11 August, 2001
The closing hours of science for the 2001 summer season
Today was our last day of science at Summit. We will spend the next two days dismantling and packing our gear, reversing the process of the first few days here. Not unlike the last miles in a marathon, the pace quickened for science today as everyone tried to complete projects. Amongst the projects being done by this group of scientists are many of the pieces of the snow and atmospheric chemistry puzzle. It has been exciting to see so much interaction and sharing of ideas and resources.
Today was a great climax to many of the projects here. Even in the last hours of the season new discoveries were made and ideas generated for even MORE projects. Contributing to the party atmosphere of the day was the weather, it was as beautiful as its been all summer, we could go without coats and hats. The day had periods of fog and interesting clouds, but overall was sunny and festive.
Mary Albert of CRREL ran diffusivity tests to examine how the air moves through the snow when it is not being drawn by pumps. Jack Dibb of UNH and Aaron Swanson of UC Irvine ran tests involving spraying sea salt on the snow to investigate the effects of halogens on the snow - air chemistry. Markus continued to investigate the effects of removing ultraviolet light from the snow's surface with a variety of shades. The Swiss team spent the day moving their equipment from their summer weather port home into the winter lab space in the greenhouse.
Last night I had the opportunity to spend some time with one of the scientists who seems to integrate with all of our projects, because without her data on the physical properties of the snow pack, many of the models of how the gases move through the snow would be less understood. This scientist, Mary Albert, is from Hanover, New Hampshire. She has been in the field of polar science especially ice science for many years. Mary is one energetic lady. I observed her project involving sampling sections of snow from a snow pit from 11 pm until after midnight, and she had been going strong with experiments all day long! I, by the way, was on my way to bed when word came that Mary was doing something I had asked to see, so I summoned just a little more energy, and got rewarded with both intersesting science and a beautiful sunset.
In this experiment, Mary collected samples of snow that she cut like blocks from the wall of the snow pit. Once the blocks were cut, they were placed into Tupperware containers and labeled as to their location in the pit and their orientation. These small blocks of ice will be kept frozen until they can be analyzed for their crystal structure using image processing techniques. The chemical which she poured onto the samples, dimethyl phalate, will serve to lock the crystals into place by becoming plastic in the open spaces between the crystals. The crystal structure and density of the crystals in the sample can help scientists to predict which layers of snow are more permeable to gas transport. Mary has also been working with Aaron, Jack and Markus conducting tracer gas experiments. In these experiments, she injects a stable inert gas into the snow with a probe and then they time how long it takes to reach other probes in the snow placed at different depths and locations in the upper layers of the snow. This information helps the scientists understand where the air that is entering their probes is really coming from. It's not always what they think is happening! Snow that is dense and hard blocks the flow of gas. This layer of snow can be caused by wind packing the crystals or a sun-warmed layer that formed in the summer.
For several seasons, Mary has brought with her a field assistant, Ted Schultz. This is Ted's second season at Summit. Thanks to Mary and an apprenticeship program at CRREL, Ted has been travelling to the field for many years. He was in Antarctica when he was still in High School! Ted has been here this season as well, but he has primarily been working with Jack Dibb. Ted will be begining graduate school at the University of Wisconsin in Madison this fall. Ted will be studying engineering. He hopes to design a drill that can't be stuck! I think Ted deserves the prize for the hardest worker at camp this summer. He averaged 4 hours of sleep a night!! His job was to assist with the analysis of Jack's vapor samples. He started each day at 7 and finished well after midnight each night. Ted managed to find time to figure out everyone's musical dilikes while in the science weatherport and even made us each a souvenir CD.
Tommorrow begins the packing and preparations for our departure on Tuesday. We will need to dig up and remove most of our scietific gear. Without a doubt, these last two days will be as action packed as the rest. I am looking forward to being at home again, but know I will miss the atmosphere and excitement of Summit camp.
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