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!