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.

16 July 2010

Longyearbyen, again

I installed the new system at Ny-Alesund and I was worried about the noise. Yesterday, I was in a rush to finish covering the system with dirt, get the new junction box in place, and figure out what was causing the noise in one of the axes. I was freaking out a little bit because that morning I had noise in both of my axes!

It appears the magnetosphere was active and I was interpreting an event for noise.

The left plot is from Longyearbyen and the right is Ny-Alesund. You can see on the Longyearbyen plot how "noisy" the magnetosphere was being during all the times I was trying to test my system. The two stations picked up the same event around 12:00UT. There is no y-axis reading on the Ny-Alesund plot because we are currently reading that coil in through the z-axis and will need to do some software changes.

So it was not a loss! Hurrah! I really enjoyed being in Ny-Alesund. I was surrounded by scientists for days. Granted most of them were biologists, but I can forgive them. The people at the Norwegian Polar Institute, where my instrument was located, were very helpful. It would not have been half as successful without their assistance. Thank you!

The 30 minute flight to and from Ny-Alesund is the most beautiful I have ever seen. It is too bad that I did not have my camera on me when we flew up, but I was sure to have it on the way back.

The 14 passenger prop plane was surprisingly free of turbulence except for bumby landings.

The view out my window:

was different than the one on the other side. There was much less snow and the rocks were a different color.

Snow! Everywhere! It looks deep!

I even made a short video. I didn't take the out the sound of the prop plane, so I would recommend muting the video or your speakers before viewing. This does not show a tenth of the beautiful land flown over.

I am now in Longyearbyen until Monday when I take off for five days to Isfjord Radio. Hmm, what to do here for three days? I'm going to see the art museum up by my room later today and maybe the airship museum as well.

14 July 2010

Last Ny-Alesund Post

Tomorrow I will be leaving Ny-Alesund. I was able to install the new coils, junction box, and sensor cables. We have been having a slight problem of one of the coils has a bunch of noise. It is the coil on the top, so we thought it might be due to wind or not being securely anchored down, but that has been eliminated. Today I will be changing out cables and/or a coil to see if we can get the noise out!

My coils partially covered in dirt and rocks.

Between the Polar Institute where I am working and my room (about a 3 minute walk), there are two nests of Arctic Terns on the ground. I haven't been dive bombed since last week, and have stopped carrying my bird stick to fend off attacks. I just find it interesting that the birds will make their nests right off of trafficked roads and not out in the bird preserves surrounding the settlement. Also, there are no trees. At all. None. After living in Oregon where there are trees everywhere it is a bit disconcerting. Wouldn't it be easier for predators to get at the nests when they are on the ground?

I finally got a picture of the terns dive bombing the resident Svalbard reindeer.

Every day it seems, there is a cruise ship that makes a shore leave here in Ny-Alesund. I didn't really understand why, there is not much to see that cannot already be seen from the boat. I found out that Ny-Alesund is of historical value because it was the jumping off point for many explorers to go to the north pole. They have a bust for Roald Amundsen, the Norwegian explorer who was the first person to reach both the North and South poles.

Have I mentioned how beautiful it is here?

A few geese and goslings looking for food. They were going right by one of the tern's nests without any trouble.

I'm off to look at the noise in the coils. I need to get it all figured out today!

08 July 2010


I have finally made it to Ny-Ålesund, although with not the right package. I picked up a package from the SAS terminal that was addressed to the person we sent it to, but apparently he had at least two big packages coming for him from out of the country. The next plane does not arrive until Monday, so I'll send this one out and receive the proper one and spend the next four days troubleshooting.

Goodbye, Longyearbyen! I'll see you in a week!

Hello Ny-Ålesund!

I am here to completely replace our induction coil system. The signal we are receiving from the system makes it look like the coils are dead.

This is bad and what we are currently receiving:

This is good and what we are receiving in Longyearbyen:

As a side note, you can notice the Pi1B events in the Longyearbyen plot. Pulsations, irregular, 0-40s period, bursty. (Yes, bursty is a technical term.) The Pi1B pulsations are what I will study for my Ph.D thesis. It is a disturbance in the magnetic field caused by any number of things: substorms, fast flows of plasma without a substorm, a disturbance in the force, etc.

Without my package you might think that I don't have a lot to do, but I do! I am troubleshooting our system to see why it failed. Today I did a visual examination of the coils.

I found this:

When it should look more like this: (Longyearbyen)

Nothing showing, no way for water or anything else to get in.

The arctic winters are harsh and the rocks and dirt placed last year could have been swept all away, so this time, we are trying to make sure nothing of the sort happens. Because when water gets in, we get corrosion.

And water does not play well with electronics:

These are pictures of the junction box which carries the signal from the two coils to the data acquisition system. The two coils are aligned to the magnetic field. One is pointed north-south and the other east-west. I have a super awesome compass to properly align the coils. Since the pulsations and waves we are interested in travel down the magnetic field lines, we want to be in the best position to pick up any signal.

Tomorrow, I am going to try and find a new tarp to place over the coils. As well as examine the coils themselves for corrosion, water leakage, or any other damage.

I have a hard time going to bed at a decent hour. With it being light outside, my body does not think it is time for bed. Thank goodness for heavy curtains.