20 August, 1998

August 20, 1998

Search for Ice Wedges****Flight to Barrow****Arctic Storm

We all slept in a little before we went in search of ice wedges along the Sag River. Anna assured us that ice wedges in polygons really exist but we have yet to see them. Polygons are the shapes formed when ice continuously freezes in cracks in the earth. Some really cool formations can be seen but are hard to photograph from ground level. We never did find any because along the river, the decomposition of the polygons was not fresh. Apparently we are later in the season compared to last year. If it wasn't for being underneath one in the Permafrost Tunnel in Fairbanks, I am not so sure I would have believed Anna about them at all.

Our flight to Barrow took off at about 1:00 and WOW, I mean WOW. The scenery along the way was tremendous. I got about 30 pictures from the copilot seat of our single engine plane. The patterns of the lakes, rivers, streams, and Arctic Ocean looked like multiple fractal images all superimposed on one another. There were swirls and loops, and arcs and shapes that are indescribable. I really hope the pictures turn out. The flight took about 1:45, but seemed to take only about half an hour. I am really glad the pilot had a GPS system hooked up. It is amazing how turned around one can get in the air when there are no real landmarks to go by.

Landing in Barrow at about 3 PM was neat. Barrow is the Northern most town in the United States and is right on the Arctic Ocean. All the roads here are gravel because of the freezing in winter and it looks like a scene from a wild west movie (except for the ATV's and pick-up trucks). We checked into the NARL (Naval Arctic Research Laboratory) Hotel and Anna, Javier, Jim, and I went sight seeing. There was this huge Arctic storm that had huge waves and beautiful clouds, along with a 5,000,000 mile per hour wind (so it seemed), that could almost support me leaning over. I don't recall ever being so overwhelmed with the awesome power of nature before in my life. It was really an experience I will never forget. It must have been an incredible storm because even the locals were going out to video tape it. The Arctic Ocean was absolutely gorgeous. I have now stood on the beaches of 3 of the 4 oceans of the world. Anyone want to go with me to the fourth? WYWH

Tomorrow, we get to see the Barrow ARCSS grid. We will see how the tundra looks over in this region of the North Slope.


I just could not believe that anyone could fly in such a cramped aircraft. I have this horrid fear of heights that seemed to be amplified by ten just by looking at this craft which we flew in. I don't mean to be harsh to the company whose name I will tastefully leave out of this document, but the airplane, if that's what you could call it, was just being shoved this way and that by the wind: it was really frightening.

When we arrived at Barrow, it was like I thought it would be. except a little more Cold Warish. You could still see some of the "utilidores" outside of the NARL building. "Utilidores" are old tubes that are elevated over the ground that contain all of the water tubes and electrical wiring that goes into each building. They are elevated so that they would not melt the permafrost. After a brief look at the town (which seems infatuated with the late Will Rogers), we went to the hotel at NARL. We then had a good dinner and headed out for Barrow Point. We only ventured as far as the road allowed us to. We snapped some great shots of the turbulent tides and the small peeks of the sun into the slumbering city.

The storm rolls in and the good weather ends at Barrow (photo by Javier Lopez).

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