future updates

I’ve copied an archive of this blog to my website at naomigoldenson.com.


Please visit that site to find any future writing and updates.


last of the lab work

Today I finished the filtering lab work, took a walk around town, and am about to go help pack things up.  The time here has gone very quickly because we’ve kept busy.

samples yesterday in the freezer, awaiting analysis

At least I got to work in a normal lab with a nice view.  The other lab work was done in the cold room at -15, which was actually colder than anything we experienced outside.  I caught a glimpse of Bonnie imaging some thin-sections of ice through the cold room window.

micro and normal pictures were taken of the ice structure

Sea ice is hardly a uniform substance.  There a brine pockets where salt concentrates, and there is porosity and even fine vertical channels that convey water through the ice.  You also tend to find green stuff growing on the bottom.

a thin section of sea ice on a light table for imaging

The thin sections of ice are a lot like thin sections of rock that geologists look at to study fine mineral structure, except that they have to be made and analyzed in a cold room before they can melt.

a view out from town

It’s another gorgeous day.  Today you can even see the mountains across the main fjord.  Some ice blew in the other day, which you can see covering the water to the right.

too many exclamation points

Each of the days we’ve been out in the field has been nicer than the last.  The weather has been nicer, and I’ve also been less tired.  I guess I finally beat the jet-lag: just in time to turn around and go home.  Tomorrow is the last day.  One more day in the lab plus packing up.

Yesterday was gorgeous here.  Who knew I needed to come to the Arctic to get my vitamin D quota for the year?  It was 37 degrees Fahrenheit yesterday in Tempelfjorden.

we shed our outer layers in the warm sunshine

When we first drove onto the ice I was a little nervous.  It had rained since our last outing, which weighed down the snow, as well as causing some melting.  The snow thickness was a little less and it was also slushy in places.  It’s better not to think about how you’re driving on a skin <70cm thick over a vast deep fjord when you’re on the snow mobile.

Don’t worry.  It wasn’t going to break or anything.  The ice is pretty amazing.  I feel very lucky to be seeing all this in person.  The weight of the snow actually pushes the ice down below the natural water line – that is, below the level that it would float too by itself, as illustrated by a slab that we cut out and then replaced in our work area.

a cut slab of ice demonstrates the buoyancy of sea ice not weighed down by snow

It seemed we had gotten better at doing our slew of measurements.  At the end of the day we had a little time to drive closer to that glacier.  Apparently it’s not that safe near the interface, but we got just close enough for a better view.  Amazing.


Finally we were back in town, had another late dinner, and walked back to the place where we’re staying.  On the way we stopped at a sun dial that Squid on the Ice wanted to see during the midnight sun.  Sadly it was too cloudy for the sun dial to cast a good shadow, but I did stop to appreciate these lovely high clouds.

Cirrus clouds lit by the midnight sun!


part of a map that's on the wall in the hallway

Google doesn’t have great imagery here, but the terrain view is okay.  Point A is Longyearbyen.  Point B is approximately where we were doing field work yesterday in Tempelfjorden.  We got there via the in-land valleys.

You might have to hit the minus button a couple of times to zoom out to see the points to which I refer.

flavors of doing science

I’m glad that we got two days of rest after that last field day.  Tomorrow we go out again for the third (and last?) time, and I think I am well rested for it.  Today I spent the day in the lab filtering snow and ice samples.

operating the hand pump for sample filtering

Field work and lab work is rather different from working on computer simulations.  I’ve done both before in different flavors, but somehow I’d forgotten.  It’s definitely more of the kind of thing that most people picture when they picture science.  We are measuring things and doing experiments.  It’s nice not to sit in front of the computer all day long, and something about it feels more authentic too, since I am not immune from being influenced by our social constructions of what a scientist is.  At least we challenge the image of the scientist as old and male.  Our research party is majority women and the men are on the younger side too.

I don’t know why more people don’t cross over and engage in multiple approaches to doing science.  But every sub-field I’ve explored in the physical sciences has a rather arbitrary divide between the theory and experiment people.  When you’re out in the field you develop intuition about the complexity of the system you are studying, as well as a sense of the variability and its scales.  But you can only look at limited areas over limited times, and ultimately it’s nice to be able to generalize.  If you’re thinking about how you would model a complex system, perhaps you ask different questions in the field.  I’m not sure.

As I’ve engaged in this filtering process, I’m reminded of something my undergraduate advisor said about lab work: it doesn’t hurt to be a little bit obsessive-compulsive.  That’s very true for this work, for which we want to keep the whole process, from collecting samples to melting and filtering in the lab, obsessive-compulsively free of contamination.  Since what we are measuring is the content of light-absorbing material on the filter at the end, it wouldn’t do to introduce other materials at any stage of the process that aren’t found in the snow and ice when we got to the field site.

plume from the Longyearbyen power plant

It should also be noted that we get to the field site via snow machine.  There is exhaust and sometimes other snow machine tracks nearby, although we try to get away from the well-traveled paths.  Furthermore, we are about 40km from Longyearbyen, where a giant smoke stack in town spews pollutants and there are mining operations nearby.  Our samples are not representative of the Arctic or long-range transported pollutants.  They are, however, combined with the other measurements, part of a dataset that is useful for understanding optical processes in sea ice.  We don’t need representative ice to study how concentrations of particulate impacts how light is absorbed, reflected, and transmitted.

field day #2

For our second day out in the field, we left several hours earlier, and got back about one hour earlier.  We also got a lot more measurements done.  Another colleague from the Norwegian Polar Institute accompanied us yesterday.  We set out again on snowmobile for the same general area.  Here is a picture of that sailboat in the ice.

a local tourist destination

We started by measuring albedo and transmittance again (see “the science part” below).  Then we got down to business.

Bonnie wearing the Backpack of Science, making albedo measurements

no one warned me I'd be shoveling Arctic snow

We cleared an area around the hole in the ice that we drilled.  Thus, we could measure transmission of light through the snow+ice, and when we’d finished shoveling, through the bare ice as well.

all finished?

at least it was a gorgeous day

We also brought back some more ice cores and snow samples too.  On the way back I finally tried driving a snow mobile.  It’s kind of fun, although it is also a long drive and a bit tiring.

taking a break

reindeer: highlight of the trip back?

Scanning for bears even vigilantly, I noticed some white four legged creatures ahead beside the driving track.  Luckily, they were just reindeer.  They are kind of cute.  It makes me feel bad that they were on the menu the previous night… although not as bad as seeing whale on the menu.  Not to be culturally insensitive, but eating whales really bothers me.  Anyway, I digress.

Snow-mobile driving was great, except that the machine tried to eat my boot.  Exhaust from the motor kept my foot warm on the drive, but it was a bit warmer than I realized.  Good thing the boots were well-insulated.

melted remains of a snow boot

This one had to be pulled from the snow mobile where it had melted on.

town, lab, ect.

Here are some pictures from Friday to give you a sense of the town where we’re staying.

the main pedestrian street

The university is a big presence here.  The facilities are quite nice.

UNIS building, down the hill

hallway outside the office for visitors, which I'm using to upload blog posts

If you’re not a scientist here then you’re probably a tourist.  There is even a big fancy hotel to stay in.

the Longyearbyen Radisson

I got started doing some lab work.  Here’s the filtering set-up.  I will do more of that today on our new samples.

the lab space we are borrowing