News aggregator

Optimism, But Also a Hard Bottom Line for Island States

The 2015 Paris Climate Summit - Thu, 12/10/2015 - 13:23
 Kadra Rayale, Rija Rasul, Tong, Vidya Nair and Laura Maxwell.

Students from the University of Waterloo in Canada had a breakfast meeting with the Kiribati delegation and met the island nation’s president, Anote Tong, on Dec. 6. From left: Kadra Rayale, Rija Rasul, Tong, Vidya Nair and Laura Maxwell.

Four students in the Masters in Development Practice program at the University of Waterloo in Canada are in Paris for the UN climate summit to represent the Republic of Kiribati. The small island nation is one of several threatened by sea level rise.

This week they have been sitting in on various thematic discussions. Rija Rasul reports she has attended climate finance discussions. Her colleagues Laura Maxwell and Kadra Rayale have been in sessions on adaptation to, and loss and damage from climate change. Vidya Nair has been in discussions about technology and capacity building.

“We are looking at [these topics] from the perspective of small island developing states, including Kiribati,” Rasul said. “Collectively, small island developing states have brought forward a strong voice at the table in regards to the above four thematic areas, because for them, it is an issue of survival.”

The talks are meant to wind up Friday, and the students are hopeful.

“Reaching an agreement would firstly mean an increase in awareness for the particular situation faced by small island developing states,” Rasul said. “States such as Kiribati are on the front line of climate change since they are already experiencing its effects, and an agreement would enhance recognition of [their] vulnerability.”

 Eskinder Debebe/UN

Kiribati faces the prospect of eventual inundation from sea level rise. Photo: Eskinder Debebe/UN

Many nations, particularly some of those most vulnerable to climate impacts, are calling for the agreement to recognize the need to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees C. Going into negotiations, the target was 2˚C over the pre-industrial-era average, which many feel is an upper limit needed to avoid the worst effects of climate change. Many feel 2˚C is not ambitious enough.

According to The Guardian news website, “Trinidad and Tobago’s delegate warned the Paris agreement would be ‘seriously flawed’ if it did not stick to an ambitious 1.5˚C target to limiting warming. Barbados offered even stronger language, warning: ‘We will not sign off any agreement that represents a certain extinction of our people.’ “

Rising sea levels have already engulfed large areas of Kiribati, and nearly a quarter of the country’s population has had to move, according to reporting by IRIN, an independent news website that focuses on humanitarian issues.

“What we need is a boost from the international community to lift us out of the water,” Tong told delegates in Paris, according to a story on the IRIN site. Tong and other leaders of similar states are pushing for the final Paris agreement to include measures that would facilitate migration as an adaptation to climate change threats and build capacity to cope with natural disasters and displacement. That will require significant financial support from the international community, IRIN reports.

According to The Guardian, Tong remained upbeat: “I’ve always said we need to come away from Paris with a deal that would ensure the survival of people. Nobody left behind—that’s the mission all along. This is quite a long way from where we started. It’s coming together.”

COP21_ad1Another contentious point is to what degree wealthier nations will contribute money to help poorer nations adapt. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has said the United States would double its commitment to help countries already under threat.

“There are countries … for which climate change is an existential threat today,” Kerry told the Paris gathering on Dec. 9. “For them, this isn’t a matter of annexes or peak years—it’s a matter of life and death. …

“One of the hard realities that we’re facing is that our collective delay now means that some of the impacts of climate change can’t be reversed,” Kerry said. “We have a moral responsibility to adapt and prepare for those impacts and enable the most vulnerable among us to be able to do the same.”

“We have definitely seen an increase in optimism as the days progress,” Rasul said. “And although negotiations are ongoing, we are hopeful for an ambitious agreement, which in turn would hopefully lead to increased resilience and capacity building.”

The Earth Institute’s Masters in Public Administration in Development Practice at Columbia University is part of a global association of related programs, including the one at the University of Waterloo. To find out more about the global association, go here.

Sea Level Rise: How Much, How Fast?

The 2015 Paris Climate Summit - Thu, 12/10/2015 - 11:33
 NOAA

Iceberg off Antarctica. Photo: NOAA

The Science, Revisited

In a past State of the Planet article, we looked at a paper written by James Hansen, director of the Program on Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions, and 16 other researchers warning of potentially dire affects of global warming. In the paper, Hansen argues that unless carbon emissions are drastically reduced, sea level rise caused by melting glaciers in Antarctica and Greenland could have catastrophic effects on coastal regions. Although the claim Hansen is making is one that scientists have long been arguing for, the evidence that he and his team put together in a paper published this summer suggests that things may be worse that we think.

By studying modeled climate evidence from the Eemian period (the last interglacial period, when temperatures were warmer than today) the team concluded that the warming going on today risks setting off “feedbacks” in the climate system. These feedbacks include changes in ocean circulation and the speed at which ice sheets may collapse. Just how much will this affect us, and how fast? The paper argues that sea levels could rise 10 feet within the next 50 to 100 years.

Visit the full scientific paper here to learn more about the research. Hansen is the former head of the NASA-Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

COP21_ad1This post is part of an ongoing series devoted to re-addressing important science stories in order to better inform our readership of the science and its consequences as the UN climate negotiations in Paris continue.

What Is Ocean Acidification & Why Does It Matter?

The 2015 Paris Climate Summit - Wed, 12/09/2015 - 19:14

As excess carbon dioxide is absorbed into the oceans, it is starting to have profound effects on marine life, from oysters to tiny snails at the base of the food chain.

Oysters raised on the mud flats of the U.S. Pacific Northwest are prized by restaurants around the country, but starting around 2007, the Pacific oyster population went into crisis. The oysters were hatching, but they weren’t secreting shells quickly enough to protect themselves. Without shells, the young oysters were vulnerable, and large numbers didn’t survive.

Biologists traced the problem to changing chemistry in the ocean—the water was becoming more acidic and currents were bringing in water that contained less of a calcium carbonate mineral called aragonite that oysters need to build their shells.

“Ocean acidification has been called the evil twin of global warming. It is the other carbon dioxide problem. As we increase the acidity of sea water, it has an effect on organisms,” said Bärbel Hönisch, a biologist and oceanographer at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She explains ocean acidification and its effects in more detail in the video above, and discusses how scientists use ancient shells from the sea floor to understand how ocean chemistry has changed over time and could change in the future in the second video, below.

Ocean acidification itself is a fairly simple chemical process. As carbon dioxide (CO2) dissolves in water (H2O), it creates carbonic acid (H2CO3), which is a weak acid. Carbonic acid dissociates into hydrogen ions (H+) and bicarbonate ions (HCO3-1), and the hydrogen ions bond with carbonate ions (CO3-2) in the water. In the oceans, many sea creatures with calcium carbonate skeletons and shells also rely on those carbonate ions for aragonite and calcite to build their skeletons and shells.

Studies show that as carbon dioxide levels have increased in the atmosphere over the past two centuries, seawater has become less saturated with aragonite and calcite. The average pH of seawater has fallen from about 8.2 to 8.1, about a 30 percent increase in acidity on pH’s logarithmic scale.

In the Pacific Northwest, once biologists discovered the source of the oysters’ troubles, they were able to work with oyster growers to develop workarounds to help the oysters grow. Some timed spawning to afternoons, when photosynthetic activity would be higher and more carbon dioxide would be taken up in the water around the hatcheries. By carefully monitoring the acidity of the water brought into the oyster pools, they could also add carbonate to the water as needed and then move the growing oysters to the mud flats after their shells started to form.

For other marine life, however, there is no escape from ocean acidification.

“Ocean acidification has effects, in the end, for our food chain. We see it in pteropods—tiny marine snails are an important source of food for juvenile Pacific salmon. They are growing thinner shells, and the shells malform under acidified conditions. We see it in sea urchins; in crabs. We see it in a number of organisms that secrete calcium carbon shells; they are having a hard time making their shells,” Hönisch said.

Those changes play out in different ways in different parts of the oceans.

The climatological mean distribution of pH in the global ocean surface water in February 2005. The “+” symbol indicates areas affected by El Niño events. (Takahashi et al., 2014)

The climatological mean distribution of pH in the global ocean surface water in February 2005. On the pH scale, 7 is neutral. (Takahashi et al., 2014)

A global study in 2014 led by Lamont’s Taro Takahashi mapped acidification changes around the world and found the lowest pH levels in the cold waters off Siberia and Alaska, the Pacific Northwest and Antarctica. The scientists found that over extensive ocean areas, excluding the polar regions, pH had been declining by a mean rate of about 0.02 pH units per decade. The concentration of CO2 had been increasing at a rate of about 19 μatm per decade, consistent with the mean increase of 19 ppm per decade in atmospheric CO2 concentration over the past 20 years.

“This suggests that the global oceans are being acidified primarily in response to the atmospheric CO2 increase,” Takahashi and his co-authors write.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found similar results in 2015, looking specifically at aragonite concentrations. Cold water holds more carbon dioxide, and the scientists found that the Arctic Ocean, northern Pacific and Antarctic waters were acidifying faster than other areas. All of the world’s oceans, from the surface down to 50 meters, are still considered supersaturated with aragonite, but the levels have declined globally, the NOAA study found. At depths down to 100 meters, NOAA found that aragonite saturation had fallen by an average rate of about 0.4 percent per year since 1989.

Scientists know from studying deep ocean sediment cores that acidification has wreaked havoc on marine life before. (Watch the video below to learn more.)

About 56 million years ago, during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, temperatures rose and there is evidence that coral reefs collapsed and many deep-sea benthic foraminifers, which produce shells of calcium carbonate, disappeared. “There is indication that sea water acidified at the time,” Hönisch said. “What we’ve realized is that the acidification at that time was about as large as what we’re predicting for the end of this century.”

Jeffrey Sachs Talks About the Talks in Paris

The 2015 Paris Climate Summit - Wed, 12/09/2015 - 15:55

At Le Bourget outside Paris, the site of the UN climate talks, Earth Institute Director Jeffrey Sachs talks to FRANCE 24 English TV about what’s likely to happen at the climate negotiations in Paris.

What kind of agreement will we get? Will it be too vague to be effective? What are the sticky issues, and will the developed world be willing to pony up billions of dollars to help out the developing nations? Sachs says the U.S. Congress “doesn’t want to give a penny” and accuses the Republicans of being stuck in denial and in the pockets of the fossil fuel industry.

Watch the video…

COP21_ad2

World Wildlife Fund, Earth Institute Form New Partnership

The 2015 Paris Climate Summit - Wed, 12/09/2015 - 13:14
 © naturepl.com / Lynn M. Stone / WWF-Canon

One of the world’s largest tiger populations is found in the Sundarbans—a large mangrove forest area shared by India and Bangladesh on the northern coast of the Indian Ocean. Rising sea levels caused by climate change threaten to wipe out these forests and the last remaining habitat of this tiger population. Photo: © naturepl.com / Lynn M. Stone / WWF-Canon

Conservation efforts have long been focused on preserving species and natural environments around the world, exemplified by campaigns to save iconic creatures such as whales, elephants and tigers, and preserve majestic areas such as Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Great Barrier Reef. But for many species, the changing climate is altering the equation for how best to do this. Plants and animals evolve, move away or die in the face of an altered habitat.

Now World Wildlife Fund will collaborate with the Earth Institute’s Center for Climate Systems Research to incorporate climate change information into conservation efforts.

 WWF

Carter Roberts of the World Wildlife Fund, left, and Jeffrey Sachs of The Earth Institute signed an agreement this week to set up a partnership between the two organizations to incorporate climate research into conservation efforts. Photo: WWF

World Wildlife Fund President and CEO Carter Roberts, and Jeffrey Sachs, director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University, signed a memorandum of understanding today for a new partnership to advance resilience to climate change named “ADVANCE”—Adaptation for Development and Conservation. The signing took place in Paris, where hundreds of world leaders have come together at the global climate change negotiations.

The goal of this new collaboration is to advance adaptation to the impacts of climate change around the globe. The partners will create new ways of generating climate risk information and embedding it into the World Wildlife Fund’s conservation and development planning, policies and practice.

ADVANCE envisions a future where the world is using co-generated climate risk information based on the best available science to guide conservation, development and disaster risk reduction in order to benefit both people and nature.

The Center for Climate Systems Research scientists and World Wildlife Fund experts are working together with local stakeholders to create and test a new approach to “co-generate” climate information for initiatives in Africa, Asia and Latin America. ADVANCE has already begun work in Myanmar, and upcoming pilot projects have been identified in Colombia, Bhutan and Tanzania. Learning from these early projects will catalyze future work and help inform policy guidance for partner institutions.

 WWF

Cynthia Rosenzweig of the Center for Climate Systems Research joined World Wildlife Fund President and CEO Carter Roberts at the announcement in Paris this week of a new collaboration on climate science and conservation. Photo: WWF

No region on Earth has been untouched by climate change and its cascading impacts. Even with a successful climate agreement in Paris, the climate will continue to change for centuries. The impacts will continue to affect people and their livelihoods, sensitive ecosystems and endangered species across the globe. This is why climate scientists and conservationists need to urgently work together to provide solutions to enhance resilience.

“The world needs big ideas that can move at the speed and scale necessary to make a difference. I love this partnership; it brings together extraordinary institutions to help the world adopt, adapt, implement and learn,” said Roberts. “ADVANCE aims to incubate, and identify, models that matter.”

“The ADVANCE partnership with the World Wildlife Fund is a wonderful program to help communities around the world to adapt to climate change with best practices based on rigorous science and active collaboration of scientists and affected communities,” said Sachs. “The climate scientists at the Center for Climate Systems Research have a vast experience in working with stakeholders to provide them with the very best climate risk information. From Asia’s high mountains to Myanmar and upcoming pilot projects in Colombia, Bhutan and Tanzania, the World Wildlife Fund and Columbia’s Earth Institute are already working to advance conservation and development.”

From left, Michael Gerrard of the Sabin Center on Climate Change Law at Columbia, Carter Roberts, Jeffery Sachs, Cynthia Rosenzweig, Casey Supple of the Earth Institute development team, and David McCauley of the World Wildlife Fund.

From left, Michael Gerrard of the Sabin Center on Climate Change Law at Columbia, Carter Roberts of the WWF, Jeffery Sachs of the Earth Institute, Cynthia Rosenzweig of the Center for Climate Systems Research, Casey Supple of the Earth Institute development team, and David McCauley of the World Wildlife Fund.

To learn more about the partnership, contact Shaun Martin at shaun.martin@wwfus.org or Cynthia Rosenzweig at crr2@columbia.edu.

For more information about the World Wildlife fund, visit www.worldwildlife.org and follow the organization’s news conversations on Twitter @WWFnews.

For more information on the Center for Climate Systems Research, visit www.ccsr.columbia.edu.

COP21_ad2

The Changing Climate of Security

The 2015 Paris Climate Summit - Wed, 12/09/2015 - 08:44
iraqndvia_spt_200804

Drought in the Fertile Crescent region of Iraq and Syria. Photo: NASA Earth Observatory.

By Dylan Adler

In the Democratic presidential primary debate on Nov. 14, CBS’s John Dickerson asked U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, “In the previous debate you said the greatest threat to national security was climate change. Do you still believe that?” Senator Sanders quickly replied “Absolutely. In fact, climate change is directly related to the growth of terrorism…you’re going to see countries all over the world…struggling over limited amounts of water, limited amounts of land to grow their crops…you’re going to see all kinds of international conflict.”

21145251444_34a5a66543_o

Democratic Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders speaks at a campaign event in Iowa. Photo: Phil Roeder, Flickr.

The senator’s answer was met with a wide range of responses. Environmentalists praised his response and the attention he gave to climate change. Some Republicans called his statement absurd, and claimed Sanders was combining two unrelated issues. While Sanders’ response has brought this into the national spotlight, the idea of climate change posing a national security threat is nothing new.

Officials at different levels of the United States Government have already been incorporating climate change into their analysis of national security threats. In 2014, Secretary of State John Kerry, in a speech in Indonesia, stated that climate change was a global threat of the same magnitude as terrorism, epidemics and weapons of mass destruction.

“The reality is that climate change ranks right up there with every single one of them,” Kerry said.

A 2014 Department of Defense report used the term “threat multiplier” to describe climate change. The report explained climate change has “the potential to exacerbate many of the challenges we are dealing with today—from infectious disease to terrorism. We are already beginning to see some of these impacts.”

In February of this year, the White House acknowledged the link between climate change and national security. “Climate change is an urgent and growing threat to our national security, contributing to increased natural disasters, refugee flows, and conflicts over basic resources like food and water,” says a statement released from the White House.

This followed President Obama’s release of his 2015 national security strategy. In the strategy, the president ranked climate change among the top threats to the United States’ security. In a speech at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in May, Obama stated, “Climate change will impact every country on the planet. No nation is immune. So I’m here today to say that climate change constitutes a serious threat to global security, an immediate risk to our national security.”

Screen Shot 2015-12-04 at 1.16.03 PM

President Barack Obama gives a commencement speech to the Coast Guard Academy. Image: Youtube.

In May, the White House released a report titled “The National Security Implications of a Changing Climate.” The report summarized positions from a variety of reports from the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security. The White House report explains that climate change increases the frequency and/or intensity of extreme weather events. These weather events can aggravate existing stressors in a region by uprooting people’s lives, increasing poverty and causing environmental degradation. These can lead to economic and political instability, which have dangerous national security implications.

These government organizations base their ideas on research that has been done on the relationship between climate change and regional instability. Criminology studies have shown that weather patterns can influence the amount of criminal activity, and this relationship has been explored in computer models. It is well established that climate change will lead to higher temperatures, extreme weather events and changing levels of rainfall. These have been modeled to show an increase in personal strain, societal unrest and opportunities for conflict, all of which increase crime levels.

In fact, research has been conducted into how drought contributed to the Syrian civil war. The severe drought lasted for five years, devastated Syrian farming, and drove an estimated one million people off their land and into urban slums. It is projected to have pushed 800,000 Syrians into extreme poverty. This income gap is one of the main drivers of the Syrian revolt. A 2015 paper examined the relationship between drought and instability in Syria. It explained that the drought, combined with unsustainable farming practices and the inability of the government to address the displaced population, was a significant factor leading to the conflict.

9577263960_7386c8631e_o

Syrian refugees in Kawrgosk refugee camp, Irbil, Iraq, set up by the IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation. Image: IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation, Flickr.

While climate change cannot be proven to have caused the Syrian drought, it is well established that climate change leads to an increase in frequency and severity of extreme weather events. The same 2015 paper concluded that, although multiyear droughts occur periodically in Syria, recent trends of low precipitation in the region are likely due to warming global temperatures. The nonprofit policy research organization the Center for Climate and Security came to the same conclusion. Co-founder Francesco Femia explains, “We can’t say climate change caused the civil war. But we can say that there were some very harsh climatic conditions that led to instability.”

Finally, reconsider Sander’s answer that climate change is the greatest threat to national security. Climate change is clearly linked to the severity of the Syrian drought, which contributed to the civil war, which created a national security threat. However, declaring climate change the largest national security threat is misleading because it, by itself, does not instigate violence. Climate change is a “threat multiplier,” and worsens the greatest national security threats.

COP21_ad1After the Paris attacks, Gina McCarthy, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said, “There are a variety of impacts that we’re feeling from a changing climate, and we need to stop those impacts from escalating … one of those is instability. … So it is a national security issue for us.”

Climate change’s indirect effects make it a security issue. Sanders’ answer highlights the broad range of impacts climate change has on the world. While the most severe effects of climate change will certainly be caused by rising sea levels and extreme weather, the exaggeration of pre-existing threats cannot be overlooked.

Dylan Adler is a student in the Masters of Public Administration-Environmental Science and Policy program and an intern at the Columbia Climate Center.

Using LiDAR to Shine a Light on Ross Ice Shelf

The pod preparing to be mounted onto the LC130 aircraft for another day of work. (photo S. Pascaud)

The pod preparing to be mounted onto the LC130 aircraft for another day of work. Photo: S. Pascaud

As we closed out November the project team had completed 18 survey lines and four tie lines from a total of nine flights, producing over 16,000 line km of data. The IcePod and team have been working hard! The closing email for the month of November included these beautiful LiDAR images.

What is LiDAR?

LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) is a remote sensing technique that uses light to develop an image of the surface of the Earth, and is an important part of our geophysical suite of measurements in ROSETTA. In the IcePod the instrument is located on the pod bottom behind a protected window. In flight, when the pod is lowered to collect data, the window cover slides open and a series of light pulses are sent to illuminate the area below. The time is then measured for the reflected light to return. Because we know the speed of light. and that speed is a constant (0.3 meters per nanosecond…or a very fast 186,000 miles per second!), we can use light to calculate distance with a high degree of accuracy. The equation is simple:

Distance = (speed of light X time of flight)/2 in order to account for the distance down and back from the aircraft. The result is the ability to create these three-dimensional images of the land surface.

Enjoy these wonderful LiDAR images collected by the project team!

McMurdo Base, Antarctica imaged with LiDAR.  (processed by S. Starke)

McMurdo Base, Antarctica imaged with LiDAR. Processed by S. Starke

The first image is from a standard pass over McMurdo Base in order to calibrate and confirm that the LiDAR system is working accurately. You can clearly see every building, fuel tank, road/pathway and the very systematic way that the base is laid out. The scale bar showing meters of elevation (or height) listed with elevation noted by “Ellipsoidal Height” in meters, not a unit we see every day.

What is ellipsoid height?

We describe the Earth’s shape as an ellipsoid, rather than round or spherical, as the radius at the polar regions is slightly shorter than the radius at the equator. In reality the Earth’s surface is not smooth like an ellipsoid, instead we have mountains, deep valleys, ocean trenches and other surface features with elevation. However, GPS receivers used to locate placement follow a map of sea level using a reference ellipsoid to calculate elevation. To view these images the best approach might be to look at them as relative measures, for example the image of McMurdo shows a 185 m elevation difference between the the surface at 166°42’E and the surface at 166°39’E.

White Island in the Ross Ice Shelf of McMurdo (processed by S. Starke)

White Island in the Ross Ice Shelf of McMurdo. Processed by S. Starke

Located close to McMurdo on the Ross Ice Shelf is a small island ~28 km or 15 miles long called White Island. Protruding up through the ice shelf it is named for its covering of snow, and is a sister to Black Island, named, not surprisingly for its lack of snow cover. Both were discovered on the same expedition in the early 1900s. Using the scale for this image you will see the elevation contours for the island peaking at 40 m Ellipsoid Elevation, approximately 80 m higher than the ice at the ice shelf.

Crary Ice Rise, Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica (processed by S. Starke)

Crary Ice Rise, Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica. Processed by S. Starke

The third image is of crevassing near Crary Ice Rise.

What is an ice rise?

An ice rise is a region of increase in elevation in the relatively flat expanse of the ice shelf caused by floating ice in the shelf physically ‘grounding’ or touching the seafloor below. It differs from an island as the land in an island sits above sea levels. Here the ice is touching land that is still below sea level; it is a section of sea floor raised so that it causes the flowing ice in the deep ice shelf to hit it and drag. This tension of the ice dragging over the contact area, combined with the faster flowing ice around the edges, causes the ice to crevasse as seen in the image.

Yes those are seals! Weddell seals lying on the  ice and imaged by the LiDAR. (Processed by S. Starke)

Yes those are seals! Weddell seals lying on the ice and imaged by the LiDAR. Processed by S. Starke

Our fourth image is of seals lying on the ice. The Weddell seal is well represented in the area of McMurdo, although they are also found distributed around the circumpolar Antarctica. Weddells are well-studied by the science community, as they are very accessible, abundant in numbers, and are easily approached by humans. Perhaps they have been imaged in LiDAR previously, but we are happy to have captured them resting on the ice! To provide some context we have included a video of a Weddell seal collected by our project GPS specialist, Sarah Starke.

Be sure to check our GIS flight tracker for the most up to date flights!

For more about this NSF and Moore Foundation funded project, check our project website: ROSSETTA.

Margie Turrin is blogging for the IcePod team while they are in the field.

The Compact Efficiency of New Airborne Science

Moving across the ice with IcePod in the front and active Volcano Mt. Erebus in the distance.

Moving across the ice with IcePod in the front and active Volcano Mt. Erebus in the distance. Photo: Sarah Starke

The project is several weeks in, and with each new line of data we celebrate the collection and then dig into it to see what we can learn. The map is growing, filling in with the 20 km flights designed to provide a framework for the 10 km flights that would fill in the gaps during our next field season. However, already in some instances the team has tightened their grid lines to 10 kms, taking advantage of opportunities in the weather or the inability to collect a line over another part of the shelf.

(Above is a video of the retraction of the IcePod arm as the plane flies over the Ross Sea Polynya (open water set in the middle of the sea ice). During data collection the pod is lowered and then retracted upon completion. Video by Dave Porter.)

The latest team celebration is around the magnetometer data. Magnetics is used to understand the make up of Earth’s crust. The end goal is to calculate the anomaly or unique magnetic signal from the geology in an area after separating out all the other magnetic ‘interference’ to better understand the formation of this area of Antarctica. The Earth’s magnetic signature varies by location so a base station is set up in order to collect a background magnetic level for the area. During data collection the base station will be used to determine anticipated magnetic levels for the region.

Map of Rosetta flights with the magnetic compensation flight noted in the lower right corner.

Map of Rosetta flights with the magnetic compensation flight noted in the lower right corner.

In data processing the local signal is corrected for and small spikes from the aircraft that the instrument is mounted to will be removed. This means that each magnetic survey includes a magnetic compensation flight at high elevation so that the magnetic signature of the plane can be identified. A  model is then developed to separate the signal of the plane from that of the geology. The magnetic compensation flight includes flying in all four cardinal directions — check the annotated flight track image above to see a recording of these flight lines.

The compensation flight also includes 3 repeat pitch-roll-yaw moves. Pitch includes tipping the wings side to side, roll is moving the nose and tail down and then up and yaw is a rotating or twisting of the plane left and then right. Thanks to New York Air National Guard loadmaster Nick O’Neil we have a video of the pitch and roll pieces of this compensation flight. Note the video is sped up to show 2 minutes of filming in 17 seconds so hold onto your seats! Be sure to note how the vapor contrail of the plane tracks the serpentine movement of the flight pattern during the rolls!

For the magnetics the flight line selected was one that has been flown previously by the NASA IceBridge program. Duplicating flights between different projects provides an opportunity to test and validate equipment. From the onset collecting magnetics data from the LC130 with the IcePod system was considered challenging. The compact nature of the instruments and all the metal surrounding them made this a real test, however, the resulting first unprocessed flight line (below) shows that the shape of the two lines agree! The alignment will only improve with processing against the base station. This is a significant achievement given the very compact environment of the instruments in IcePod – cause for celebration!

Magnetics line from the ROSETTA project. Right is the volcanic signature of Marie Byrd Land volcanism.

Magnetics line from the ROSETTA project set against the Ice Bridge line. Right is the volcanic signature of Marie Byrd Land volcanism.

The magnetic image shows the signature of this area of Antarctic geology in clear detail. Flying away from McMurdo the Transantarctic Mountains are on the left side of the dataset. The flight moves towards the highly magnetized volcanic environment of Marie Byrd Land in West Antarctica on the far right. Note the elevated magnetics on the right form the volcanic rock. A magnetic high is also visible in the center, yet on the left side the Transantarctic Mountains show no sign of high magnetism. This is not surprising as this mountain range that stretches mainly north to south across Antarctica, was formed from uplift beginning about 65 million years ago, and is composed of sedimentary layers of rock overlying granites and gneisses.

Magnets mounted on the tips of the wings during the 2008 AGAP project. (photo R. Bell)

Magnetics mounted on the tips of the wings during the 2008 AGAP project. Photo: R. Bell

Magnetics has evolved quite a bit over the years of geophysical sampling. Lamont scientist Robin Bell recalls when in the 1990s when she worked on a project mapping a active subglacial volcanism in West Antarctica that the magnetometer was towed on a winch ~100 meters behind the aircraft. If the wiring got caught up in the tail section it was cut lose and the instrument was lost. More recent work has located the instrument in the tail of the plane (as in the P3 bombers of World War II) and on the tips of the wings of the plane as was the case during the 2008 AGAP work in East Antarctica mapping the subglacial Gamburtsev Mountains. The IcePod model of placing the magnetics so close to the radar has not been done before.

Check out the newest lines on the GIS map and stop back for more.

For more about this NSF- and Moore Foundation-funded project, check our project website: ROSSETTA.

Margie Turrin is blogging for the IcePod team while they are in the field.

 

Anatomy of an ‘Ice Station’

TRACES of Change in the Arctic - Sun, 10/11/2015 - 19:58
Moving equipment on and off the Healy for sampling requires organization. (photo T. Kenna)

Moving equipment on and off the Healy for sampling requires organization and creativity. Photo: T. Kenna

Completing an “Ice Station” means collecting samples over a wide range of Arctic water and ice conditions. Each station means a major orchestration of people and resources. The teams gather, equipment is assembled, and the trek off the ship begins. After the first off-ship exodus, the sample teams are well practiced in moving equipment and setting up work areas so as not to interfere with the other stations. There is no shortage of space so spreading out is not a challenge!

Sampling on the ice also means being aware of your environment. A required component is the Polar Bear watch. Fortunately we have not seen a polar bear when out on the ice.

Sampling on the ice also means being aware of the environment, requiring a polar bear watch. Fortunately the team has not seen a polar bear when out on the ice. Photo: T. Kenna

Collecting a wide range of samples at multiple Arctic locations allows GEOTRACES to get an integrated look at the trace elements moving through the Arctic ocean ecosystem, and to better understand how these elements connect to the larger global ocean. Each is carefully collected. Whether the elements are “contaminants” or essential nutrients, there is a specific protocol in order to quantify the inputs without “dirtying” the sample. It may seem odd to think of “dirtying” something we label a contaminant, but in order to fully understand the concentrations and methods of transport for each element, every sample is handled with the same amount of care.

The following photo essay showcases the various ice/water sampling stations and reviews what is being collected at each.

Snow samples: The snow collected at this station is being used in part to determine the presence/absence of contamination related to the March 11, 2011, Fukushima event.

Tim Kenna collecting a snow sample. The sample area is generally 1 or 2 square meters and collected down to the ice. (Photo B. Schmoker)

Tim Kenna collecting a snow sample. The sample area is generally 1 or 2 square meters , with the snow collected down to the ice surface below and carefully bagged. Photo: B. Schmoker

Both the snow samples and the ice core sections will be analyzed and examined along with the information collected from seawater, suspended particulates and bottom sediments, in order to better understand the influence of processes specific to the Arctic on the transport and distribution of several anthropogenic radionuclides.

Bagging up the snow from the snow station. Each sample is labeled by quadrant of ice collected. (Photo B. Schmoker)

Lamont’s Tim Kenna (r) and Wright State University graduate student Alison Agather (l) bag up snow. Each sample is carefully bagged and labeled by quadrant of ice collected. Photo: B. Schmoker

Ice core samples: The ice cores are sections of sea ice, and again are being collected to determine the presence/absence of contamination related to Fukushima. In general the samplers were able to obtain 1.5 to 2 meters of ice in the cores.

Section of sea ice core collected by drilling into the ice. (Photo Cory Mendenhall, USCG)

Section of sea ice core collected by drilling into the ice. As the cores are collected they are photographed, labeled by sections, and ice properties were measured in situ prior to being taken back to the labs. Photo: Cory Mendenhall, USCG

Melt ponds: Surface melt ponds form on the sea ice in the long days of the Arctic summer. The warmth of the sun creates ponds that sit on top of the ice. The water collected in these ponds carries different properties than either the sea ice from which it melted, or the ocean water from which the sea ice formed. Most often these ponds have a frozen surface layer that needs to be drilled through before water is pumped out for collection.

Surface Melt Pond Team collecting water sample. (Photo T. Kenna)

Surface melt pond team collecting water sample. Photo: T. Kenna

Beryllium-7 (7Be) samples: Produced in the atmosphere when cosmic rays collide with nitrogen atoms, 7Be is constantly being added to the surface of the water, and therefore is a great surface water tracer. With its very short half-life, ~ 53 days, 7Be can be used to track water parcel circulation as it moves between surface and deep water (which has no significant source of the 7Be isotope). The surface water pulls the 7Be with it as it moves down deeper into the ocean, allowing us to track and time the mixing process.

Pumping water through the hole drilled by auger. (photo B. Schmoker)

The Beryllium team first uses a gas-powered auger to create a hole for a pump and a CTD instrument (used to measure salinity, temperature and depth)  to fit through. They then pump water through the hole for collection. Because beryllium is in very small amounts, they pump thousands of liters of water from three or four depths. Each is pumped through big cartridges that absorb the Be. Photo: B. Schmoker

Dirty ice samples: The dirty ice work is more opportunistic, and therefore is not part of each ice station. If dirty ice is spotted, it will be sampled, and while it may not be part of each ice station, it is part of the overall GEOTRACES protocol. While most of the stations sample for quantification, i.e. grams of sediment/ml ice, the dirty ice samples are used more for characterization, i.e. composition or mineralogy. For Tim’s work the collection of dirty ice is used to look at sediments originating from continental shelves bordering the Arctic, with the goal of evaluating or characterizing dirty ice as a transport vector for anthropogenic radionuclides.

Tim sampling dirty ice. (photo C. Mendenhall).

Tim sampling dirty ice with a pick and bucket. Photo: C. Mendenhall

Minimal processing of the samples collected at the stations will occur on the Healy. The snow and ice gets melted and the seawater acidified. The focus of the trip is to collect as much material as possible. There will be plenty of time for processing when the researchers are back at their home institutions.

Margie Turrin is blogging for Tim Kenna, who is reporting from the field as part of the Arctic GEOTRACES, a National Science Foundation-funded project.

For more on the GEOTRACES program, visit the website here.

Arctic Magic: One Research Vessel Multiplies to Hundreds

TRACES of Change in the Arctic - Mon, 09/21/2015 - 16:16
Ship crew is deployed to position the boxes of small 'seaworthy vessels' and the tracking buoy onto the ice. (Photo Bill Schmoker)

Ship crew is lowered in a basket down to the ice to deploy two boxes of small “seaworthy vessels” and the tracking buoy onto the ice, part of the “Float Your Boat” project. Photo: Bill Schmoker

Geoscientist Tim Kenna works with his son's class to decorate boats for the Float Your Boat project. Jack Kenna works to get his boat 'Arctic ready'.

Geoscientist Tim Kenna works with his son’s fifth grade class to decorate boats for the “Float Your Boat” project. Jack Kenna works to get his boat ready for an Arctic deployment.

In preparation for their Arctic work, GEOTRACES linked with “Float Your Boat,” an education program with a unique concept. Float Your Boat blends the themes of historic Arctic drift studies, modern GPS technology and hands-on science to engage local communities with work in remote science locations. Scientists currently aboard the research vessel Healy spent time last spring recruiting and meeting with school groups to share information about the Arctic, their upcoming science cruise and collecting small student-decorated wooden boats that would become part of the project.

A note on the computer station of Tim Kenna announces that it is time to deploy the  'Float Your Boat' project.

Sometimes the best way to deliver information on a ship is to tack up a sign on a high-use item. A note on the computer station of Tim Kenna is used to notify him that it is time to deploy the “Float Your Boat” project. (Of course smiley faces always help!)

For over a month, the science team has been anticipating the deployment of these small wooden vessels since this builds a direct connection to their families and communities back home.

The student boats are deployed in a 100 percent biodegradable box lowered carefully onto an iceberg along with an iridium satellite tracking buoy. The tracker is activated, “calling home” so that it can be used to track the circulation of the ice. Over time the ice is expected to melt and the box will biodegrade, sending these small floating wooden boats into the high seas of the Arctic Ocean.

The location of the Arctic drift boats was close to the North Pole. In many earlier years his would have been an area that was inaccessible for a ship to penetrate to set up this drifter experiment.

The location of the Arctic drift boats was close to the North Pole. In many earlier years this area would have been inaccessible for a ship to penetrate to set up this drifter experiment.

Once the box degrades, the boats will be separated from the tracker, but each boat has been identified by the students with their school and their own name and stamped with the project contact information. If any of the boats wash up onshore, there is enough information for the locator to contact Float Your Boat with a date and location. Through online tracking of the iridium satellite, this project provides opportunities for students to learn about Arctic change, marine circulation, marine debris transit and maritime careers.

Boxes one and two are deployed on the ice with the tracker and the sip crew is pulled back up to the Healy. (Photo T. Kenna)

Boxes one and two are deployed on the ice with the tracker, and the ship crew is pulled back up to the Healy. Photo: T. Kenna

The Float Your Boat project concept comes from early Arctic science, when drifting ice floes were used to track Arctic circulation. In the International Geophysical Year (1957-58), Lamont scientist Ken Hunkins resided for two six-month stints on Ice Station Alpha, a station built on top of the Arctic sea ice. Science teams were flown in by plane and dropped, along with their equipment, about 500 miles north of Alaska. There they studied a range of ocean parameters, including tracking their own progress as they moved along with the ice drift. The 18 months of operations tracked the ice floe movement as it shifted ~2,000 miles around the Arctic in a clockwise manner until it was just north of Ellesmere Island, Canada (map below).

Annotated historic map from the International Geophysical Year (1957-1958) of the Floating Arctic Stations. Red line shows Alpha Station, the US first floating ice research station, representing some of the original 'Arctic drift studies'. (Photo/annotation M. Turrin; map Ken Hunkins)

Annotated historic map of the floating Arctic stations, from the International Geophysical Year (1957-1958). The red line shows Alpha Station, the United States’ first floating ice research station, and one of the original Arctic drift studies. Photo/annotation: M. Turrin; map: Ken Hunkins

Somehow, the rigid presence of the Healy seems infinitely more secure than a few tents and rigs set directly on the mile-long by half-mile-wide section of sea ice under station Alpha.

Float Your Boat 'vessels' were loaded into boxes and shipped to the Healy in advance of the deployment.

Float Your Boat “vessels” were loaded into boxes and shipped to the Healy in advance of the deployment.

But even earlier than the science drift experiments were the expeditions of early Arctic explorers, like Fritdjof Nansen, who froze his ship the “Fram” into the northern icepack during his voyage of 1893-1896 in hopes of drifting to the North Pole. He did not succeed, however he did learn about Arctic drift and spurred additional research on this topic, perhaps leading to these young Arctic researchers and their “vessels.”

Tim Kenna is shown here on the right with Marty Fleischer on the left at the North Pole. Tim  worked with several groups of local students including  Pearl River High School A.P. Environmental Science Students and his son's fourth grade class at Upper Nyack Elementary School. 

Tim Kenna, right, with Marty Fleisher at the North Pole. Tim worked with several groups of local students, including Pearl River High School Marine Science Club and his son’s fifth-grade class at Upper Nyack Elementary School in the “Float Your Boat” project for GEOTRACES.

Margie Turrin is blogging for Tim Kenna, who is reporting from the field as part of the Arctic GEOTRACES, a National Science Foundation-funded project.

For more on the GEOTRACES program, visit the website here.

A Week of Firsts for This Arctic Nation

TRACES of Change in the Arctic - Fri, 09/11/2015 - 18:06
47 AM the ship reached the North Pole, becoming the 1st U.S. surface vessel to do so unaccompanied. (photo U.S. COAST GUARD)

Gathered at the North Pole are the crew of U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy and the GEOTRACES science team. On Sept. 5 at 7:47 a.m., the ship reached the North Pole, becoming the first U.S. surface vessel to do so unaccompanied. Photo: U.S. Coast Guard

We are closing in on a week of intense focus and excitement for GEOTRACES and for the United States around the Arctic. It was barely a week ago (Aug. 31) that President Obama became the first sitting president to visit Alaska, refocusing the other 49 states on the fact that we are indeed an Arctic Nation. This historic first was followed closely by another, the Sept. 5 arrival of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy with the U.S. GEOTRACES scientists on board at the North Pole, completing the first U.S. surface vessel transit to the pole unaccompanied by another icebreaker. Combined with this, U.S. GEOTRACES became the first group ever to collect trace metals at the North Pole. You might assume these three items are unrelated, but they are in fact tightly linked.

GLACIER Conference logo

GLACIER Conference logo

In convening the GLACIER Conference (Global Leadership in the Arctic: Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement & Resilience) in Alaska, President Obama focused on a region that is fast changing due to its fragility and vulnerability to climate change. The meeting timing aligned nicely with the U.S. assuming chairmanship of the Arctic Council, and was a perfect platform for the president to address climate change, an issue that he has tackled aggressively. Conference sessions on the global impacts of Arctic change, how to prepare and adapt to a changing climate, and on improved coordination on Arctic issues all align with the work of Arctic GEOTRACES, although tackled from a different angle.

It was while he was in Alaska that President Obama announced a commitment to push ahead the schedule for adding to the U.S. icebreaker fleet. The “fleet” has dwindled to just 3 U.S. vessels at present, and limits our ability to work in the Arctic. The goal of adding another icebreaker by 2020 will help to address this. “Working” in the Arctic for this Coast Guard cutter includes supporting the research that is critical to our being able to develop a baseline understanding of conditions and more accurately predict the future changes.

Ship camera as the US Cutter Healy arrives at the North Pole. (Photo US Healy)

Ship camera as the U.S. Cutter Healy arrives at the North Pole. Photo: U.S. Healy)

Evidence for change in the Arctic is found in the ability of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy to cross the Arctic ocean along its longest axis (the Bering Strait route) and penetrate deep into the sea ice to make it to the North Pole unaccompanied. The ice has been thinner than expected and experiencing a much higher degree of melt. Ice stations, where the science team gets out onto the ice to sample, have been postponed because of safety concerns from the thin ice conditions. Everyone, including the captain, has been surprised by the conditions. The thin ice has increased the speed of travel. Although some thick (up to 10 feet) and solid ice has been encountered, much of the cruise has been spent traveling at up to 6 knots, and much less fuel has been used than expected because of this.

Members of the team who are not out on deck with the equipment 'manage' the cast from the aft control room. (photo T. Kenna)

Members of the team who are not out on deck with the equipment “manage” the cast from the aft control room. Photo: T. Kenna

The last week has been action packed for all 145 people on the Healy. First. a “superstation” was run, a 57-hour sampling stop with a large number of samples collected in the ~4,000-meter-deep water. A super station includes additional hydrocasts and pump sampling for the groups like Tim Kenna’s, that require large volumes of sample water. This was also a crossover station with the German GEOTRACES cruise on the Polarstern. Crossover means some of the extra samples collected can be used to do intercalibration (check to see that the results compare) between the science teams on the two ships. The German ship will collect at the exact same location. With large sampling projects using multiple labs and sampling teams, intercalibration becomes extremely important for interpreting the results.

The 'man-basket' lowering Tim Kenna and crew member to the ice via crane to do sampling from a pressure ridge. (photo Bill Schmoker)

The “man-basket” lowering Tim Kenna and crew member to the ice via crane to do sampling from a pressure ridge. Photo: Bill Schmoker

After our long superstation, the team went almost immediately into a dirty-ice station (ice that entrains sediment as it freezes). This ice can form in several ways: during the spring thaw when ice dams in Arctic streams force sedimented water out onto the ice, where it refreezes; during cold storms that churn up sediments in the shallow shelf regions to refreeze on the surface ice; and when shallow areas freeze solid, collecting sediment at the base, and later break away. Once the ice is formed, it moves into the Arctic circulation pattern, so identifying the source of the sediment can help us better understand the temporal and spatial nature of Arctic circulation. This type of ice has high value for Tim’s research, since short-lived radioactive isotopes are frozen into the ice with the sediments, providing a timer for the formation of the ice.

The dirty ice station was followed by an ice-algae station. Both of these entail stopping the ship and craning over two people in a “man-basket” where they can get out and sample (see image). This was followed closely by two full ice stations, where many groups went out on the ice to do their sampling; some for over 12 hours (brr). The second ice station had wind chills of -14 C.

Field time, especially in the polar regions, is expensive and limited, so while in the field it is critical to complete as much science as possible. Sleep happens later when the team is back home.

Lamont Note: As part of the Healy’s instrument package, they standardly carry a CO2 instrument from Lamont’s Taro Takahashi. This was onboard when the Healy reached the North Pole (89.997 °N). The partial pressure of CO2 (pCO2) in seawater was found to be 343.3 micro-atmospheres at the water temperature of -1.438 °C. This is about 50 micro-atmospheres below the atmospheric pCO2 of 392.7 micro-atmospheres, and indicates that the Arctic Ocean water is rapidly absorbing CO2 from the air. The measurements confirm that the Arctic Ocean is helping to slow down the accumulation of the green house gas in air and hence the climate warming.

Margie Turrin is blogging for Tim Kenna, who is reporting from the field as part of the Arctic GEOTRACES, a National Science Foundation-funded project.

For more on the GEOTRACES program, visit the website here.

Habitat

Geopoetry - Fri, 09/11/2015 - 12:00
The Island of Manhattan. Image from the Wildlife Conservation Society

Images representing the past and present Island of Manhattan. Credit: Wildlife Conservation Society

 

People are sometimes startled

By falcons perched on balconies, raccoons slinking through the park,

Bluefish blitzing herring up the river, coyotes tracing train tracks.

Isn’t it amazing, or isn’t it disturbing, we say,

A creature’s daring foray into our hard-paved empire.

I prefer the long view – that of Manhattan Schist, let’s say,

Having been buried in mile-thick ice,

Thoroughly sculpted and scoured,

Recolonized by green things and red-blooded things

Over and over again, with each ephemeral ice age.

From that vantage, it is we who are the curious invaders, an encrusting colony

Of organisms with a stunning talent for creating habitat for ourselves.

Diggers of ditches, un-earthers of bones, surveyors of history

All tell a tale of an earlier island of Eden,

Teeming with silver-backed, feather-tipped, vibrant-green life

Not so long ago.

The Schist, sparkling darkly in the park, is not surprised

By ‘coons and hawks, toothed and clawed neighbors,

Nor by the eels, pipers, moths, terrapins, raptors, seals, spiders,

By great trees ripping upwards through pavement.

You might think that I am about to lament all the changes we have wreaked

On this landscape, but I refuse to despise my own species.

I refuse to accept the conservationist’s guilt,

To draw boxes around wildness and around civilization,

And ignore the reality that these two can never truly be separated.

Instead, I am in awe of the spectacular forces that shape my world,

From grinding ice sheet to pulverizing jackhammer,

From rising skyscraper to ascending oak.

I live my animal life deliberately,

Knowing that we can never extract ourselves from Nature,

And that the boundaries we draw are not real.

 

This is one in a series of posts by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the School of Earth & Climate Sciences at the University of Maine.

It’s as Clear as Mud

TRACES of Change in the Arctic - Sun, 09/06/2015 - 21:30
Core sample

Attempting to get a small sediment sample from the bottom of the Arctic. Photo: Bill Schmoker

Sediment coring the bottom of the world’s oceans is something that Lamont knows a lot about. Since 1947 Lamont has been actively collecting and archiving sediment from around the world. Currently our Core Repository contains sediment cores from every major ocean and sea in the world, some 18,700 cores. This is in large part due to Lamont’s first director, Maurice Ewing, who instilled a philosophy of “a core a day” for all ocean research vessels. Ewing firmly believing that if we had the sediment, we would be able to piece together patterns and stories about our planet, so every day at noon, or thereabouts, the ship would collect a core.

core repository

Historic Image of Lamont’s Core Repository. Photo: Lamont archive

Scientists from around the world have requested slivers of mud from the cores in the repository to unlock Earth’s mysteries and secrets. The cores in Lamont’s Core Repository are no stranger to revealing stories of Earth systems, including those of climate cycles. Almost 40 years have passed since the groundbreaking work of the CLIMAP group that used the cores to connect the start of Earth’s glacial cycles to changes in eccentricity, precession and tilt. (Hayes, Imbrie and Shackleton, 1976) . Collecting sediment on this Arctic GEOTRACES cruise will help us understand more of the stories locked in the oceans.

The length of a core is dictated by the goal of the collection. Early Lamont cores were more about collecting just to gather the material because the ship was there. These early cores were generally 6 to 9 meters long, although one incredibly long 28.2m core was collected from the Central Pacific. Locally cores have been collected on the Hudson River and local marshes that are closer to 1 or 2 meters in length.

Coring in the Hudson River

A file photo of Tim Kenna collecting a sediment core from the Hudson River. Note the length of core and the heavy weights on top to help with penetrating deep into the mud on the bottom of the Hudson. The very short cores to be collected for GEOTRACES will be much different. Photo: Margie Turrin

For the sampling GEOTRACES is doing in the Arctic, there is a specific goal of collecting just the top few dozen centimeters of sediment and the water just above it, yet at a depth of ~2,200 meters. This will require a much different technique than what was used for the Central Pacific core.

core

Mono-corer with the small section of core retrieved. Note the small weights to help penetrate the sediment, much less weight than is used on the Hudson River core pictured above. Photo: Bill Schmoker

The sediment in this region is soft, so the plan was to drop a small, general-purpose device called a mono-corer over the side of the ship with a few small weights on top to help drive the core tube in straight. The corer would hang below the bottom of the rosette of water samplers, far enough below that the rosette would remain mud-free but still able to collect near-bottom water samples. The mud in the mono-corer would be held in place by a spring-loaded door that snapped closed once the mud was inside and the tube began its return trip to the ship. All sounded good.

core

Core on its way up to the Healy. Note the “cone-of-silence” rigged by Tim Kenna and Marty Fleicher to stop any interference with the rosette altimeter used to lower the device. Photo: Bill Schmoker

Although the plan was good, things don’t always go perfectly. Making sure the corer actually penetrated the sediment without tipping over or over-penetrating and compressing the top sediments proved challenging, as did ensuring the sample made it back to the ship intact. After several attempts a special “cone-of-silence” (any Get Smart fans out there?) was rigged up by the two Lamonters, Tim and Marty Fleischer, to avoid interference with the communications that were connecting with the rosette altimeter, controlling the lowering of the device. The cone was installed and the speed of the core lowering was slowed. Success! ‘Houston we have mud!’

Now to unpack its secrets.

Margie Turrin is blogging for Tim Kenna, who is reporting from the field as part of the Arctic GEOTRACES, a National Science Foundation-funded project.

For more on the GEOTRACES program, visit the website here.

Scouring Arctic for Traces of Fukushima and Cosmic Rays

TRACES of Change in the Arctic - Sat, 08/29/2015 - 21:50
ice breaker

The Healy is doing a lot more ice breaking now that we have moved into the Arctic ice cap. Photo: Tim Kenna

Sounds like the basis for a great scifi thriller… “scientists scour Arctic, hunting for traces of nuclear fallout and ejections from cosmic ray impacts.” In reality this thriller theme is the actual core of the GEOTRACES mission. Let’s break it apart a bit to better understand it.

Fukushima and Other Nuclear Fallout

The project Tim is focused on is the human introduced (anthropogenic) radionuclides that are released into the environment as a result of nuclear industrial activities, things like weapons production and testing, as well as nuclear power generation and fuel reprocessing. This includes isotopes of plutonium, neptunium, cesium, strontium, iodine and uranium that are not normally found in the environment. The major sources of these nuclides include fallout from atmospheric weapons testing and liquid releases from European nuclear fuel reprocessing.

Radionuclides lab

The workspace set aside for the radionuclides work. If you have ever done “Where’s Waldo?” see if you can find Tim’s spot. Photo: Tim Kenna

One goal of our project is to determine the budgets (overall input and export) of these contaminants. Samples collected along our cruise track combined with those collected on the European GEOTRACES cruise taking place on the Polarstern will allow us to do this.

We are also collecting samples to evaluate for the presence and distribution of contamination related to Fukushima. Two cesium isotopes were released into the environment as a result of Fukushima; Cesium 137, with a half-life of 30 years, and Cesium 134, with a much shorter half life of two years, so little is left from past nuclear testing. Fallout from Fukushima is an excellent tracer to help us learn more about ocean circulation and transport models.

Cosmic Ray Interactions

Paul Aguilar

Paul Aguilar, part of the Beryllium 7 sampling team, signals thumbs up to the winch operator on a hydrocast. Hand signals are a major method of communication between ship operators and scientists and crew on deck. Photo: Tim Kenna

Another part of the GEOTRACES team is measuring Beryllium-7 (Be-7), a cosmogenic nuclide that is created when a cosmic ray breaks apart heavier atoms into smaller atoms. Be-7 is a short-lived isotope with a half-life of 53 days. We can use this short half-life to tell us something about water circulation and exchange rates under the ice. Currently the team is measuring Be-7 in the marginal ice zone. Once the ship reaches a section of ice that is large and thick enough for the scientists to work on, we will drill through to measure under the ice as well.

Yes We Have a Bubble Room!

bubble room

Jess and Sarah work in the heavily protected bubble room to keep their samples from being contaminated by elements on the ship. Photo: Tim Kenna

When we said “trace” elements we weren’t kidding! Jess and Sara are part of the team working on contamination-prone trace elements. Their work is done in an inflatable bubble to keep it ultra clean. The bubble is inflated using high-efficiency particulate arresting (HEPA) filtered blowers. Trying to measure very small trace elements without contamination is extremely difficult, and it is a testament to their skills that they can measure elements such as zinc and iron, which are extremely low in seawater but very common on the ship (rust never sleeps!). Getting an accurate measure means not picking up any of that ship input.

caught wires

Sampling in and among the ice floes can mean equipment wires get caught on the ice, as happened here. It can be tricky to untangle caught wires to free equipment. Photo: Tim Kenna

In order to run all these great experiments, we need samples, so we are collecting and filtering water at as many stations as we can. Sampling in the ice pack is very different than sampling in an open ocean. Station locations must be very carefully selected to reduce the risks of the equipment getting entangled in the ice and ending up either crushed or ripped away. Even in less dense ice, we caught the hydrowire on an ice floe (above).

Supersized

Everything is supersized on a ship like the Healy, from the large metal A-frame support that is used to lower collection equipment (yellow/buff colored) to the circular metal rosette which is filled with niskin collection bottles for gathering water samples. The deployment of a rosette for sampling is called a “hydrocast.” This allow scientists to collect water at a variety of depths. The images below are from a few days ago, before we hit denser pack ice.

hydrocast

You can see if you look carefully at the photos that these bottles have snapped closed, sealing the water sample inside. When deployed the bottles are opened at both ends so water freely flows through as the rosette descends to the sample depth. Photo: Tim Kenna

The rosettes can hold up to 36 bottles. Each bottle can be programmed to snap closed at a specific depth, so in one deployment, water can be collected at up to 36 different depths. This is extremely valuable for teasing apart circulation through tracking small particles entrained in the water column at different depths. The water collected in these sampling bottles will be used for a range of studies.

hydrocast

The rosette takes several people to stabilize and guide it over the side of the ship, and the A frame is several stories high. Photo: Tim Kenna

This sequence of the retrieval of this hydrocast involves four people to collect and stabilize the rosette, as well as the personnel up above operating the winch to lower the equipment, and several people in a console monitor verifying both the depth of the rosette and that the cable on the equipment is sending up the necessary data. Operating the equipment on a ship is labor intensive, but each deployment retrieves enough sample material for not only the team on board the Healy, but for colleagues and partners waiting back at their home institutions for samples.

Margie Turrin is blogging for Tim Kenna, who is reporting from the field as part of the Arctic GEOTRACES, a National Science Foundation-funded project.

For more on the GEOTRACES program, visit the website here.

 

Moving into the Realm of the Polar Bear

TRACES of Change in the Arctic - Mon, 08/24/2015 - 18:15
Looking out over the Arctic sea ice as the ship moves out over the deeper ocean. (Photo credit Tim Kenna)

Looking out over the Arctic sea ice as the ship moves out over the deeper ocean. Photo: Tim Kenna

The Healy has now moved off of the shallow continental shelf that extends around the Arctic land border (shown in white in the map below) into the deeper center of the Arctic Ocean. In our last blog we noted that some of the questions Arctic GEOTRACES is addressing include quantifying the fluxes of trace elements and isotopes into and out of the Arctic Basin from the two oceans through choke points like the Bering Strait, as well as characterizing how much comes from rivers. Arctic GEOTRACES is also studying what regulates the Arctic shelf to deep basin exchange, and the role of sea ice in the transport of trace elements and isotopes. (Follow the expedition here.)

The position of the research vessel Coast Guard cutter Healy on August 24, 2015.

The position of the research vessel Coast Guard cutter Healy on Aug. 24, 2015.

The oval shaped blue area in the map above is the basin of the Arctic Ocean, ranging from ~3,500 meters to ~5,000 meters at its deepest. The Healy is currently over a ridgeline named the Mendeleev Ridge, after a Russian chemist and inventor, Dmitri Mendeleev, long dead when the ridge was first discovered by fellow Soviets in 1948. Mendeleev Ridge is about 1,000 meters shallower than the deep Arctic, bottoming out at ~2,500 meters in depth. The Russians maintain that the ridge, with its long reach into the Arctic basin, gives them claim to large sections of the ocean stretching out to the North Pole. The claim remains unresolved, in part because there are so many questions that still remain about the Arctic. As we move into the basin, we will be sampling to try and better constrain what happens at the shelf/basin interface.

polar bear text

All hands on deck alert – huge polar bear 100 yards ahead! Photo: Tim Kenna

When we venture into the Arctic for research, for most of us there is the lingering hope that a polar bear will appear on our watch; at least as long as we are safely outside of its reach. Several polar bear have been spotted by the watchful eyes of the crew as we have moved into the more tightly packed heavy ice away from the marginal ice zone. However, today a very large bear (yes the alert text says “huge”!) was spotted, and it seemed to have us under thoughtful consideration. The following is a string of images that relay the majesty of this incredible creature in its natural environment, moving with great agility over the sea ice.

 Tim Kenna

Polar bear taking a drink and assessing the ship full of researchers. Photo: Tim Kenna

Polar Bear (photo credit Tim Kenna)

Polar bear carefully testing the thinning stretch of sea ice.  Photo: Tim Kenna

Polar Bear (photo credit Tim Kenna)

The polar bear coloring matches easily to the Arctic ice surroundings. Photo: Tim Kenna

Polar bear live only in the Arctic and rely almost entirely on the marine sea ice environment for their survival. They use the ice in every part of their daily life, for travel, for hunting ringed seal, their favorite food, for breeding and in some cases for locating a birthing den. Their wide paws, which you might be able to see in these photos, distribute their weight when they walk on the sea ice, which late in the season can be quite thin in the annual ice region, melting down to only a thin crust over the water. Their large size, clearly visible in these photos, belies the fact that they are excellent swimmers, helped by their hollow fur, which traps air to keep them buoyant, as well as the stiff hair and webbing on their feet. For all their cuddly appearance, they are strong hunters. Currently polar bear range in conservation status from Vulnerable internationally, to Threatened in the U.S., primarily the result of a warming climate that is melting their habitat…sea ice.

Polar Bear moving easily across the ice. (photo credit Tim Kenna)

Polar bear move easily across the ice, even though males can weigh up to 1,500 lbs. Photo: Tim Kenna

Polar bear

Polar bear use their natural agility to avoid the thinner sections of sea ice. Photo: Tim Kenna

Polar Bear takes measure of the Healy. (Photo credit Tim Kenna)

Polar bear takes measure of the Healy. Photo: Tim Kenna

Polar bear taking a moment to drink. (Photo credit Tim Kenna)

Polar bear taking a moment to drink from an open lead in the Arctic. Photo: Tim Kenna

Arctic Sea Ice Extent

Daily Arctic sea ice extent Aug. 23, 2015. Source: National Sea Ice Data Center

The Arctic is approaching the annual low for sea ice extent, which occurs each year in September. An image of sea ice extent for today (shown in white) against an average of the last thirty years (outlines in yellow) shows how our annual sea ice cover has dropped. Today’s cover is 2.24 million square miles (5.79 million square kms), which is  521,200 sq. miles (1.35 million square kms) below the last 30 year average period. Aside from being of concern to the polar bear, this is part of why Arctic GEOTRACES is so important. We need to understand the role of sea ice in current circulation patterns and delivery of trace elements and isotopes in the Arctic, and then bring this more complete understanding forward to our careful examination of the changing Arctic.

Tim Kenna captures himself in the field surrounded by Arctic sea ice. (photo credit Tim Kenna)

Tim Kenna captures himself in the field surrounded by Arctic sea ice.

Margie Turrin is blogging for Tim Kenna, who is reporting from the field as part of the Arctic GEOTRACES, a National Science Foundation-funded project.

For more on the GEOTRACES program, visit the website here.

First to arrive and last to leave…

Sugar - Sun, 08/23/2015 - 18:17
It is hard to believe that just a few days ago, the hotel had 30+ college students
roaming the hallways and the parking lot was full of SUV’s washed in clay, sand and
mud. When most of the second phase of the SUGAR project had come to a halt, there
was still work to be completed by the Seismic Source Team (SST). In order to
understand why, let me take you through the work schedule of the SST.
Dr. Harder and I drove to Atlanta on July 1st after completion of the ENAM
project in North Carolina and began scouting the shot-holes we would need to drill, load
and stem i.e. fill before the shot dates, which were scheduled for August 7th and 8th for
Line 2 and August 14th for Line 3. When scouting, you want to ensure that the shot-hole
locations selected have good, accessible roads and enough space for the drillers as well as
work crew to move in and out of easily. However beforehand, you want to ensure that
you have the permits to access different properties and have the correct keys for the
property entrance/exit gates, which Donna took care of. Scouting holes took 4 days
before drilling began on July 7th until July 29th.
An example of a good, accessible road for the drillers and SST to use.Pick a lock, any lock. One of the entrance/exit gates to a shot location. Thankfully, we
had the key. I just had to test it on each lock to open the gate. A typical workday would consist of waking up at 6:30 am, eating breakfast at 7
am and leaving to work at 7:30/8 am. We would arrive on site about an hour later and the
drillers would set up and begin drilling. This would take about 2-3 hours at some holes
and 3-4 hours at others. The last hole composed of hard rock took about 14 hours to
complete. That does not include the time it took for us to stem the hole. We would
prepare the charges to load into the hole when the drillers had ~20 ft left to drill. They
drilled up to ~80 ft at the 2 shot-holes on the ends of Line 2 and ~70 ft for the remaining
13 shot-holes. For Line 3, they drilled all 11 holes to ~60 ft. After drilling and loading
the charges into the ground, Dr. Harder would lead the drillers to the next shot-hole while
Galen, Yogi and I would stay behind to stem the hole with gravel, sand and plug it with
bentonite. We would also check the detonators to make sure they worked before heading
off to the next shot-hole to repeat the process. On average, we would drive anywhere
from 100 – 200 miles per day depending on what we were doing and where we needed to
go.
Yogi (Victor Avila, left) and Galen preparing 2  charges to be lowered into the shot-hole.
Each charge contains 2 detonators attached  to 2 boosters indicated by the sets of wires.The drillers lowering the charge into the hole with Yogi carefully holding the detonator (orange wire) chords.
On the left is the water truck and to the right is the drill rig."The Beast" with a 1.1 Explosives placard after transporting the source materials to the shot location.Galen taking a GPS waypoint of the loaded shot-hole while Ashley tests the detonators to ensure that they are working.Dr. Harder (left) and Kent splicing the wires at one of the shot-holes to connect the detonators in order to shoot. The routine changed once drilling was complete. We made our way to Vidalia
where we met with Donna, Dan and everyone at the instruments center and began
preparing our equipment for the nights we were going to shoot. Shots would start at 11
pm and last until as late/early as sunrise depending on the weather conditions as well as if
the detonators would connect. The days that the deployment team members were
flagging and deploying instruments, we were busy driving to shot-holes and cleaning the
ones that blew out. The idea is that you make the shot-hole location look the way it did
before the shot took place.
Shot-hole 7 on Line 3. It looks like a regular hole, but it is actually about 5ft deep and has a 5ft diameter cavity.Using the backhoe to clean up the above shot-hole.After clean up!!I can honestly say there was never a dull moment while working on the SST. I
remember Donna saying at our farewell dinner something along the lines, “We do all this
work for just a disk of data, but it’s all worth it.” She could not have summed it up any
better than that.

Here’s to another successful project….salud!

Ashley Nauer - UTEP

Tracing the Arctic

TRACES of Change in the Arctic - Wed, 08/19/2015 - 00:07
Leaving Dutch Harbor

The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Healy leaving Dutch Harbor, Alaska, and heading to the high Arctic for the GEOTRACES research cruise. It doesn’t take long to move from a landscape of steep carved cliffs to one of endless waves on an Arctic passage. Photo: T. Kenna

Dutch Harbor Alaska is located on that long spit of land that forms the Aleutian Islands of Western Alaska. Research vessels launch from this location and head northeast into the Bering Sea on their way to the Bering Strait, the gateway to the Arctic.

map of Dutch Harbor

Dutch Harbor, Alaska (from http://www.vacationstogo.com)

Our research cruise is part of the international Arctic GEOTRACES program, which this summer has three separate ships in the Arctic Ocean. The Canadian vessel headed north in early July, and the German vessel will follow a week behind the Healy. Each will be following a different transect in the Arctic Ocean to collect samples. The U.S. vessel has 51 scientists on board, each with a specific sampling program. We will focus our time in the western Arctic, entering at the Chukchi Sea. (Follow the expedition here.)

What is GEOTRACES studying? The program goal is to improve our understanding of ocean chemistry through sampling different trace elements in the ocean waters. Trace elements can be an asset or a liability in the marine system, providing either essential nutrients for biologic productivity, or toxic inputs to a rapidly warming system. This part of the larger program is focused on the Arctic Ocean, the smallest and shallowest of the world’s oceans and the most under siege from climate change. Results from this cruise will contribute to our understanding of the processes at work in the Arctic Ocean, providing both a baseline of contaminants for future comparisons as well as insights into what might be in store for our future.

The land surrounding the Arctic Ocean is like a set of cradling arms, holding the ocean and the sea ice in a circular grasp. Within that cradle is a unique mix of waters, including freshwater from melting glacial ice and large rivers, and a salty mix of relatively warm Atlantic water and cooler Pacific water. Our first sample station lasts over 24 hours and focuses on characterizing the chemistry of the water flowing into the Arctic from the Pacific Ocean. This is critical for locking down  the fluxes and totals of numerous elements in the Arctic.

Map of sea ice

Daily map from the ship showing sea ice cover. Yellow is the marginal ice, and the red is heavy ice. The location of the Healy is visible at the lower edge of the photo at the edge of the red dot.

In the past the “embrace” of the Arctic land has served as a barrier, holding in the sea ice, which is an important feature in the Arctic ecosystem. In 2007, however,  winds drove large blocks of sea ice down the Fram Stait and out of Arctic. In recent years the Arctic sea ice has suffered additional decline, focusing new attention on the resource potential of this ocean.

Unexpectedly this year, the sea ice is projected to be thick along the proposed cruise track, thick enough that it might cause the ship to adjust her sampling plan.

Walrus

Walrus resting on Arctic sea ice. Photo: T. Kenna

The walrus in the above image are taking advantage of the Arctic sea ice. Walrus use the ice to haul out of the water, rest and float to new locations for foraging. Walrus food of preference is mollusks, and they need a lot of them to keep themselves satisfied, eating up to 5,000 a day, using the sea ice as a diving platform. As the ship moves further from shore, we will lose their company.

Margie Turrin is blogging for Tim Kenna, who is reporting from the field as part of the Arctic GEOTRACES, a National Science Foundation-funded project.

For more on the GEOTRACES program, visit the website here.

L2-14

Sugar - Sun, 08/16/2015 - 22:33
... so my mother can see I'm wearing a hardhat (Hi Mom).  Galen getting it done, Natalie with commentary, Yogi counting it down ...



Shot L3-01 video

Sugar - Sun, 08/16/2015 - 21:52


HUGE THANKS to all the volunteers who worked so hard to make this project such a great success. It  was a pleasure working with you and getting to know you all.  Also mega thanks to all the landowners who were kind enough, and trusting enough, to let us put a source on their property.  None of this could have happened without your generosity and spirit of curiosity.  Thanks so much.

Dan



What goes bump in the night? We do.

Sugar - Sun, 08/16/2015 - 11:30
Steve Harder prepares to detonate a shot.Controlled blasts in deep holes are the source of sound waves for our program.  We set them off in the middle of the night because that is when it is quietest along the county and state roads where our instruments are shallowly buried on profiles across eastern Georgia and listening for sound waves.  During the nights of Aug 7, 8 and 11, our blasting experts Steve Harder, Galen Kaip and Ashley Nauer prepped and detonated 25 blasts along our lines, with some help from other enthusiastic scientists (like me).  Our shots have between 200 and 1600 lbs of explosives – mostly ammonium nitrate emulsion. At each shot, we connect a long wire between the drill hole and a blast box, move back a safe distance from the shot site, wait for the appointed time, and set off the blast. The blast box is used to detonate the shot at a very accurate time. There were two shooting teams, and each has different time windows for blasting to ensure that we only do one blast at a time. If two blasts occurred at the same time, the sound waves could interfere with one another.
Ashley Nauer and Kent Anderson wire up a shot.
When the blast goes off, you feel it more than hear it.  The sound waves radiate out from the shot traveling both within the earth and along the surface. Waves that travel along the surface of the earth (“surface waves”) cause the most ground shaking. If the ground is wet, sometimes a geiser briefly occurs 5-10 seconds are the explosion.  Not surprisingly, plenty of people are interested in experiencing this besides us!  Several of the property owners who very kindly gave us permission to set off these blasts on their land came out in the middle of the night to spectate.
Even putting aside the obvious rush of setting off a bunch of blasts, its fun to be out and about in the Georgia country side at night.  A cacophony of sounds echo around the forests from crickets and frogs.  Immediately after a shot, all of these creatures very briefly go silent – they know that something has happened! And then they ramp up again.  We also see other animals prowling around, including amardillos. A meteor shower occurred during our final night of blasting, which we could see quite well from the rural stretches of Georgia, far from light pollution of population centers.

Donna Shillington, LDEO

Jim Gaherty illuminates a steaming hole that formed over the shot site from the blast.
The shot team filled in this hole the next day.Armadillo patrols one of shot sites.

Pages

 

Subscribe to Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory aggregator