM10) pollution from 70 to 20 micrograms per cubic metre, we can cut air quality related deaths by around 15%.
- By reducing air pollution levels, we can help countries reduce the global burden of disease from respiratory infections, heart disease, and lung cancer.
- The WHO guidelines provide interim targets for countries that still have very high levels of air pollution to encourage the gradual cutting down of emissions. These interim targets are: a maximum of three days a year with up to 150 micrograms of PM10 per cubic metre (for short term peaks of air pollution), and 70 micrograms per cubic metre for long term exposures to PM10.
More than half of the burden from air pollution on human health is borne by people in developing countries. In many cities, the average annual levels of PM10 (the main source of which is the burning of fossil fuels) exceed 70 micrograms per cubic metre. The guidelines say that, to prevent ill health, those levels should be lower than 20 micrograms per cubic metre.
Chiang Mai isn’t the only place that suffers from temperature inversions that create health hazards, and in fact it is a common problem for much of the basin and range country in the western USA. My colleagues at Utah State University suffer through an annual period of very poor air that gets trapped along the Wasatch Range every winter (see NOAA, National Weather Service Forecast Office, Salt Lake City, UT). Therefore I plan to avoid going to Logan in the dead of winter. Therefore I plan to avoid going to Logan in the dead of winter.
As bad as the problem is in Chiang Mai, it is even worse in other parts of Thailand, and across much of Southeast Asia. The link between anthropogenic pollution — inclusive of greenhouse gases — and a plethora of health issues ought to be at least as compelling a reason for us to cut emissions than the far more difficult to understand link to AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming.)
As I have alluded to earlier, if people can see how these issues can impact them in more immediately pressing ways they are more likely to care about action. I always thought the AGW debate was too esoteric and too complicated to explain to a general population that is bombarded with too much information on a daily basis. Whereas the “hey, this stuff can kill you” message is one that just might get through. As for me, I plan to avoid these areas when the air gets like this, so my forays into Southeast Asia will try to avoid the February-March season, and for good measure April too because it is so bloody hot! I am lucky enough to have the freedom to choose my residence times. For most of Chiang Mai’s population they don’t have that luxury, and they just have to endure the best they can. In the meantime, if you travel to northern Thailand, Laos or Myanmar in February, you might want to bring your gas mask.
Yesterday we deployed one of the Langseth’s long hydrophone array cables and began the second phase of our survey. We looked forward to this with much anticipation. It’s outside work and at times requires some physical exertion, which we will not have much of on this expedition. Most of the time our job is to be inside the main science lab, closely monitoring the recordings that come in from all of the instrumentation that is running continuously as we traverse the ocean.
Up to now we have been sending soundings to the 47 ocean bottom seismometers that the Oceanus deployed early last week. The multi-channel seismic data we are acquiring in this next part of our study provide x-ray like images of remarkable resolution of horizons and faults in the sediments and crust beneath the seafloor. To construct these images we are towing one very long (over 8 kilometers!) streamer cable behind the Langseth containing 636 listening devices, or hydrophones. Each hydrophone records the return echos from all of our soundings. By adding the signals from each of these records, we are able to enhance reflections and see very fine-scale structures.
We began our first survey line near the Endeavour Ridge, part of the volcanic Juan de Fuca ridge that lies hidden beneath the ocean only 400 to 500 kilometers offshore. At this ridge, the Juan de Fuca plate is continuously replenished with the eruption and intrusion of magmas from the earth’s mantle. Now we are transiting away from the ridge imaging continuously as we go. When we reach the easternmost end of our line where the plate begins to dive under North America, we will have imaged the deep structure across an entire continuous transect of an oceanic plate for the first time!
One of the aims of our study is to understand how the Juan de Fuca plate changes as it ages and moves slowly toward the trench. Starting at birth and driven by heat from molten magma that lies under the Juan de Fuca ridge, seawater circulates through and reacts with the oceanic crust, altering its composition and structure. In this way seawater becomes incorporated into the oceanic plate. This process continues on as the plate ages in ways that are not well understood. Then when the plate dives back into the mantle beneath North America, this water is released and contributes to many subduction phenomena, including the properties of the fault interface where the great earthquakes occur and the formation of the magmas that periodically erupt at the Cascade volcanoes of the Pacific Northwest.
Off the coast of Washington and Oregon, the Juan de Fuca plate dives under North America, slowly descending back into the mantle from which it was formed only 8 to 10 million years ago–very young in the context of earth history!. As the plate descends, stresses accumulate within the fault zone dividing these two tectonic plates which will eventually result in a large megathrust earthquake like the devastating Tohoku earthquake offshore Japan in 2011.
In the research expedition now underway, we will investigate the plate before it disappears under North America to understand why earthquakes happen where and when they do within this Cascadia subduction zone.
During our cruise we are using sound to probe the sub-seafloor, to generate images that tell us about the properties of the oceanic crust and mantle that lie beneath. Our soundings can penetrate through the several kilometers of sediments that cover the Juan de Fuca plate, into the 6 kilometers thick crust and below, into the upper part of the earth’s mantle.
Our ship, the R/V Marcus G. Langseth, is one of 25 research vessels available to U.S. scientists for oceanographic research. The Langseth is unique among the research fleet, equipped for advanced seismic imaging, with a high quality sound source and long arrays of listening devices, or hydrophones, which trail behind the ship listening for the echos returned from the seafloor and below.
Our program is complex. Part of our science team is on a companion ship nearby, the R/V Oceanus, deploying ocean bottom seismometers, which are also listening to the Langseth’s soundings. On land, just prior to our cruise, a series of seismometers were set out by our colleagues in the mountains of coastal Oregon and Washington to also record our soundings. With these arrays, extending hundreds of kilometers offshore and onshore, we hope to see deep into the subduction zone in two regions with quite different properties, one along the Washington margin where there are relatively frequent small magnitude earthquakes ,and the much quieter central Oregon margin.
This expedition features a cast of scientists and graduate students from the U.S., Canada, France, China, Spain and Serbia. We are accompanied by expert science technicians who deploy the advanced seismic equipment, marine mammal observers who let us know when marine mammals are nearby, and the crew who ensure the safe operation of our ship, day in and day out, for the 26 days we will be out on the cloudy Northeast Pacific.
After a few days of mild frustration, the sampling of potentially old umbrella pine lifted our spirits and put us in a good frame of mind to conduct our last day of research in the temperate rainforest region of northeastern Turkey. We headed out of Borçka and met with a forest officer in charge of forests in the Murgul Mountains. He seemed pleased with our research goals and supplied an extra jeep and a forest ranger to assist with our work. As often happens in fieldwork, highs like the discovery of great trees or the donation of free assistants get intermixed with unforeseen issues. On our last day of fieldwork in Turkey, we experienced all of that.
We headed up into the Murgul Mountains in a two-rig caravan. We stopped at a few places to take in the view and study slope forests. It was turning out to be a lovely day. During this slow journey on a narrow, mountain road, it became clear that even the steep slopes had been harvested. After about 30 minutes of driving up the mountain, we met up with loggers cutting oak logs on the side of the road. We stopped and talked with the loggers for a few minutes and inspected their bounty. The oaks were not big, but as regular readers of this blog might understand, size doesn’t equal age. The smallish oaks looked to have at least 150 rings. The loggers gave us a sample, we shook hands, and continued up the mountain.
As we continued to see evidence of recent logging over the next 10-20 minutes up the road on steeper slopes, it became apparent that we would have to travel deep into the forest to find old trees. Alas, the heavy snowfall of Winter 2011-2012 soon stopped our vehicles’ progress: the road was still clogged with nearly a meter of snow. Thus, it was time to do one thing that humans do quite well: hoof it.
As we walked up the road, Nesibe’s cell phone rang (side note: why can people in Bhutan or Turkey get cell reception in deep forest in rural regions, but we cannot get it in places within 30 miles of NYC, like on the Lamont campus? Can you hear me now?). High-level forestry officials called to say that the core samples collected on this trip could not leave the country….ugh…This was almost deadening news. We had overcome many obstacles on this trip, but this one was serious. We had previously made plans to split the samples between the two labs for analysis, and we really wanted to bring some samples back to our lab.
See, the joys of research do not end in the field. The process of tree-ring analysis for me is almost Pavlovian: at every step of the game discoveries can be made that make me drool. First, we head into a wild area and soak in the gorgeous scenery – ding! Next, we hike into the forest seeking old trees – ding! Once found, we begin coring old-looking trees. When the first cores reveal many rings – ding, ding! I am notoriously bad at estimating the number of cores on a sample in the field. It seems I consistently underestimate age by 50-100 years. Knowing this, why do I not automatically adjust my estimate? One, it keeps us looking for older trees. Two, I’d rather be wrong on the lower side so that when the first samples are sanded so that we can clearly see the rings, there is much thrill in the lab – ding, ding, ding!! Don’t get me started about how wonderful it is to see beautiful rings pass under my eyes as rings are measured – seeing the highs and lows of tree life over the centuries is truly joyous. Yes, I enjoy this process very much. In fact, I stash a mop outside my office on high Pavolvian days.
The most frustrating aspect of the denial to export samples is that we had anticipated the bureaucracy of getting governmental permissions: we started the permit process approximately 4-5 months before our trip. And, poor Nesibe had to shoulder the necessary mountain of paperwork. It was only two weeks before we left the US that we thought we had permission to export samples (BTW, this is not a knock on Turkish governmental efficiency. Permission to sample in the US or import samples into the US can often require at least 4-6 weeks, just like shipping times of yore). Anyhow, we paused and pondered this heavy news. Nesibe said her lab could analyze the additional samples and we proceeded forth.
We continued on foot and spied some potentially interesting trees.
We scrambled up a beech-leaf slickened slope and cored two Oriental beech trees. Like previous samples on this trip, they turned out to be fast growing/not very old. We continued deeper into the forest and realized many of the older-looking trees along the road ‘hid’ that the forest was recovering from a significant amount of logging decades ago. Soon after entering the second-growth portion of the forest, however, I spied an omen.
In the eastern US, the pileated woodpecker makes large foraging holes similar to that above. Pileated woodpeckers tend to be associated with mature woods. When I’m in an old forest, I often hear the call of this old friend. So, it was this sign that lifted my spirit. I suspect the species that made this hole is the black woodpecker, the largest woodpecker in Europe. We continued along the edge of the slope when one of us spotted an oak.
Not only were we thrilled to find another potentially old species, this tree had some of the charismatic megaflora chacteristics of being fairly old for its size. The first core indicated decent age (decent age for a dendrochronologist is roughly 200 years). We then found an oak that had recently fallen and cored it. It too had decent age.
We continued along this slope coring nearly ten oaks before the local distribution of decently-aged oaks ran out (they were clustered with spruce on and near south-facing rock outcrops). We headed back to our rig for lunch – it was now about 4 pm. While gathering food, we noticed similar topography and forest downslope. Dario and I begged off our fine lunch to explore this area. We were thrilled we did. This is where the forest became mighty tasty.
Not more than a soccer field from our rig did we find stunted, aged oaks. We had found our Turkish Delight – truly old trees growing along a cliffline. Forget nourishment. These sessile oaks provided all we would need.
Some scenes of Murgul Mountain forests in northeastern Turkey.
We were in a truly wild forest. No, Dario didn’t go wild and claw that beech tree. The marks were likely made by a brown bear.
The best identifier of beech the world round? “Emir (John, Wei, etc.) loves Tayla (Sue, Xue, etc.) 1978″.
Tea derived from Tilia (basswood).
By Allison Jacobel
In the seafaring lore of yore at least two statements have traditionally been held as fact: the more rum the more merry the mates and any and all women are bad luck. While the origin of the first statement is fairly obvious, the second may require a bit of explanation. In the times of ancient mariners it was held that not only were women incapable of doing physical work aboard a ship but also that they were a distraction to the men onboard. Together these two factors were thought to produce a dangerous inattention to the sea which could anger the forces of nature and cause fearful storms and gales.
Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately depending on how you feel about the first statement), we here on the Marcus G. Langseth are bucking the shackles of yore in the most dramatic of fashions. On this cruise not only do we have women aboard but all ten of the graduate students and our post-doc are female!
Aboard the Langseth are:
Sam Bova – Brown U., Ann Dunlea – Boston U., Heather Ford- U. of California, Jen Hertzberg- Texas A&M, Allison Jacobel – Columbia U., Christina King – U. of Rhode Island. Ashley Maloney – U. of Washington, Julia Shackford- Texas A&M, Kate Wejnert– Georgia Tech, Ruifeng Xie – Texas A&M.
While over the past 20 years, women have increasingly demonstrated their ability to compete in many sectors of the workforce, a slower trend has been observed in the geosciences than in any other STEM discipline except engineering. In 2004, 42% of the BA and BS degrees awarded in the geosciences were to women and only 34% of the PhDs awarded in the geosciences were to women. Most troubling is that of full professors in US geosciences departments only 8% are women.
It will likely take more than one generation to overcome these trends, but many of us aboard the Langseth are optimistic. While the driving forces and support networks behind the women on board are unique, several commonalities can be found.
I think most in the field would agree when I say we’re a well-awarded group and here I think credit is due to both government programs and private foundations for recognizing the need and opportunity to support young women in science. While some might point to the demographics on board as a reason that the emphasis on supporting women in science is no longer needed, I think the scarcity of female professors in tenured positions at most universities is a clear argument that this emphasis should continue.
We also owe thanks to the pioneering female scientists who were instrumental in deconstructing many of the biases against women in science and who paved the way for our generation’s steps forward. For example we are fortunate enough to be led in our scientific mission by Jean Lynch-Stieglitz, one of our two chief scientists. Jean was the first female professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University and holds amongst many accomplishments the 2000 receipt of a NSF CAREER Award in recognition of her role as an outstanding leader in both education and research. Jean is currently a professor at Georgia Tech and last but certainly not least, mother of two.
Finally, I think some credit is due to the male scientists on board (and those PI’s back on land) who helped to bring us each aboard and who recognized our skills, drive and potential among a field of qualified candidates. These men are neither intimidated by, nor resentful towards, the smart women aboard and have invested their time and academic resources into helping us all to become better scientists.
While the prevalence and acceptance of women in the geosciences is growing, we are also aware of the professional gaps left to be bridged, both in our own field and others. I don’t take the opportunities I’ve been given for granted and believe I speak for the other women aboard when I say we hope to encourage other young women to pursue their interests in the sciences and other traditionally male-dominated fields. Through participation in professional societies, activities involving disadvantaged girls in schools, summer programs and more, we hope to make waves not only in the seas of the South Pacific but also in in the communities we call home.
For more information about women in the geosciences check out the NSF/AWG sponsored workshop proceeding “Where are the Women Geoscience Professors?”
Allison Jacobel is a graduate student at Columbia University who studies the past circulation of the ocean and atmosphere using the chemistry of deep ocean sediments. I should not neglect to mention that we are fortunate to have one male undergraduate on board, Victor Castro, who is a much-appreciated member of the scientific party.
 Holmes, M.A., O’Connell, S., Frey, C. & Ongley, L. Gender imbalance in US geoscience academia. Nature Geoscience 1, 148–148 (2008).
Flying. It is something we are almost all familiar with, and yet I expect few of us have really sat back to appreciate the actual science of it. For the past 10 weeks we have been flying, not just a day or two a week but five or six days a week depending on the crew numbers and the weather options. We have worked out of two different locations in Greenland, both of which are on the western edge of this expansive island in the north.
For the past three weeks, we’ve been in Thule, Greenland. This US Air Force base has the northernmost paved runway in the region, offering service to points north (Yes, there are points north! ……. but those have gravel runways). The infrastructure here is good, complete with individual hotel rooms, as compared with the shared dormitory style rooms in Kangerlussuaq. Perhaps the most important part is that we get fresh vegetables with meals in the cafeteria. The lack of fresh vegetables for most of Greenland is remarkable as there really is no agriculture except a small amount of musk ox and reindeer (caribou) ranching. The Greenland diet is heavily slanted toward protein – fish and the meat of musk ox and reindeer.
The P3 is a workhorse of the Operation IceBridge field season. One thing that I’ve noticed, and had previously not appreciated, is that the blades of the propellers rotate. OK, before you say, “I knew that!” or, “No duh!” Take a look at the following photos. In the first photo in the hangar, the blades face the camera. The flat part is rotated towards the viewer. If you look closely, you can even see the point at which they are mounted.
Now, compare these with pictures taken from inside the plane. These are rotated to allow the propeller to push more air past the wing and increase speed – 90 degrees from the above picture.
This next video shows what you would observe of the propeller if you were inside the plane — just the gray windmilling of the propellers accompanied by a very loud buzz and whirr. This will also give you a view of how we move through the vast snow covered landscape. All of the missions are timed with respect to a ground speed of 250 knots for our instrument function (that’s 250 nautical miles per hour or about 288 miles per hour).
Part of the maintenance of the plane is a preflight inspection by the crew prior to any of the science crew or pilots arriving at the plane. This starts about 2 ½ hours before take off. Basic functions, such as checking the lights, seeing if the tail moves, etc. are all done prior to take off. When we do the night shift for firewatch, the shift ends as the crew arrives, so we are able to see the start of the inspection.
Additionally, the crew does an evening inspection of everything. Because the P3 is a workhorse of the NASA airborne science fleet, they keep the plane flying. The result is that parts wear out from time-to-time. The ground crew needs a little down time, and they get it during flight. Generally, they rotate off shifts with at least two always at the watch. Those who aren’t on watch take some down time — playing computer games or getting a few zzz’s in.
The last few days have been a bit of an overdose on Thule Air Base, however. The flight crew found something in a post flight inspection. A bushing delaminated in the propeller.
With the bushing gone the first thought was to fly the P3 back to the Wallops Island, VA test flight facility using three engines. Once there, with the parts, tools, and ground support, they could fix the plane. After considering the number of completed flights it was decided to close the season. The P3 stayed in Thule with the parts expected to arrive on Monday during the regular resupply of the base from the US. Monday came and went with no parts. The C130 air transport plane from McGuire AFB was full and could not take the 600lbs of parts and tools. Option B was for the parts to arrive today on the rotator. The rotator is a DC-8 plane that is about a 2/3 supply shipment and about 1/3 passengers for any staff changes for any position at the base.
Luckily, the parts and tools arrived. The crew went straight to work. As I wrote this, the crew took off and landed with the P3 on an FCF: functional check flight. This is a test to make sure that everything works. Good times! I’m waiting for the report on what they found……..
The silence you may have heard since our last post was the sound of microscope lights flickering, measuring stages gliding, brains grinding, numbers crunching, and poi dogs pondering. We wrapped up all planned field work last summer for our research grant on climate, fire, and forest history in Mongolia. We have transitioned from the field-intensive portion of the grant to the data and publication phase of the scientific process. We have presented research in various meetings and settings and have earnestly begun to put our findings to our peers to begin the publication process. We are also transitioning to a new vein of research in Mongolia that gets to the title of this blog. It has been a long time coming.
First, Dr. Amy Hessl was inspired by the forest in transition on Solongotyin Davaa. This is the famous forest where global warming was first reported in Mongolia. High elevation forests are rare to burn. So, the thought that a landscape with wood that has been on the forest floor for more than 100o years became an important part of Amy’s summary on “Pathways for climate change effects on fire: Models, data, and uncertainties“.
Next, Amy led a slew of us in a publication summarizing our initial findings of fire history from the northern edge of the Gobi Steppe to Mongolia’s border with Russia near Sükhbaatar City. With the glaring exception on Bogd Uul, this paper, “Reconstructing fire history in central Mongolia from tree-rings“, gives a quick glimpse into the fairly persistent fire regime across central Mongolia over the last 280-450 years.
NPR recently finished a series of reports on the environmental and cultural transitions currently happening in Mongolia as a result of climate change and the massive mining boom underway. The post that caught our attention was the one on “Mongolia’s Dilemma: Who Gets The Water?” Water has been a focus or the Mongolian-American Tree-Ring Project (MATRIP) since the beginning (see MATRIP’s major publications on this subject here, here (get the streamflow data here), here, here). So, we are happy to announce that this rich vein of research has continued with the fire history research grant by first filling an important gap in the MATRIP network and then having several manuscripts on this subject in revision or review.
One paper that we are quite excited about is an analysis of drought variability across Mongolia’s ‘Breadbasket’. We were taken aback in throughout the last three field seasons by the large-scale revitalization of Mongolia’s agricultural sector. It was surprising to see center-pivot irrigation and large tracts of fields in northern Mongolia. This cultural change is intended to transition Mongolia towards agricultural independence for its growing population. Our analysis highlights important differences in drought variation for the eastern and western portions of the breadbasket region. Stay tuned!
Finally, we are headed back to Mongolia this summer to begin pilot work on new research currently funded by the Lamont Climate Center, The National Geographic Society, and West Virginia University. As hinted in our last post, we will begin field work to determine if there was a warmer and wetter climate during the rise of Chinggis Khaan’s Mongol Empire.
Really – stay tuned!
If you look carefully at the picture below you will see a small shadow of our plane completely encircled in a rainbow. This optical phenomenon, called a “glory,” can develop when the plane flies directly between the sun and a cloud below. Flying over the ice sheet in the far northeast of Greenland we saw this “glory,” the result of refracted water in the clouds appearing like a rainbow-colored halo when the observer is directly between the sun and cloud of refracting water droplets. Because our ATM laser and the DMS cameras rely on there being no clouds beneath us as they collect data, we don’t often see “glories.” The light cloud cover seen here doesn’t bother the instruments much – we can still see through it – so we get data and “glory” – a win-win situation.
The rocks peeking up through the misty cloud layer show evidence of fluvial drainage, where running water has cut through the rock. We have seen lots of evidence of running water in the north, both here and in the large, long drainage channels that ran over the surface of Humboldt Glacier in the northwest. Beneath these channels the geology in this northeast section of Greenland shows a more complicated relationship than we have seen elsewhere. Here we see alternating bands of lighter and darker brown in the rock face, unlike the more regular rock bedding we have seen in other regions.
The northwest fjords flight was designed for the gravity team to survey just offshore, measuring the gravity signal of the sea bed to determine the geometry of the fjords. This information will assist modelers in investigating why the loss of ice mass in the area is increasing, and how ocean current might be involved.
We flew another mission in this area along the NW glaciers, flying up and down the axis of a dozen glaciers in this area to look at the bed structure with radar and changes in elevation over time using the ATM laser.
For the Ellesmere Island flight, I sat in the cockpit and we had a bit of everything. Ellesmere Island is the northernmost island in the Canadian Arctic, lying just west of Greenland in the Territory of Nunavut (Inuit for “our land”). The island is known as the home of the furthest north permanently inhabited place on Earth, Alert.
I was glad to have been on this flight, because it turned out to be our last one of the season (there were 43 data flights in total this year). Routine maintenance on the plane when we got back turned up a part that needed to be replaced, and the logistics of that are taking time. So we are waiting in Thule for the part to get here (there are only a couple of flights a week that it can come on). Once everything is operational again, we will be heading home. We’ve packed our cargo, backed up all the data, and now we are catching up on blogs and reports and all the desk work that wasn’t done on the plane. The current plan is to fly home on Friday – contingent on the part arriving on Thursday and everything going perfectly from there. In the meantime, I can look out the window and see fox and hare tracks in the snow.
After landing, a hole is drilled through the ice, and the sampling system is lowered through the hole to a depth of about 700 meters. The sampling system (the thin hole rosette) which was designed and built at the Lamont-Doherty Instrument Lab, allows the LDEO field team to examine the water as the assembly descends and to collect water samples for later analysis when interesting properties are observed. This work is supported by the US National Science Foundation.
This video was shot by Switchyard team member Dan Greenspan, who is a researcher at the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University. Check out his blog, and his recent entry: “Traveling to the North Pole, Part 10: Eclipse, with Wolves.”
PALISADES, NEW YORK — My hands floated above my head, rotating in all directions, swaying weakly like reeds rustling in a gentle breeze. At least that was the image I held in my head, clouded as it was by the anesthesia. Between my hands I saw Orawan at the foot of the bed, staring at me with great relief in her face.
“Hey baby, how are you?” I asked almost a little too cheerfully, as I dropped my arms to the bed. ”Come here, give me a hug.” I was seriously groggy, and it was difficult to stay awake. I have memories of an alarm going off next to my head and a nurse urging me to breathe, happening more than once. I am not sure if that really happened or if it was imagined, but my memories from those few hours are hazy.
“Hey, go easy there.” Orawan chided as she took my hand. ”Try not to move too much.” I could sense the massive relief she was feeling, after waiting nearly 4 hours to see me after I left her standing in the hallway as they wheeled me into the theater.
The surgery was a success, or so I was informed. At least I could still move my arms, and I didn’t see a respirator anywhere in sight. I quickly checked for a colostomy bag and was relieved not to find one. I was still dopey enough that I couldn’t feel any pain yet (that would come in time), and the intense pain I had lived with for the past five weeks appeared to be gone, as the bits of ruptured disk had been removed from my spine, relieving the pressure on my C7 nerve head.
So, what happened? The week before I returned from Asia, on March 12, I awoke with a burning agony running down my left arm that would not desist. I didn’t know the extent of my injury until I had gotten home to New York and had an MRI, after a week of unrelenting pain in my left arm and under my scapula. It was a very uncomfortable flight across the Pacific back to New York, made tolerable only because of a class upgrade and lots and lots of drugs.
The MRI showed that I had clearly ruptured the disk between my C6 and C7 vertebrae, and surgery was pretty much the only option. Though I don’t remember it, I had told Dr. Quest that I loved him, emphasizing that it was not in any manner that should elicit his alarm, but love just the same. He took care of me as promised, and now that it was over I felt a massive sense of relief. Now, six weeks after surgery I am mostly recovered, with only minor pains and numbness as reminders of those terrible 5 weeks.
So what has this to do with climate change? Well it is the reason for my absence from this blog, since I couldn’t sit at my desk for more than 20 minutes at a time, and the reason for me barely accomplishing any work for more than a month. And now that I am recovering, I face a mountain of work the likes of which I have never seen, but never have I been so thankful for being able to work.
It had surely been a run of bad luck since my last entry, starting with the infection in my scalp from hitting that doorjamb in Chiang Mai, an infection that was not even cured when I developed a terrible bronchitis from the smoke and haze of Chiang Mai’s annual February foul air festival (a phenomenon that is related to climate change). After my return from Yunnan I went to Taipei for a week of lectures and meetings, and Taipei’s far cleaner air began healing my lungs, but I was still with a very deep cough that would often wrench me from sleep. I then went to Vietnam for a week for the opening of the International Center for Tropical Highlands Ecosystems Research, with even cleaner air in Dalat, and that just about finished off the bronchitis. But scarcely two days back in Chiang Mai, back in the horrible air, and I began to cough once again. It was then, on Monday the 12th of March that I awoke in such pain. The doctors believe that it may have been the pressure from coughing that served as the final straw in rupturing my disk, but in truth the injury was probably the result of a lifetime of accumulated injuries and strains, football, hockey, basketball, coring trees and carrying a backpack. It could have been any and all of those things.
So, I am back now, ready to catch up on a few entries I have wanted to write. I apologize to Lori for the long delay and I hope she can forgive me, and welcome me back. The way I see it things can only go up from here, now that Dr. Quest delivered that thousandth cut.
Time is flying, bringing us to our final days in Alert. We were able to recover samples from 12 stations, which is a great success and the second most successful year on record. Thanks to everyone who made it happen: Dale, Richard and Dan who went out every possible day to collect samples; Al and Jim for their support in Alert and of course our friendly Canadian colleagues..
The next two days are filled with packing and arranging the equipment and samples for their long journey home to New York. We plan to fly out of Alert on May 22 to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland but don’t know yet when the Air National Guard will pick us for the flight to New York. We hope to be home by May 25.
We have been steaming and searching for locations on the seafloor where the sediments are accumulating undisturbed. We tried without luck to take cores at several promising locations, however the cores came up less than perfect. It turns out that much of the undersea portion of the Line Islands has ocean currents that remove and erode sediment. This erosion shows up in the sediment cores as sandy layers where the very small grains of sediment have been swept away. So, we kept up our vigil in the main lab area, closely monitoring the seafloor for small pockets of sediment that looked promising. Some pockets are only a few tenths of a mile across while others are a mile or two. Many that look beautiful from a distance turn out to be ugly on closer inspection.
On our 13th core attempt of the cruise, we got lucky. The corer came back full of the beautiful, white mud. The 20-foot core contains over 250,000 years of sediment and spans the last three glacial cycles in earth’s history. During each of these cycles the earth cooled and large ice sheets expanded over North America and elsewhere. In our core, these cycles are indicated by color changes from greenish brown to white and back.
After lucky 13, we began to hone our strategy and are finding more locations with good sediments. We now have lucky 15, 17, and many more; we now have over 30 cores and counting. Not all of them are perfect, but we are getting better at finding good sediments and faster at coring them.
Alert hosted the first northernmost cancer-fighting fundraising event “Relay for Life,” an event sponsored by the Canadian Cancer Society to celebrate cancer survivors, remember loved ones lost to cancer and fight back against all cancers.
The 12-hour-walk was organized by Kristy Doyle, who lost her grandfather to cancer in 2010. Participants raised a whopping $7,580 and collectively walked 900 kilometers. I admit that I feel proud for doing my small part by walking 8 kilometers.