Wednesday 27 February 2008


COBRA is part of the International Polar Year
Anoop posing with our only IPY sticker:

Tuesday 26 February 2008


We get to the site and back in a sizable truck with 2 wheel drive. I haven't managed to get it stuck in the snow yet but I seem to be in the minority :) Trev and James Lee posing in the snow:

But some people are getting annoyed by the truck. James is ready to use an axe. Neither of the front doors now opens from the inside so we have to crawl into the back to get out. This can be interesting when dressed like the Michelin man!

Monday 25 February 2008

Out on the Ice

The ice camp includes the meteorology tower, which includes flux measurements. The first ice hole is a few metres away and will look at the emissions from the water as it freezes particularly when frost flowers grow. I thought frost flowers only grew on salty ice/snow but when we tested the frost flowers in our ice holes they are practically fresh water!

So far three holes have been made in the ice. It takes a lot of work to keep these holes open: there is usually 3 inches of ice to remove every morning. I documented Trev doing his bit to help out poor James in the evening before sunset. Frost flowers had formed in the hole. As the layer of ice wasn’t too thick, the edges of the ice are cut with an axe and the layer lifted out with a shovel. When the ice is much thicker, this delicate operation is conducted with a sledgehammer. The boys often come back to the container with the splashes of water frozen in weird shapes!

Prior to arriving here I had no idea how quickly all things can freeze. From pipes to liquids of any kind, most things do not like the cold. Metal becomes brittle, cables freeze into the shape they are left in and cable ties all snap. It has made me appreciate warm and wet Ireland all the more! At least things are designed to work there. There is not much that can survive outside here for long. I’m glad we had the patience to give our equipment enough time to warm up properly – Though not being able to do anything for the first couple of days did annoy me at the time!

Sunday 17 February 2008

Measuring OH

After a few late nights we have now installed the laser rack and aligned the laser, wired both racks together, installed the inlet on the roof (in its newly designed housing) and plumbed up all the pump lines. We have been trying to work in the evenings when we can get the container to ourselves. The container is a little cramped with the FAGE, NOxy, GC-MS, CO, Ozone and ice camp logging instruments all running and that’s before piling in the people to operate all the instruments. Aligning the laser during the day has become an extreme sport so we’re working evenings when it’s a bit quieter.

We had a power cut Friday evening. Trev and I were at the site trying to prepare for our first day of measurements and Hilke and Anoop (Team DOAS) were aligning the long-path DOAS beam. Then the generator died. After an interesting drive back into town (some truck doors do not close at -30°!), I drove our rescuers back from the pub and by 1 am we were running again. That didn’t really leave much time for sleep. OH correlates really well with solar radiation. To see concentrations of OH start to rise with dawn, we need to be measuring for about an hour before dawn. So after 4 hours sleep Lucy, Marvin, Trev and I all trudged back to the site to get measuring in time.

Thankfully all went well and it looks like we have our first OH measurements at -20°C. But it was a very, very long day. My body clock still hasn’t come back to normal. We made the decision last night to take our first day off today and it proved to be an inspired choice. Trev and I were both wrecked and barely made it to lunch. So much for doing something different on our day off – I think any day off we get will be spent trying to combat sleep deprivation!

University College Cork:
Stewart Vaughan and Jun Chen work on a cavity enhanced spectroscopy instrument to measure BrO and IO for Andy Ruth in Cork, Ireland. This is the first time the instrument has come out into the field – so if it survives here it will measure anywhere!

Saturday 16 February 2008

Hudson Bay

The weather forecasts for eastern Hudson Bay don’t seem to be very reliable at the moment and the wind has been slowly moving around us in a circle most days. So we measure clean air for a few hours (ideal) before the wind blows straight from the generator (not ideal!). Hopefully when this low pressure finally moves away we will get stronger winds from over the snow.

In the past week we had a day or two of snow before the sunny skies returned so it’s been a nice contrast. And don’t ever let anyone tell you it’s “too cold to snow”! What rubbish! It’s interesting how tuned in to the temperature we have become. There is a marked difference between -20°C and -30°C and the most obvious is frozen capillaries in your nose!

The sunsets here are magical with the light setting over Hudson Bay.
As the sunsets the shorter wavelength light (uv and purples) disappears first leaving the longer wavelengths (orange and red). This light gives the snow an eerie feel, which combined with the sound of the ice cracking and creaking as it moves, and sunset really is magic hour:

The York container (left) contains the GC-MS (halocarbons), FAGE (OH & HO2 (HOx), NOxy (NO, NO2, NOy), Ozone and CO Monitors and the ice camp base instruments.
Café Doas (right) contains the long-path and cavity enhanced DOAS instruments and some really comfy seats I brought from home, which won't fit in the York container.

Here frost flowers have grown on this tidal pool. They are really delicate ice formations and wind will destroy them. As will poking them with a long stick to see just how brittle they are - oops!

Friday 15 February 2008

Roof box woes

Trev and I were on the Discovery Cruise when the roof box to house our inlet was delivered so we didn’t have a chance to check the box for size. It turns out the roof box looks nothing like the drawings we sent to the manufacturer! So we’ve had to ditch the box and make our own inlet cover. This involved an entire day of Styrofoam, gaffa tape and hack-saws. Very scientific! But at least we now have an extremely well insulated cover to house the inlet and gating boxes. Trev was so proud he decided to brand the cover:

University of Manchester:
James Dorsey and Mike Flynn are running the Manchester kit for Martin Gallagher. They are looking at the production of particles by the halocarbons and iodine given off by freezing sea ice – particularly frost flowers. This involves digging a number of holes in the sea ice and installing a chamber over the exposed water. On a meteorology mast also out on the ice they are measuring ozone fluxes, water vapour fluxes (latent and sensible heat) and aerosol properties to name but a few. Both Mike and James spend a lot of time out on the ice!

Monday 11 February 2008

Setting up

Today was a good day. Our laser is working well - after only a brief heart-stopping moment! A routine alignment went horribly wrong and resulted in an almost total loss of power. But Trev's persistence and expertise means we are back on track and almost set to go. Tomorrow should be interesting trying to get the inlet calibrated and working on the roof. In -21 °C that should be fun!

Anoop and Hilke (DOAS) have the long path DOAS system up and running and almost have their Max-DOAS software issues sorted. Stewart & Jun (UCC, Ireland) are having similar issues. The BAS girls (below) are still waiting for a few key pieces to arrive. Karen and Marvin (GCMS) are awaiting calibration standards and the York & Manchester Boys had great fun digging a 1m x 1m hole in the ice today! By all accounts Ally is glad he will be gone before the next one has to be carved out. And I mean carved out. With a saw. Through 1 m thick ice.

It’s funny how much the temperatures drop with the night. I have put on every base layer and fleece trousers I have and I know I am still going to be cold when I wander out. It's almost enough to put you off walking to the pub! Well, almost :)

British Antarctic Survey
Helen Atkinson and Rachel Obbard work with the British Antarctic Survey (BAS).
Helen is measuring halide ion concentrations (ion chromatography) and brine volume (salinity and temperature) in sea ice and searching (so far unsuccessfully) for diatoms (photosynthetic micro-organisms) by making ice cores. Rachel is measuring the surface area of frost flowers using the BET isotherm method.