29 October 2010

The long awaited last Poker post

I have not updated the blog since I arrived home. Mostly because I felt bad about not really accomplishing anything.

When I left, the ELF system still has the weird noise pattern. The gain rises from -2V to +2V then falls sharply back to -2V like a sawtooth. The signal coming in from the coil is flat, then gradually increases in oscillation and falls back to flat. Even after repairing the soldering on the connector, it still had the noise. I tested the cable, and a signal was able to be sent through just fine. I test the cable and receiver box and it seems to work fine. That points toward the coil not working. The coil was able to pick up the 60Hz signal in the building, but as soon as I brought the coil outside of the building, the noise began. I couldn't determine what caused the noise, so I left the coil lightly buried and someone else is going up to try and fix it.

ELF coil under the tarp and lightly buried.

The ULF coils are working okay. The data we have been receiving is still variably noisy. Even after turning off the regrowth experiment, the noise level did not decrease. I asked the people working at Poker if anything started around August that would have caused the noise to start, but didn't get any insights.

The one on the left shows the first two days after I left (10 - 11 Oct) and the one of the right is this past Wednesday (27 Oct).

Lastly, I couldn't get any images of aurora. The cable to connect the imager to the computer had wires loose. My attempts to put it back together, did not work out well.

I have to remind myself that I will get better at doing this. This is only my second field trip and the first real one where I had intensive trouble shooting to do. Next time, I will be much more prepared.

I heard from Matt that I was an oddity at the Chatanika Lodge. I ordered a steak sandwich without the steak. I just wanted the onions, peppers, mushrooms and cheese on bread. Matt told me when he went in the day after I ordered it, they were talking about it as if I had a third arm.

On the day I left, there was a beautiful sunset, fox tracks, moose, and snow. Alaska was really rugged and I'm excited to go back. I submitted an abstract for a conference in Fairbanks in March of next year. If needed, I could probably do some field work while I'm there.

Gorgeous sunset! My camera can't even do it justice.

Fox tracks

Two moose who took their time getting out of the way of my car

Of course, the macro shot. I love it.

08 October 2010

Fairbanks, still

I was supposed to be leaving this evening, but was unable to get my ELF coils completely finished, so I am staying for two more days. I was looking forward to going home, but science must be done!

Wednesday night, Matt and I drove out to Poker around 10pm for the aurora imaging. It was my first time seeing the aurora and it was amazing. I thought at first it was just clouds, then it started to move a little bit and become more defined. It was gorgeous. A++ would see again. The problem: my imager wasn't working. I had something wired incorrectly and two of the circuit boards within the imager had come undone during shipping causing pins to bend. The imager appears to be working now, but there might not be another opportunity for me to go out and take images due to cloud cover. There was a coronal mass ejection a few days ago that will probably hit the Earth tomorrow. After I drop Matt off at the airport, I might drive out to Poker and see if the clouds are going to break.

Aurora set-up

Seriously the aurora is awesome.

I didn't have my super amazing camera with me, so the longest exposure I could take is 8s. I was reading online that 20 second exposure time is about right for the aurora.

The ULF coils appear to be in working order. I moved them far away from the supposed noise source. In order to move the coils, I wanted to roll up the entire 1000 feet length of cable so I could lay it out nicely. Everything is moving along swimmingly, I am able to roll the spool of cable by myself over the dead trees, plants, up the hill, until I get to a riometer antenna. Someone in their infinite wisdom, ran my cable between the riometer post and the tree it was attached to. Whomever put the mast in must have thought to themselves, "Oh I know a great way to keep these cords from moving around, I'm going to run it behind my mast". I ended up disconnecting the cable from inside the science center and meeting my cable halfway. A bit frustrating.

The acquisition system ran over night and the data was okay. It is still a bit noisy, so we will see what they look like tomorrow. I used a pickax and buried the coils already, I hope I do not have to move them again. I triple checked to see if there were any noticeable sources of noise.

Oh yes, it snowed today. It wasn't that cold and not very heavy. I was a little worried I wouldn't be able to find my coils again because the cable would be covered in snow. Luckily, that was not the case.

I have had to repair a few breaks in the main sensor cable jacket. My advisor sent me silicone tape which I call fruit by the foot tape. It looks like the sugary fruit leather type thing on a piece of plastic. The tape works amazing well. It's seals, sticks to itself, and is quite fetching.

The ELF coils are giving me massive amounts of grief. There is a noise problem which I cannot track done. I thought the gain on the system was the source: no. I tested the cable to see if all the connectors were functioning: yes. Generated signal passing through: just fine. The coil is a black box to me. We purchased it and I have never seen inside. I had to buy a screw driver this evening with a small enough bit to open it up. Tomorrow the black box will no longer be black. I really want to figure out what is going on!!

Alaska is still a funny place to me. I receive the local paper every morning and this on the front page a few days ago. I would like to know their definition of "crowd".

Almost every day for lunch, we drive down to the Chatanika Lodge. It is the closest restaurant to the research range for miles and miles. Inside, there is a gimmick of writing on a dollar bill and stapling it to the wall or ceiling. Marc told me there are many dollars from previous rocket campaigns, but I have yet to sight them.

When we were there for lunch on Tuesday, it was a polling place for borough elections. There was one polling booth.

Two more days and then I will be home. I like Alaska and the snow was pretty today, but I am not looking forward to driving in it, nor am I looking forward to any hole digging I might have to do with the ground starting to freeze.

I'm off to bed and an early start tomorrow.

06 October 2010


While I was in Svalbard, I recorded videos for my boyfriend, Matthew, because we could not always talk when I had time at my computer. I thought that recording a video about my research day would be easier than typing today. So here you go:

I apologize for the random clicking every so often. I think it is vibrations in my laptop.

If tl;dw (too long; didn't watch), I am still having troubles with ULF and ELF systems. I am planning on moving my ULF coils away from the generator which means tomorrow, in the forecasted rain/snow, I get to dig holes and carry rocks. The ELF has a weird gain pattern, but opening up the receiver box showed two wires not connected to the sensor cable connector. They both look like ground cables, which would probably lead to the noise I am having. Tonight I am going back up the mountain to take pictures of aurora. It is to be cloudy the rest of my time in Alaska. I really hope that tonight I can get my images taken!

05 October 2010

Poker Flat

I am in Alaska. I was reminded by a few people that I needed to update what was going on up here.

I arrived in Fairbanks after almost 20 hours after leaving my house around 4:00AM.

No one should have to wake up this early

The amazing thing was, most of the packages I needed arrived on the same day I arrived! Cables, computers, imager. It was a good day and a change from the fiasco of mailing something to Svalbard.

Friday, I began trying to figure out why there was noise in the ULF coils. I was shown where the coil was located, where my acquisition was packed and I got to work. I found a cut in the jacket of the main sensor cable. Someone had wrapped about three inches of duct tape around the cut to seal it off. I don't know if that happened during brush clearing or earlier in the year, but that is not good. I am going to receive special silicone tape to repair the jacket. The rest of the main sensor cable was fine which means I don't have to try to move the 70 lb coil of cable through the woods.

The cut in the jacket allowed moisture to enter into the cable causing corrosion at the connector and inside the junction box. I was able to shake the main cable and have water fall out of it. It seems like one of the main problemn is figuring how to avoid moisture.

There was still the issue of noise. Both of my coils are showing the exact same signal. The coils generally show a similar signal, but never the exact same. It leads me to believe it is a man made signal. A few years ago, there was a fire that swept through the area. Most of the trees are blackened and dead. There is some foliage growing a few research groups are investigating regrowth of forests. Unfortunately, the regrowth experiment about 200 feet away from my ULF coils has a humming generator that is the most likely cause for my noise. My coils have a noise floor of about 400mV when we desire something more like 20mV. Tomorrow, I get to try and contact the research group and ask if we can turn off the generator, or I might be relocating the coils to the other end of the forest area.

Scope output at the acquisition system for the coils.

Sunday, before I could adequately say it was the generator causing the problem, I gave up troubleshooting and decided to go onto my second objective: ELF coil installation. The cable was only about 200 feet long, as opposed to the 1000 feet of the ULF coils, so the commute back and forth to the ELF coil is much faster. In addition to my digging in the hard ground, I carried four backpack loads of rocks down to the site. I should have lifted more weights before this field trip.

When I tested the ELF coil in my lab, the coil, data receiver, and acquisition system all worked perfectly. Somewhere between Durham and Fairbanks, something happened. The data receiver's automatic gain controller has started going crazy. It will turn on to full strength, slowing drop to zero, then quickly go back to full. It repeats this for as long as I have the system turned on. I have much less experience with the ELF systems than the ULF, so trying to troubleshoot this problem has been much more of an issue.

My last objective up here has been to image aurora. Problem 1: The controller sent by Fed-Ex has still not arrived. I'm told it is to be here tomorrow. Problem 2: It has been crazy cloudy the entire time I have been here. Problem 3 and probably the biggest: there has been little aurora activity. Heh, I just checked the plots for the solar wind and magnetic field measurements and it looks like tonight would be a good night for the aurora. When the blue line dips below about 50 nT and the magnetic field is negative, that is an indication activity should be happening soon. I wish I had the controller! It is also supposed to be the clearest night this week!

Alaska is kind of a funny place. It seems like people really like living here. I almost feel like I am back in Texas for all the pride that is shown. There are electrical cords sticking out the front of everyone's car to keep them warm during the winter.

It seems like I just missed the fall. Bare trees were everywhere, there is a winter crispness in the air, and I heard there was snow flurries last week. I'm glad the ground hadn't frozen quite yet, as I was still able to dig a hole for my ELF coils.

It has been really nice not being up here by myself. The two guys from Dartmouth, David and Matt, have been great to hang out with. David has much more electrical knowledge then I ever will have and has been great to ask for troubleshooting advice.

This morning I felt a little under the weather, but a couple cups of tea and trying to stay inside for most of the day, I think has helped keep the cold at bay. I can be sick Saturday, but this week, I have things to do!

28 September 2010

Alaska Bound!

This Thursday, I will be flying to Alaska. For this trip, I have three objectives. The ULF coils at Poker Flat are having the same type of noise as the ones in Ny-Alesund had this summer. We think it is probably the main sensor cable that was cut during brush clearing earlier this summer. I will also be changing out the data acquisition system. There is a specific type of aurora called pulsating aurora which pulsates around 7 Hz. We want to determine if there is a ground signature from the aurora. Our current DAQ samples at 10 Hz, which with a nyquist frequency means that events in the less than 5 Hz range will be observed. The new DAQ samples at 40 Hz, putting the nyquist at 20 Hz and the 7 Hz is well within observable parameters.

My next objective is to install an ELF system. The ULF coils (ultra low frequency) generally measure pulsations to only a few Hz. The ELF coil (extremely low frequency) will measure pulsations in the range of 10 - 250 hertz. I spent last week testing the coil and contending with the ever present 60 Hz. Hopefully when I am in a less electromagnetic saturated environment, I will be able to turn off the active 60 Hz filter and the noise it creates.

My last objective is to take images of the aurora. It will be the first time I have seen aurora. The sun appears pretty active right now with a coronal hole and two active regions. I am hoping to image a substorm. A substorm generally occurs when the magnetic tail of the earth is stretched to the point of "breaking" and the released energy and particles flow from the tail back towards the earth. The energetic particles will then interact with the ionosphere causing the aurora, roughly speaking.

I am excited to not be going alone this time. Two guys from Dartmouth College will also be at Poker repairing their instruments. It'll be good to have other people around.

I'll be updating as interesting things happen, or when interesting things should be happening, but aren't.

26 July 2010

Home Again!

I made it home on Friday 23 June. The flights back held no problems. I was grilled by border agents over my business in Norway and what exactly the magnetosphere is, but I made it through without being detained.

This blog will remain dormant until my next adventure, but I hope you will return when the excitement ensues!

22 July 2010

Last night in Longyearbyen

Tomorrow early morning (0300), the bus comes to pick up all the passengers for the 0450 flight out of Longyearbyen. I have enjoyed my time here and hopefully I can return in the future!

Yesterday I contacted a professor at UNIS because he works closely with my advisor. He told me that if I wanted, I could accompany him up to the EISCAT radar dishes up on the mountain because they would be performing an experiment today. Why, yes I would love to come!

We went up the mountain (close to where my Longyearbyen coils are located). There are two EISCAT incoherent scattering radar dishes and SPEAR a radar heating array. The scattering radar detects properties about the electrons in the ionosphere - density, velocity, and temperature - which is mainly used to tell us things about aurora, but can also be useful when looking at the physics behind PiC pulsations and ducting of the PiC waves through the ionosphere.

The 32m dish. It is able to rotate and follow whatever interesting event is chosen.

The 42m dish is fixed. It is aligned along a magnetic field line.

The SPEAR radar heating array. It was recently restarted after a two year no funding hiatus.

SPEAR uses certain frequencies to create waves in the ionosphere. It does not have enough power to create aurora, but it can cause ULF waves which are detected by the magnetometers. SPEAR only has a certain number of frequencies it can utilize so as to not interfere with other communication frequencies. This poses a problem such as today the ionosphere was right below 4 MHz, but the lowest frequency we could use was 4.5 MHz which means SPEAR could not interact with the ionosphere. The radar it was sending up had too much power and was blowing right on through. It is a 'goldielocks' situation. The plasma of the ionosphere has to be just right or no interaction happens.

We do science! By that it means - they look at computer screens and hope that everything works. If a piece of equipment does not work, then we hit it with a hammer and hope that everything works.

Thus ends my Svalbard travels! I am looking forward to sleeping in my own bed, looking after my garden, and getting fresh vegetables. Hurrah for a successful trip!

20 July 2010

Isfjord Radio

I meant to link to The Oatmeal yesterday with his piece about riding Polar Bears. Polar bears are scary. Below are pictures of a polar bear hanging out around the buildings of Isfjord Radio.

I went out to look at my coils accompanied by someone with a gun and a bird stick. The terns did not give us too much trouble. The coils were still buried and not posing any problems.

I was unable to set up an internet connection for our system. We are going to ask someone from UNIS to download the data for us from time to time so we don't have to go out every year. Since I downloaded the data and it looked great, the coils were good, and I couldn't do anything about the internet, I caught the boat going back to Longyearbyen today instead of Friday.

On the boat ride, we took a detour and went to see a glacier up close. While we were taking pictures part of the glacier collapsed. The guide drove the boat away quickly in case the part breaking away caused a large wave (not too big) or came for us (did not happen). It was pretty amazing to see the glacier up close and personal. Apparently the glaciers on Svalbard 'surge' and recede. The glaciers are frozen to the ground on the bottom and therefore can't move. Each winter more snow piles on top than what melts during the summer. Eventually, the glacier can't take all the weight and it surges forward. The friction caused by the glacier moving along the ground causes it to melt and be proceeded by a large amount of water. The surging can reach speeds of 25 m / day, but usually is much lower than that. Eventually the glacier is thin enough and it refreezes to the ground to begin the process again.

Take note of the outcropping on the left:

Know what you no longer see?

The outcropping is not there. There was a couple of spurts of water coming out from underneath it directly before collapsing. It was amazing.

From 2010-07-20

Maybe I'll be back sometime in the coming years. Or not, but I was really grateful for the opportunity to come out and do this field work! It was great. I am now trying to find a flight home sooner than next Monday.

19 July 2010

Isfjord Radio

I have now made it to the farthest western settlement of Svalbard. In order to arrive here, I had to travel by open boat for 2.5 hours. We were given survival suits which is a bright orange water proof/wind proof suit with built in rubber boots. We were also given big warm hats, gloves, and ski goggles. When I arrived, I thought I was not going to be able to have feeling in my toes ever again. Riding close to a river that flows into the Bering Sea / Arctic Ocean is really really cold.

It was also really beautiful. There is a set of cliffs the sea birds have inhabited and they, shall we say, fertilize the cliffs so it is the only place around with greenery.

The Russians used to mine coal along this coast until the 1960s. There is still evidence of their settlements. There is a law in Svalbard that any sign of human activity on the island before 1945 is not to be disturbed - they are cultural monuments.

I had no idea how many birds come up for the short arctic summers. It was amazing to see birds match pace with our boat as we rode through the fjord.

So, yes, yes the ride was beautiful and cold. But why am I here? We do not have a static IP address set up for our system out here. That means we cannot automatically download data everyday. We have no idea how the system is doing until we go out and check on it. I am here to download the data as well as to try and set up an internet connection of some sort.

Our data acquisition system resides in the closet of the 'honeymoon suite'. It is a cabin about 100 feet away from the the main building.

When I went to check on the system, it appeared that everything was functioning normally and that I might not have to do any hardware manipulation. Yay! The plots below show the Isfjord Radio station as compared to Longyearbyen.

Longyearbyen is on the left and Isfjord Radio on the right. The plots are quite similar, with a little bit of noise on the ISR one. It appears that the coils are working just fine and my main mission is to try and come up with a way to get the data to us regularly. The cabin where the acquisition system is located does not have ethernet or wireless internet. Tomorrow is the day to figure out the best option for getting the data from one place to another. The future is pretty cool. I can get into a system halfway across the world, but only if that system has a wire connecting it to the wall. How limited I am by this!

One last thing, this evening after dinner, I was getting ready to go out and take a picture of our coils. I had my bird stick and hard hat (the arctic terns are fiercely defending nests here as well!), when I heard a commotion from the lounge area. Everyone was gathered by the windows and they beckoned me to look out. There was a polar bear walking nigh 200 feet from the main building!

Needless to say, I did not go out and check on my coils. I am going to try and stay inside as much as possible over my remaining days here. I was told that I should not travel the 100 feet to the house where my acquisition system is without a gun. I have never shot a gun before! I believe they are going to equip me with a flare gun if I need to go out again. I also hope that I can persuade someone to accompany me. It turns out that polar bears are real.