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4 April, 2003

Technology in the Field

Collecting Data and Samples

The use of scientific instruments and technology under Arctic conditions can provide some rather challenging circumstances as well as lead to some interesting and creative problem solving. It can also lead to mind numbing frustrations as well. Tasks that most of us take for granted as everyday commonplace activities can take on whole new visions and methods of trial and error.

The simple task of even sending my journals and images has required three different laptop computers, a zip drive, two separate cameras and a whole lot of patience and determination. It is not a matter of lack of technology nor is it a case of knowing how, it is simply a case were unfortunate circumstances have had a domino effect where one problem created another.

Such is the case in any field research where field conditions are less that perfect, you adapt, you rethink, or you recreate. And above all you must remember two important notes. First, stuff happens and second, Mother Nature rules! (Such was the case when a freak Wisconsin ice storm postponed our live broadcast today despite all technology in place and all parties concerned ready. Oh well, we shall overcome this too.)

We use a variety of scientific instruments that have been commercially made and purchased and function great under normal conditions. Being here, near the Arctic Circle, conditions would not fall into the typical definition of normal conditions. Temperature, ice, wind and saltwater reek havoc on instruments and equipment and on many occasions instruments need to be refitted with homemade adapters or new equipment made from scratch.

More and more each day I understand that conducting research in the field requires individuals with a variety of skills. One sometimes needs to be an engineer, carpenter, electrician, plumber, computer specialist, recycler and visionary. (Basically the type of person you could place in the middle of nowhere with only a pocket knife and they could create a shopping mall.) A person also must possess enormous self-help skills, tolerance, and determination to get you through the times when things donít go as planned.

Using a small pump attached to a fifty-foot flexible hose made by Lou and Jim we set out today to collect samples and data from our eight drill sites. Guided by our GPS coordinates we relocated the holes and lowered the weighted pump and hose to a depth of about one meter below the bottom of the ice. The pump was activated by attaching it to a small battery and began pumping seawater. The pump was allowed to run for five minutes in order to clear the hose of any ice or slush. After five minutes the hose was placed into a five-gallon bucket and allowed to fill. A sensor was placed into the bucket to measure the waters salinity, temperature and dissolved oxygen. The information was recorded along with the site name and time. Two nutrient samples were then drawn from the flowing hose and collected in prepared vials. These samples are then frozen and eventually sent to the University of Maryland for analysis.

The same process is repeated after lowering the pump to its maximum depth of fifty-feet. We visit each of the eight drill sites twice during the course of the day covering the ice from the far southern lead to the far northern lead. A total of seven hours on the ice left me feeling tired and covered in ice. A sort of iced TEA effect!


Dr. Cooper collecting data at southern drill site.


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