Under Pressure

Two week fieldwork special, as promised.

Week 1: The Kjell Henriksen Observatory (KHO).

12711110_10207045424245726_2717393570331282730_o.jpg
The Geophysics Masters 17 squashed into the back of the belt wagon. Photo credit: Mikko Syrjäsuo

KHO is an optical observatory which contains more than 25 optical instruments and also has more non-optical instruments on site. The instruments here study the middle to upper polar atmosphere and monitor the aurora. It’s located at an altitude of 520m some distance from town. The last bit of the journey had to be completed by belt wagon due to the conditions further up the mountain. This was done in two shifts due to the size of the group, but we obviously all tried squeezing in after the last trip of the week.

 

12705456_10207004045971295_3585530393152939687_n
It wasn’t that bad, we had a sofa to chill on whilst we were waiting for the second belt wagon shift. Photo credit: Lloyd Woodham.

We learnt how to use the ACE data to predict the time it would take for an aurora to reach us after the necessary criteria were fulfilled in the data chart. The main criterion we look for is the Bz component to turn South i.e the red line at the top dips below the dotted line (to see the data more clearly, change the duration to 2 hours). Monday and Tuesday were spent touring all the equipment in the observatory and learning all about them and how they work and monitoring the aurora in the downtime (amongst other activities, eg: hangman).

DSC_0056.JPG
Me predicting aurora (maybe). Photo credit: Jack Jenkins

Wednesday was calibration day. We had the daunting task of helping to calibrate 3 of the instruments at KHO, a job which is only done once a year on these instruments! This also meant lots of outside time on the roof moving a big white board (it was a little more sophisticated than simply a white board, but I can’t remember the correct name) over the instruments in need of calibration. It went well though, the report back from Pål was that the numbers indicated a good calibration (thankfully, as they told us before that a calibration had never had to be redone thanks to student’s incompetence, something we didn’t want to buck the trend on). The meridian scanning photometer (MSP) was calibrated on Thursday. We didn’t have too much to do with this one (and it’s calibrated once a week anyway). We then got to look at pretty aurora and eclipse pictures and videos.

12747363_10208693159995052_4004235180520201558_o
Team photo under the aurora. Photo credit: Mikko Syrjäsuo

During the week, we saw aurora 3 out of the 4 nights we were there (all pretty much correctly predicted after our practice on Monday night). Tuesday night, it began to cloud over later on and we unfortunately missed a pretty would-have-been spectacular auroral substorm, but we still had some pretty good views up at the KHO anyway. We also got some incredible sightings of the Milky Way from up there. Due to equipment sensitivity, we weren’t allowed to use headlamps and there are no outdoor lights so there was no light pollution from out immediate surroundings.

Week 2: EISCAT Svalbard Radar

The European Incoherent Scatter (EISCAT) radar in Svalbard, one of 10 incoherent scatter radars, and one of three highest standard facilities operated by the EISCAT Scientific Association. The EISCAT Svalbard Radar has a stationary 42m diameter dish which is field aligned and a movable 32m dish.

 

We were able to get to EISCAT by car only, so this cut the travel time down as we could all get straight there in one go. For this week, we had to split into groups of 3 and decide on an experiment. Throughout the week, everyone got to run their experiments for two hours using the radar. One group would always be in the control room with the group doing to experiment to run the computers controlling the data, whilst everyone else would stay in the kitchen and watch analyse the data coming through (and cook pizza).

It was cloudy all week so we didn’t see any aurora, but my group experiment was to point the radar South and monitor the auroral oval and we managed to pick up the expected data for an aurora during our two hour experiment through the clouds. Getting to choose an experiment to run, then use this radar to collect our own data was a really incredible experience. I felt so lucky to have been given that opportunity whilst I am here.

I got to move that 32m radar during my experiment, I felt powerful (if not also slightly terrified). I also got to turn off a couple of the transmitters (it involved turning a switch and pulling a big leaver, this also made me feel powerful).

We would always arrive about an hour before transmitting begun (the radar would run between 18:00 and 22:00 UT every evening). On one of the evenings, we were allowed to go and climb inside the 42m dish!

12711226_10207051714802986_4868229697314621347_o.jpg
Most of AGF-304 standing inside the 42m dish. Photo credit: Lloyd Woodham.

It was a pretty special two weeks, filled with Physics and fun (and pizza and partybrus).

Here’s a group photo at the EISCAT Radar control room with Kjellmar and and Anja:

7B0A2464
Ice nerds with Anja and Kjellmar. Photo credit: Anja Strømme.

Next time, hear all about my last two weekends of trips. I don’t want to overload too much in one post!

For now, enjoy my incredibly cheesy video of my time so far in Svalbard. Svalbard: The Journey So Far.

Skål!

Advertisements

The Cave

“I am serious… and don’t call me Shirley.” – Dr. Rumack (Leslie Nielsen), Airplane

One month gone, already. It’s definitely been a bit up and down emotionally. Every so often, mostly whenever I’m outside and it’s incredibly windy, cold, and I’m tired, I think to myself “What the hell am I doing here?!” (censored version, as requested by mother). I mean, the arctic is a pretty hostile environment anyway. It’s not easy to live here.

On the flip side, the more permanent thought running through my head is how incredible this place is. It’s so unique and absolutely stunning. I’m studying some great modules out here in a beautiful place. It’s such an incredible opportunity, and one that I was really keen to be given as soon as I heard it was possible all those years ago on the Aberystwyth University open day.  I feel even more excited that, in nearly 7 weeks, I get to show my family and Tom what an amazing place I’ve been living in.

I spent the first 3 days of this week barely being able to walk properly, thanks to the plateau hike destroying the top of my calves with every step that I tried to lift my tired feet out of the snow. I made use of the free swim that the gym offers to students Monday-Wednesday from 7 to 8am on Tuesday and Wednesday. It was pretty important I started to make use of this offer after buying a new swimming costume and goggles last week. It’s great, but does make an early start!

Thursday was pretty special. It was the last day of lectures for the next two weeks, we had Friday off and we have two weeks of field work starting Monday. After the lectures, I was allowed to finally move back to Barrack 11, for good this time!

DSC_0260.png
Image Credit: Jack Jenkins

Whilst I’ve been here, I constantly check the KHO all sky camera to see if there is an aurora visible. Thursday evening, we saw an incredible aurora. I unfortunately don’t have the camera and equipment out here to photograph something like that, but I went outside in my pjs for about half an hour just watching it. I was out the back of the barracks and lost a lot of the light pollution, I’ve never seen so many stars! Above is a picture by Jack taken that night to show the beautiful aurora and stars that evening.

The images below show screenshots from the KHO skycam taken just before I went outside. This all sky camera can be found here. Best to check it after about 4pm when it’s darker.

Oh yeah, “Lucy face” has now become a thing. A lovely, gormless face which I seem to naturally pull. So any photo taken of me when I’m not expecting it tends to show classic “Lucy face”. Thank you to Kieran.

G0360547.jpg
The Friday mini trip out the back of Longyearbyen.

Friday was great because we had the day off. I got to lie in, go for a wonder out the back with Kieran, Jack, Lloyd and Heather and get some good photos then come back and a few of us had pre drinks before Friday Gathering. Tip: No matter how fun it seems, do not put a bottle of wine in a water bottle with a built in straw. (Especially when that water bottle can hold an entire bottle of wine).

After a great Saturday of laziness in the barrack 11 kitchen watching rubgy and airplane and complaining about the take away we ordered, Sunday was a lot more eventful. I went with Jack, Heather, Noel and Alex to explore the ice cave on the glacier Larsbreen. On the way up, we discovered a little man made snow cave which we took a little coffee break in.

DSC_0020_11.JPG
Mini snow cave

I must admit, after seeing photos of people who went to the ice cave before, I thought there was no way I would be to do that. It looked incredibly small and the steep downhill (and narrow) entrance looked terrifying. When the suggestion of going to see an ice cave came up, I didn’t realise we’d properly be going into this same ice cave (I guess I’d hoped it would be a different, more spacious cave). But no, we arrived and I saw this small cave entrance with a steep downhill and began to get very scared.

DSC_0035_8
The ice cave entrance on Larsbreen with Longyearbyen below

A few encouraging words from Noel and a slow decent in the middle of the group, and I started to feel much better. Once I begun to head down it open out slightly and it wasn’t too far until it flattened out. I then realised my toes were far too cold and I was struggling to move them, so I got to spend the next 10 minutes lying on the floor with my feet on Heather’s stomach to warm them back up. It worked a charm, it was then onwards into the cave.

DCIM100GOPROG0420619.
Chilling in the ice cave. From the left: Jack, Noel, Alex, Heather, me 🙂

Noel (geologist, loves glaciers and rocks) was running around having multiple “geogasms”… He was like an excited puppy, it was incredible. He would regularly disappear round a corner and we’d just hear a strange combination of noises as he spotted more features. It was absolutely beautiful in there, so who could blame him anyway.

There were multiple occasions of ducking and turning sideways. We also had one opportunity to head off course and climb up a small ledge. It was pretty narrow, but it was pretty high which made it feel a bit more spacious. It’s only possible to go to a certain point without your own climbing ropes, and so after about 45 minutes we’d gone as far as we could. We came back up to have a small amount of light and walked back down to Longyearbyen. This was a fantastic trip, made even more special by the fact that I felt like I achieved something after being a bit scared of the cave beforehand.

Jack also put a lovely video together of our day in the ice cave, find it here.

The next two weeks are field work! All day off so that we can stay up late in the observatory. First stop, KHO!

Skål!