Saturday, March 30, 2013

Who can resist one more wolf photo? Not me!

In which people and wolves come and go

The Intermittent Blogger is back. Summary of lately: Accountants have arrived, counted things, hiked, and left again. An electrician, a plumber and a carpenter did that, too, minus the hiking. Now a drilling team is here. It was really cloudy for days and days.
  And then it was beautiful and clear, except: On some days there was one cloud in front of the sun, and on other days there was one cloud surrounding PEARL's mountain top. To do direct-sun measurements with the campaign spectrometers, that doesn't work so great. On those days, we worked on other things.
 Now it's been sunny again for a few days, so we've been making lots of measurements.
 Measurements of wolves? Don't mind if we do! The pack showed back up at the station this morning. There were 15 that we counted, and more nearby for sure as we could hear them howling at one another. Some were huge, and some were kind of scrawny.
 One carried a stick around.
 This is Pierre and me. Obligatory 80 degrees North photo which has to be taken every time a new group of folks comes up to the lab with us. This photo captured the iceberg to the left of Pierre's head. More closeup photos o' that to come!
Lidar is doing well. Superhero Labmate Chris has been gathering data pretty much nonstop unless the winds are blowing too hard (which they sometimes do. 20 knots is the limit for the hatch cover). I get to go tinker with some flashlamps tomorrow, though.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

I lost my watch and found a rock

A few days ago, I realized that I couldn't find my watch. I didn't look very hard for it, figuring it would turn up in a pocket somewhere. Yes, I checked the pockets of my jeans. That was easy. Checking the pockets of my parka? That's an adventure unto itself. I mustered up the courage to start the hunt yesterday evening. First off, there are about 50 pockets. Some pockets are layered on or in other pockets. Some are completely hidden. I've lost things for weeks in there before.


  • 3 pens
  • kleenex
  • Snickers bar
  • 7 batteries
  • 2 USB sticks
  • 3 screws
  • dental floss
  • a pencil sharpener
  • a big rock
  • hair elastics
  • two mittens (in different pockets)
  • my watch

Success! And now, apparently, I don't need to keep carrying around the giant rock everywhere I go.

While we're on the subject of pockets: I enjoy that when I'm wearing my Parka, I effectively have a pocket calculator with 8Gb of RAM. It shares a pocket with my lab book.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Making friends with Ridge Lab instruments

I went up to the Ridge lab with the crew yesterday was to learn about how to run each of the instruments that Pierre and I will be operating during the Extended Phase of the ACE campaign. I operated them all with Paul last year, but a refresher is always useful. All the photos in here today were taken by Dan Weaver, who operates the Bruker with Joseph.

Bruker training with Joseph:

I love lidars a lot (Lasers! Telescopes! I get to build stuff. What's not to like?). I also really enjoy getting to see what the others are up to in Eureka. I'm curious. I also figure that the more experience working with other sorts of equipment I can manage to cram in my head, the better (The experience goes into my head; the equipment itself does not). It's neat. And it gives me a glimpse into other ways of doing similar things. Who know what will be useful 5 years from now? The opportunity to stay in Eureka for the extended campaign is also ideal, because it lets our CRL lidar keep operating for an additional couple of weeks.

 The suntracker for the Bruker and PARIS instruments has a personality of its own.

Some of the instruments have been moved and modified since the last campaign, so we went through the operating procedures to make sure that what the grad students want to have done with their instruments is the same as what they have written that they want to have done with them. Xiaoyi's instrument is now much easier to access. No more climbing on ladders necessary!

Debora is operating PARIS, which is the same as the Fourier Transform Spectrometer in the ACE experiment on SCISAT. She's reminding me of the multiple different ways that the PARIS data gets backed up.

At the start of the campaign, it's important to have a solid team in Eureka getting everything set up, troubleshooting any problems, etc. Now that things are running smoothly, our skeleton crew should be able to keep up with the routine for the next few weeks!

I love Eureka. Good hike to the North of PEARL.

I love Eureka. We had a really great day yesterday.

In the morning, I went up to the Ridge Lab with the rest of the ACE campaign crew. They're all going to fly out on the 19th (this coming Tuesday), so it was a good day for a refresher about how to run all the instruments. Lots of the instruments up there work such that you have to press buttons for 3 minutes, and then wait 2 hours while measurements happen. Then you press buttons for 3 minutes again. Given that there were 6 of us at the lab and things were running well, some of us took the opportunity to go for a hike.

 All of these photos are in no particular order.

 We walked North from the Ridge Lab. We walked far enough that we could see Eureka Sound (the station is on Slidre Fjord, which is off of Eureka Sound), and we could see Axel Heiberg Island, too.

 See? Gorgeous. It was such a nice sunny day, mid -20s, no wind, and plenty of time to not have to rush back. I saw parts of Ellesmere I'd never seen before. Every time before that I've walked in that direction, I've always dropped down into one of the valleys at one point. This time, instead, we kept high up on the ridges, and were rewarded with beautiful vistas.

 The sun 3:00 PM sun looks low in the sky, we had no worries about getting back before dark - it takes hours and hours for the sun to set. We tried looking for Comet PanStars around 9:30 pm and the sky STILL wasn't dark enough to see it (although I explored the moon and Jupiter through binoculars, sitting next to a bunny trail, and that made it worth getting my snowsuit back on).

 The ridge lab is in the photo above. It's in the middle of the frame. It's just far away. We ended up walking about twice as far from the ridge lab as this.

 Dan, Debora and Paul - veritable Arctic Explorers!

 This is Debora. Turns out that whatever altitude you lose by climbing down, you will inevitably have to work twice as hard to regain on the way home. When you're doubly tired. And kind of hungry.

Ah, taking a break. The legs are tired, but my brain is happy. Just wish I had a wider-angle camera lens to show you all how awesome it is.

Testing depolarizers with The Scientific Method

A couple of days ago, I spent a while using the linearly-polarized laptop screen as a light source to test how well an optic can depolarize light. The first optic closest to the screen is a polarizer, and it's rotated to let through the maximum LCD light, while rejecting anything that isn't quite polarized in the right direction. The second one on a stand is the depolarizer. The one in my hand is an extra polarizer. I was rotating it to see whether the light was still polarized after going through the depolarizer or not. It wasn't. That was good news. That means the depolarizer is useful in the lidar during test lamp measurements (which we did day-before-yesterday).

This was also the first time in a long time that I've consciously used The Scientific Method As Taught In Grade Seven. I had a hypothesis, set up a controlled experiment, observed, etc. My science usually isn't exactly a lab science, where you can give various quantities of something to rats, and leave the other rats alone as control cases. I can't order the atmosphere to give me lovely test cases of precisely known amounts of ice and water in the sky, exactly when I want them. I more or less have to work with what the sky comes up with. Testing the depolarizing optic, though? Man, was that cooperative. For once, I didn't even have to worry about how windy it was outside, in order to get something done.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Walks with a Fox

We went for a walk. As you can tell, it's evening. I was in the lab all morning, and I was in the lab all afternoon, so this was the first chance I got to take a real break today.

This was at 7 PM, and it's still twilight. The sun set around 3:30 this afternoon. As we walked, the stars started coming out. How neat to see Polaris nearly at the zenith. It's only 10 degrees off, up here. Castor and Pollux were shining brightly, too. (And, totally off-topic, if you read the 1952 sci fi book The Rolling Stones by Robert Heinlein, Castor and Pollux star there, too. They have spaceships, but still record things on "spools". And use slide rules.)

 First, we saw a bunny! He had a bunny friend with him, and they were eating supper.
 Dan and Paul, climbing an icy hill in a gully.
Later on, on the top of the ridge (behind where Dan and Paul are in the other picture) we saw someone who would have turned the bunnies into supper:

 It was dark, and after you drop your camera on the frozen ground last year (twice), your flash no longer works. So squint your eyes a bit and believe me that there really is an arctic fox in the picture above. He started out on the opposite side of a little gully from us. As we walked around and climbed up another hill, he followed us, and checked us out. He got within probably 3 m of us at one point. We headed back for the station because it was starting to get even darker, and the fox followed us on our path for a little while. So fluffy! And he's quick, too. He had no problem covering way more ground than we did, in no time.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

One solitary cloud

Dear Cloud, are you made of ice, or are you made of water? You're at 6 km, and you're 2 km tall. You hung around the lidar for 3 hours. You had no buddies - you were the only cloud in the sky.  You'd be a great "reality check" for the depolarization measurements.... but we can't be sure of our calibrations until we see another one.

The first part of our Campaign crew left this morning on the plane. Now I'm the only one at the 0PAL lab, as Zen finished his E-AERI work in time to catch this ride home.

Met Tech Johnny and I went for a post-lunch walk to the northwest of the station. The sun is getting pretty high in the sky these days, splashing sunbeams right onto the 0PAL lab and the station.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

We went for a walk today, up behind the station, past the 0PAL lab. 
We saw this new track truck, but we didn't drive anywhere in it. The station staff use it to get to the spot on the frozen fjord where they do the ice survey. 

Not having any particular destination in mind, we ambled over the hills and took a look back toward the station. We were walking just after lunch, and the sun rose around 9:30 or something in the morning. Look how high it isn't in the sky! It just skims across to the right, until about 3:30, when it dips back down behind Cape Hare.

Animal tracks: Bunny, Fox, Wolf, Human (well, once we were there anyways), and lemming!  We followed the wolf tracks for a bit, but then I got caught up in the lemming trail and had to see where it went. Lemmings are little, like mice and voles.
 Following..... and the lemming tracks start looping back on themselves. Is our lemming being chased down by some predatory creature? And OH NO! Look at that ripped up mess of snow where the tracks disappear!!

On further inspection, it appears that the lemming was merely going home. He lives in this hole (or in some burrow attached to the hole, anyways!)

Friday, March 1, 2013

Beat the temperature record!

At breakfast yesterday, we heard that it was cold outside. Really cold. On-the-way-to-breaking-records cold. So, of course, our entire table full of breakfasting scientists immediately scattered to find cameras, and hurried over to the met office to get photos. Minus 51 degrees, people.

(Actually, we were a little overexcited. I have identical pictures from the 5 minutes before at -49.4, -49.5, etc. And it got colder than -51 later, while I was working.)

Yesterday was the coldest February 28th on record at Eureka, and there have been temperature measurements made continuously since the 50s. Turn out we broke another low temperature record for today, too.

Being so nice out, and because the lidar was running so smoothly, Jane and I did the only sensible thing: We went for a walk on the fjord. Thank goodness it wasn't windy! See those two little dots on the ice? That's us. James took this photo and managed to get it onto the internet before we were even back from our walk. We only went out for about half an hour, but that was enough time to take a little stroll over the sea ice.
Each different part of the ice sounds completely different from each other part. Some parts are crunchy, some are squeaky, some kind of creak as you step on them. Sounds were also carrying really effectively. You can see how far out on the ice we were. My labmate Zen was about the same distance in the other direction (he was at the 0PAL lab, up on a ladder, and could see us), and he could hear our normal-voice-level conversation! Using "indoor voices", our words were still echoing off of the buildings a kilometer away.

So far, contacts + ski goggles have been the best recipe for not getting my vision completely iced over. I wear glasses usually, and even with goggles overtop, I never last very long before having both lenses frosted to the point I can only see really bright lights. That's not so fun. I wasn't sure how the contacts would work out. Considering that exposed eyelashes end up frosted together in under 3 minutes, contacts freezing onto your eyeballs is an actual real-life worry. Not to mention the dryness, which definitely does not help. Inside the station, we're at about 14% relative humidity, and outside we're in a polar desert. Anyways, the contacts were a bit of an experiment, and I have to say that they were quite wonderful! Hands-down, vision is the most difficult part of working and playing outside when it's this cold, so this development is great.