Physics professor Rhett Herman, junior physics major Alec Frazier, Southwest Virginia Governor’s School teacher Dan Blake and student Andrew Vaccaro recently discovered a correlation between the surface temperature of sea ice in Barrow, Alaska and its depth. The group and other students in the Physics 450—Arctic Geophysics class conducted research during February and March 2012 in Barrow. Since then Herman, Frazier, Blake and Vaccaro have been crunching numbers and analyzing data. “We now just have to nail down the modeling parameters, and we might have a way to get the ice thickness over a large area in a very short time,” says Herman.
Last month, the group presented their research findings at the American Geophysical Union’s (AGU) 45th annual fall meeting in San Francisco. Their poster presentation “Correlation between the surface temperature and thickness of Arctic sea ice” was a popular stop for arctic researchers from across the globe. For example, the group presented their research to one of the world’s leading arctic researchers James Maslanik from the Colorado Center for Astrodynamics Research at the University of Colorado, Boulder. “Alec and Andrew did very well in their presentation, answering all of the technical questions. I stayed back to let them have a chance to be at the forefront,” says Herman.
Also during the meeting, Herman presented a poster with Anne Jensen, Senior Scientist at UIC Science, LLC, titled “GPR study of prehistoric archaeological site near Point Barrow, Alaska.” Herman and then physics student Jared Palmer, who graduated in 2012, researched lost burials of the Inupiat, the native people of the north slope of Alaska who once lived on Point Barrow. In partnership with the Nuvuk Archaeology Project and its top scientist Jensen, Palmer and Herman used two ground-penetrating radar (GPR) units to survey the area the team believed to be the site of a cemetery from a lost settlement, hoping to find human remains or other pertinent artifacts. During their two weeks in Point Barrow in the summer of 2011, Herman and Palmer found the deepest burial ever recorded of the native peoples of Point Barrow. “It would have been missed by the usual shovel test pits. Many such missed burials have been revealed over the years as the sea bluffs have eroded with the rising sea levels. This one would not suffer the same fate,” says Herman.
According to AGU, the organization’s fall meeting is the world’s largest scientific meeting with more than 20,000 attendees from all over the world.