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Students, RU Professor Log-in from Spring Break Trip to Barrow, Alaska

The following log by physics major Trevor Twyford and photos describe the first three days of the week-long spring break 2008 research trip to Barrow, Alaska, by the Arctic Geophysics Class of seven students and professor Rhett Herman. To view larger images of the photos, click on the image. See RU News Release for more information on the trip.


Day 1
mountainsThe flights were an experience in themselves. We had five separate flights - a total of 18-ish hours in the airports and the sky. Looking below at the peaks and valleys while crossing through Canada, white specks begin to crop up and pocket the tips of the mountains, gradually growing as you travel north until the water itself just seems to give up. Rivers of frozen white snow shine up like angelic blood cutting through the trees. The sun is setting from the plane. Light reflects off these white rivers that criss-cross through the forests, snaking their way throughout the hills.

On the last flight, I got culture lessons from a girl on the plane named Krysta -- a Barrow native. She told me about people 'snow machining' and using sleds and sheets as a sort of wind-based sled. I was told of delicacies such as 'meat soaked in blood for two days, then covered in salt'. I was also told that, despite the belief that we would die, people actually do the polar plunge here. I wanna do it!

Thome in barrowhis place is cold in a way that can't be described as cold. Stepping out from the plane instantly chills not only the skin but the very depth of your bone all the way down to your soul. We were told not to breathe through our mouths.  As the minus-25 degree air freezes the water in your throat, and thanks to the miracle of ice expanding, it can cause massive choking. Inanimate objects seem to mock us simply by virtue of existing; signs, cars and even planes are glazed over with ice, if not buried deep in the snow. I'm amazed people can live here.

Day 2
Well, I didn't sleep at all last night. Apparently none of us did. Once the sun sets EVERYTHING radiates cold. The windows, the walls, the air mattress ... all of it. I woke up about 10 times and put on another layer of clothes, then decided to sleep in front of the heater. At least that was somewhat warm.

GPR Assembly Today was a day of adjustment. We spent the morning making a very makeshift breakfast, and walking around outside, just trying to get used to the cold and moving around in general. It's still cold. After a very short snowball fight, we noticed if you breathe out your mouth with your face covered, your face mask freezes.

After awhile we decided it was time to actually get to work. We built a Ground Penetrating Radar system, then took it around the little shack to see what was below the floor. It took a bit of time. We were all tired and a little bit cranky.

They do, however, have the most amazing meals here. I ate like a king. Tomorrow, we intend to set out across the ocean and actually get data from the GPR and OHMMapper, and compare the two to a giant drill we'll be using to get the exact measurement of the thickness. We have a lot of work to do tomorrow.

Day 3
It's cold.

So we started off slow today. We had a really good night’s sleep.  Then we stayed around the hut for an hour while a few people got groceries. It was good times. When they got back, we set off to do some work.

ohmmapper surveyingThis was our first time out on the Arctic Ocean. See, we went to a beach for spring break ... it was interesting. The snow itself is several feet deep before you hit the ice, which isn't too terribly deep, but constantly new cracks form across the snow.  While you’re not in (much) danger of falling in the water, if a crack forms under you, you'll definitely sink about three to four feet into the snow.  It was pretty cool to watch, and to experience.

So we had to set up our little grid. We had one line half a kilometer, and a grid of 12 lines at 100 meters long. The grid is going to be the most aggravating things during this trip. We need to take measuring tape, mark off every meter across with a flag once, and then triangulate where we need to move next to make it even. Everything that we did in Radford is 100 times harder in the cold -- and borderline impossible with gloves on. But we got it done in about 2 hours. We then set up our OhmMapper in about another hour.

back to baseSo we were freezing and it was getting close to 5 o'clock -- and we can't miss dinner that closes at 6, because the dinners are AMAZING here -- and everyone, including the teacher was like, well, let’s call it a day. Then I had to be the voice of reason and say, "Hey, no, lemme do it, we can get it done in an hour." So, those of us still there strapped me into the machine, which consists of a 50 pound computer console on your front, a 20 pound battery console on your back and about 60 feet of receivers and a transmitter dragging behind you -- and pulled it out the door.

Now as if walking the first 500 meters out there isn't hard enough, doing it with all this weight was ridiculous. After falling through the snow a few times, I finally made it out to the line. Now, in order to work the machine, you have to take one of your gloves off and only use the lining so you can move your fingers a bit. Before we even reached the 100 meter mark, I thought we were going to have to lop off my hand. I'd already given up on it. So I'm dragging this machine, making my marks with my seemingly dead hand, and everyone else is trying to keep me from falling through the snow for roughly 20 minutes. But we made it to the end alright. So, we got our first fairly large chunk of data today, and I got to be the one to take it - which was pretty cool.

Barrow GroupBut then we had to walk back. An entire kilometer of my hand wanting to die, dragging this extra 100 pounds of machinery, the receivers several meters behind me, all my snow gear, and STILL falling through the snow.

By the time we finally got back, I ran into the wall on accident, and just kind of took a nap leaning on it. It was glorious. AND we made it back in time for another amazing dinner.

IN THE PHOTO: Brian Veitz, Laura Sweat, Christine Ruhl and Jeremy McLaughlin with the ground penetrating radar (GPR), about to get it ready for their work.

March 13, 2008
Contact: Ann Hillenbrand (ahillenb@radford.edu; 540-831-7749)

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