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8 August, 2001

BRRRR! A Visit to the CRREL (Cold Regions Research and Engineering Lab)

Before visiting the Cold Regions Research and Engineering Lab (CRREL) in Hanover, New Hampshire, I had conjured up pictures in my mind of icebergs and freezing temperatures. Although the research that is conducted there is all connected to cold regions and reactions of materials to freezing temperatures, our visit mainly took place outside in 90+ temperatures. It was anything but cold!

Ammonia burned our noses as we entered our first lab and jerked

us to attention. Leonard Zabilanski, General Engineer, explained that it is used as a refrigerant because it is the safest. Tongue-in-cheek, he said, "It's a wake-up call. If the cold doesn't get you, the ammonia will!" He explained that the work done in his lab is involved with ice testing. Frazil ice and its effect on the river locks are studied. Scientists are trying to find ways to keep winter flooding from happening when frazil ice blocks river systems. They study what happens in the field and numerical models are generated. Then models are built and tested in the lab and the numerical data is compared. We walked along a model of a lock system and jumped the "river". The model created a way to divert frazil ice away from the locks and allow ships to pass with no ice jams. Later the models are built to scale and tested in the environment. Many studies are conducted in this parcticular lab that concern the effect of frazil ice on fish, the development of ice breaking ships, controlling ice jam floods, and developing ice control structures.

Being a driver from the Chicago area, I was parcticularly interested in the testing being done on road building materials. Winter plays havoc with cars by making huge potholes in northern highways. A huge garage-like building at the CRREL site houses the basins where these tests are conducted. Roads are built in the basins with sensors under the gravel. Asphalt of different materials is paved on top, and in some tests the roads are taken through many freeze/thaw cycles. One road basin is testing two materials: a geo-grid material made of plastic and a geo-textile made of carpet material. A huge accelerated load car runs tires over the strips at such an incredible rate that twenty years of data can be generated in just two weeks. When the tests are finished, huge bulldozers dig up the roads, and new tests are set up in the basins. Our guide told us that the preliminaryresults from these tests are very promising, so I am hoping to see improved roads near my house soon!

After hiking around the thirty acres of CRREL property in 90 degree temperatures, we found shivering relief in the minus twenty-five degree cold room of the lab. It provided quick relief by cooling our overheated skin, and fogged our glasses, momentarily blinding those of us who needed them. It was parcticularly interesting to see Deb Meese's frozen samples taken from Greenland. Deb, a principal investigator working with CRREL and the TEA program, had shared her work and discoveries in the ice cores with us yesterday.

2. Civilian workers build test roads in CRREL lab basins. Here a worker is burying sensors under the gravel using a trowel, while another worker organizes the sensor wires.

3. Deb Meese stored her Greenland ice core samples in the cold room at CRREL.

1. Hard hats must be part of a scientist's equipment when building models in a lab, which is similar to a construction site. Models are used to test variables before trying expensive solutions in the real environment.

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