Archive for the ‘Courtney Hammond’ Category

During the 2012 IGERT Field Seminar in Greenland, the all-female cohort 3 was introduced to this promotional video, put out by the European Commission as a part of a campaign to inspire more young women to get involved in science.

The controversial video has since been taken off the European Commission campaign website, but not before sparking some lively debate.  The discussion in Greenland amongst cohort 3 about the video and the role of women in science inspired us to make our own version of Science: It’s a girl thing!.

And so we proudly present:  Science in Greenland: It’s a Girl Thing

What do you think about the European Commission video and our take on women in science?  Despite the controversy surrounding the video, the European Commission has a really cool website for their Science: It’s a girl thing!  campaign.  Check it out: http://science-girl-thing.eu/en.

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*written by Ross Virginia*

Today was the First Annual Running of the Muskus (Musk ox) in Kangerlussuaq. Conceived by Audrey Jo Mills and her friends at Polar Services and the community members, this 5K and half marathon run raised about $3,000 for the local school. My role as a volunteer was to help set up the BBQ that followed the race and to cheer for the finishers, who ranged from IGERTs in panda and unicorn attire to a woman pushing a baby buggy with a beaming passenger. The runners were transported on the road leading to the ice edge with a staggered start to allow everyone to finish at about the same time. The weather was perfect and all runners were accounted for.

Team IGERT claimed first in the women’s divisions for the half marathon and the 5K! (I need to brag here, they are both members of my lab group- way to go Pandas). I’ve witnessed many polar races at McMurdo Station, Antarctica. It’s wonderful to see a new tradition born at Kangerlussuaq. The event brought together scientists, the Air National Guard, and the community for fun and a good cause.

Another great day in Greenland.

Team IGERT comes together at the finish line!

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As someone who studies glaciers, I associate the Polar Regions with blue glacier ice and incomprehensibly large, flat, white expanses.  The “Arctic” does not conjure images of anything living, with the exception of the people who live on the rare spots of ice-free land, the mosquitoes that I’m always grateful to escape once on the ice itself, and the polar bears which, in my experience so far, have been only an abstract threat.  (Last year when Lee Corbett, Erich Osterberg, Eric Lutz, and I were in Thule, three bears wandered onto the Air Force Base, but operations quickly called a lockdown.  No one was allowed outside until the threat was “removed.”)

The Arctic, I learned last week, is teeming with wildlife, much of it barely visible (if that) to the human eye or covertly thriving in dense vegetation.  We spent two separate modules on organismal biology, the first in aquatic ecology under the tutelage of expert IGERT fellow Jess and the second in population ecology and herbivory with Matt Ayres.

Jess teaching the cohort about Arctic aquatic ecology. (Photo: Giese)

Jess’ classroom was a lake adjacent to the ice sheet margin, and her zeal about both the location and the organisms we found engendered excitement among the biologists and non-biologists alike.  She talked to us about the aquatic food web and thermal lake stratification, describing that lakes typically have three layers: the epilimnion (surface layer), metalimnion (middle layer, AKA thermocline), and hypolimnion (bottom layer) that vary by density.  She then had us see what we could catch in nets along the lake edge.  We put on comically large waders; scooped up water, slime, and small plants; and dumped our findings into plastic buckets to see what was moving.

Students examine their findings from the edge of the lake. (Photo: Ayres)

One of the most ubiquitous organisms we found was the diving beetle, Colymbetes dolabratus, the mosquito’s greatest enemy (I liked this thing instantly when I heard that).  We found it both in adult form and in larva stage, which I was surprised to learn was even larger.  Other notable findings were Chironomids, midges whose eyes and internal features we could see with a hand lens or macroscope once pipetted onto slides.  Some of them were even red because their blood was oxygenated.  We could see their guts filled with food, which they frequently passed.  Their circus-like, rapid flipping movement impressed those of us who had never seen such a thing before!  Apparently, these creatures, which looked a lot like worms to me, will turn into flies someday.

Chironomid larvae. (Photo: Giese)

Other organisms we collected included ubiquitous mites, zooplankton-like Daphnia, fairy shrimp, and cyanobacteria (one of which closely resembled Gloeotrichia, a species Jess and lab her labmates study back in the Upper Valley!).  Watch for upcoming posts on the shrimp and cyanobacteria from Chelsea and Jess, respectively.

Our specimen collection didn’t end with the near-shore ecology; an inflatable boat took us out into the center of the lake to collect profiles of temperature, conductivity, pH, and dissolved oxygen.  Unfortunately, the high winds precluded us from keeping the boat in a single spot, and they led to so much mixing that the multiprobe readings reflected zero stratification.  Nevertheless, the boat trip was instructive for the non-aquatic ecologists in terms of providing a sense of typical measurements.  A net we dragged behind the boat did yield some interesting finds; Jess bottled up the zooplankton from the lake center to take back to Hanover and examine in more detail.

Ali, Steph, and Jess lowering the plankton net from the Zodiak boat. (Photo: Ayres)

Water isn’t the only home of Arctic animals, and we spent part of the next day searching for organisms that live on land.  We had already established that our environment supported only 5 mammals—musk ox, caribou, Arctic fox, Arctic hare, and humans—most of which are vegetarians.  But it turns out that they’re not the only herbivores in the tundra!

Matt brought us out into a vegetated field and showed us to how to find the smaller herbivores, which make up in cumulative biomass what they lack in individual size.  We were looking specifically for caterpillars, which had a huge population boom last year.  We heard stories from IGERT cohort II about how these creatures were all over their tents and how it was difficult to walk without stepping on them!  We hadn’t seen any caterpillars yet, but the abundance of overgrazed (i.e. dead) Betula nana was evidence that cohort II hadn’t been exaggerating.

We marched through the vegetation, swinging wildly at the leaves with our nets.

Lee catching bugs in the tundra. (Photo: Corbett)

We then examined our collection…and here began the fun part.  Before the bugs scampered or flew away, we had to catch them by sucking them into a sample bottle (a process called aspiration).  Because there’s a screen between the mouth tube and the sample bottle, it is impossible to have a critter end up in your mouth, but it still took some of us a little while to get used to.

Matt demonstrating the aspiration technique. (Photo: Giese)

Lee, Steph, and Chelsea collected these insects.  Note the caterpillars in the lower left, stuck together with spider web. (Photo: Corbett)

We found surprisingly few caterpillars; Jess and I found a rough total of five in eight net sweeps.  Instead of caterpillars, spiders appeared to comprise the majority of small creatures in the tundra vegetation.  But this begged a question: since spiders are not eating the plants, what are they eating?  We came up with a few hypotheses, the most promising of which seemed to be that they were eating each other (I didn’t know spiders could be cannibals).  Isotope analysis back in Hanover would tell us for sure; because organisms preferentially excrete the lighter form of nitrogen (N-14), heavier nitrogen (N-15) builds up in tissues.  This means that the primary producers (plant-eaters) have relatively low levels of heavy nitrogen while animals farther up the food chain have increasing concentrations of it.  We’d expect all organisms at the same “trophic level” to have about the same concentrations, but if the spiders are eating each other, there will be greater variation than normally expected (since they’re eating each other as well as below their trophic level).  Little did I know that isotopes could tell us about spider diets as well as past climates and glacial extents!

After the insect and spider lesson, we ventured over to the ice sheet to explore two different parts of its margin.  But I returned to the ice with a much greater appreciation of the myriad of dynamic systems at work on the world’s largest island.

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Greetings once again – what a week we IGERTs have had! Our communication has been limited the past week as we’ve been immersed in our latest adventure, 5 nights of camping at the ice margin! We’ve now arrived back in Kangerlussuaq, where we’ll spend a couple days re-grouping before our flight on Monday to the capital city, Nuuk.

Until then, we thought we’d give you a little recap on how we spent our days on this past camping excursion!

Saturday, July 28

Goodbye Kangerlussuaq: Saturday morning we piled our personal packs, tubs of food, shovels, bug nets, microscopes, soil drill and inflatable zodiac boat into the back of two diesel trucks, and we started our journey up the long, winding dirt road to the ice margin!

Admiring the view of Long Lake. Photo courtesy M. Ayres.

Long Lake, en route to our campsite. Photo courtesy M. Ayres.

The group hikes out to one of Julia’s field sites along the edge of Long Lake. Photo courtesy M. Ayres.

Our first stop was a visit to the field site where fellow IGERT student, Julia Bradley-Cook, is currently conducting research on the effects of factors such as moisture and vegetation type on soil respiration.

Julia demonstrates to the group how she and field assistant and Dartmouth graduate, Courtney Hammond, have been using an special infared gas analyzer, or IRGA, to measure soil respiration. Photo courtesy M. Ayres.

After this, we pulled off the road in awe of the scenery at a site known as Sea Horse Lake. We were pleased to discover that this backdrop of interconnected, glacially fed lakes and rolling moraines was in fact our campsite!

Thanks to the amazing work of the KISS and CPS (CH2M HILL Polar Services) staff, in addition to our personal tents, our camp was complete with  warm, wind-resistant Arctic oven tents – so we had one designated kitchen tent, and one which we outfitted with microscopes, text books, and a whiteboard as our laboratory/classroom!

View of campsite by Sea Horse Lake. Not a bad place to call home. Photo courtesy M. Ayres.

Our kitchen tent, with menu featuring the meal of the evening.

Classroom tent, about to be used to identify aquatic organisms.

Sunday, July 29

Soils galore: After a hearty breakfast of oatmeal, dried fruit, and French-pressed coffee, we headed to the moraines behind our camping site, where we got down and dirty in the tundra soil. Our resident soil experts, Chelsea and Julia, taught us how to takes soil cores, dig pits, interpret soil layers, and – thanks to Chelsea’s powerful auger and her professional drilling skills – even experienced drilling into the permafrost!

Chelsea and Steph steady the auger into place as they prepare to take a soil core. Photo courtesy M. Ayres.

Working as a team, the group spent the day collecting soil cores from 10 different sites. We took turns drilling, digging, measuring vegetation, sifting, weighing, and collecting soil layers, which they will take back to the lab at Dartmouth to ask questions about the biochemistry of the different soil layers, and carbon storage of the tundra.

Monday, July 30

Arctic limnology: This morning, we rolled up the road about 10 minutes to the beautiful setting for two small lakes. Here we pumped up our inflatable zodiac and donned our waders to study the plants and animals living in these arctic lakes. Battling the extreme winds that day made taking plankton samples and water chemistry measurements from the boat quite an epic journey! But we couldn’t have asked for a better backdrop. And we found some exciting species, which we will be sure to blog about in more detail soon.

The zodiac team uses a multiparameter probe to take water chemistry measurements, such as temperature, pH, conductivity, and dissolved oxygen. Photo courtesy M. Ayres.

Jess, Steph, and Ali paddle back in to shore. Photo courtesy M. Ayres.

Tuesday, July 31

Edge of the ice: After some seriously stellar discussions led by our very own Lee and Ali on glaciology and glacial geomorphology, we spent Tuesday hiking and exploring the landscape at ice margin. Walking through the moraine rubble we reached the ice edge, where we could actually see the transition from sediment, to films of sediment frozen in the ice, finally to solid ice extending as far as the eye could see. The features were amazing – ranging from quickly moving meltwater resembling wild winding ice luges, to deep murky holes of flowing water called moulins, which reached indeterminate depths.

Lee and Ali prepare the group for the day by describing the physics of glacial movements and the many ways in which they shape the landscape. Photo courtesy M. Ayres.

The group treks to the ice edge. Photo courtesy M. Ayres.

Wednesday, Aug 1

Spiders, calving, and Jerry Garcia: For our last full day, we started by delving into theoretical population ecology, and then applying it to the field by examining local insect populations on our way to the Russell Glacier. We all practiced proper sweep netting technique to catch a variety of insects, which we then aspirated into jars to examine under the microscope later. What a boom we found in the spider population since last year – more on this later!

We stopped once more along the way through what is known as Vulgaris Valley after the aquatic plant found in the ponds there, Hiparus Vulgaris. Here we discussed the effects of factors like temperature, landscape morphology, moisture, and organisms on soil formation, carbon storage, and how these processes connect to the global carbon budget.

The group discusses factors affecting soil formation, such as temperature, moisture, and relief. Photo courtesy M. Ayres.

We then hiked to the edge of the Russell Glacier, where truck-sized blocks of ice regularly break off and plummet into the icy waters below, a process known as calving. With front row seats and icy wind stinging our faces, we were all humbled by the magnitude of this active material. It was a show we will never forget.

The group settles in for a million dollar view.

A tiny IGERT-er perches to give a sense of scale. Photo courtesy S. Gregory.

Finally, we concluded the evening with an annual commemorative IGERT procession to the top of the Sea Horse moraine. Here, we marveled at the panorama of ice sheet views, and paid tribute to the late, great renaissance music man, Jerry Garcia. Happy 70th , Jerry, all the way from Greenland!

The moon made a special appearance two days in a row. We’re pretty sure it was for Jerry. Photo courtesy M. Ayres.

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When the C-130 plane touched down on the Greenland Ice Sheet, its landing skis cracked and crushed the icy surface of the ‘ski-way’, jolting passengers from their reveries and their seats. Despite my earplugs and the otherwise-deafening roar of the plane, I could still hear the skis grind through icy, hard-packed snow as we taxied to the field station. We had arrived at the highest point of the Greenland Ice Sheet—3,200 meters above sea level.  Even though conversation was impossible through the noise, the anticipation and excitement of the students and summit crew was palpable. We silently sprung into action putting on our final warm layers, fetching and securing packs and then impatiently glancing and smiling at each other until the plane stopped and the door opened. We stepped out into the freezing, white territory one by one—still in eerie silence due to our ear protection—boots crunching on the snow, walking slowly in the thin air to the “Big House.”

Arriving at Summit Station. Photo by Courtney Hammond.



Quentin Watson (left), Chef, and Ken Jessen, Camp Manager.

The “Big House” is the center of activity at summit, hosting a large kitchen, numerous tables for congregation, a futon, the manager’s office, and an extremely sunny bathroom (I’ve never needed sunglasses to brush my teeth before). The building sits atop tall, metal stilts, which, on good days, keeps it above winter snowdrifts. When we arrived from our flight, the house was warm and smelled like delicious food—the first of many incredibly tasty meals we would indulge in at summit. After lunch we were given instructions from the camp manager, Ken, about general rules of living/surviving at summit. These rules ranged from making sure to wash hands or use sanitizer before every meal and at every possible opportunity (there was sanitizer conveniently stashed in every corner of camp), to using the highest level of caution and sense at all times, as being evacuated from camp, is, well, highly undesirable and risky. Next, we heard instructions about staying healthy from the medic, Ben, who is a part of the incoming IGERT cohort. After the logistics talks and welcomes adjourned, we were set loose at camp.

“Big House” at Summit. Photo by Courtney Hammond.

It was vast, silent (save for the tractors moving snow during the day), and white-to-grey, depending on the sky. While bamboo flagpoles permeated the immediate area of camp— marking walkways, science equipment, and boundaries—the extent of flat, unadulterated snow past the summit encampment was truly astounding. We had plenty of time to ponder the grandeur of it all while we took turns working inside the pit. To keep warm during our outdoor sampling stints that would last 3-4 hours at a time, we made videos, took pictures, learned a tap dance routine and sometimes trekked back to the big house for a quick cup of tea. The temperature hovered around -18 C throughout our stay, with winds coming and going and the sun ever-present.

July 21, 2012-2

“Walking into the Expanse” by Courtney Hammond.

The transition between nighttime and daytime hours gets blurred at the poles since it is light all the time during summer. However, the temperature was noticeably colder when I would walk across the snowfield to “tent city” at bedtime. Orange tents in perfect rows are set up at one edge of camp, and researchers and students visiting summit sleep there during their stays. Since we were the only researchers visiting at the time, we each had our own palatial “Arctic Oven,” which has a layer of insulation to trap solar energy during the day. Since our first three days at summit were overcast, we did not have such luxury of a toasty tent at night.  My personal sleeping accommodation consisted of a cot, a hot water bottle at the foot of my sleeping bag, a fleece liner, and a -20 F sleeping bag (I may have also put my own zero-degree bag over my cot as extra comfort—psychological comfort, if anything). Between the tent flapping viciously in the wind, the blinding sunlight (it seemed sunnier inside the bright orange tent than out!), the high elevation, and the bitter cold, sleeping did not come naturally to me on the first night at summit. It was my first night sleeping on the Arctic ice ever, and it was all completely foreign—including the choice method of peeing in a water bottle in the middle of the night as alternative to trekking to the outhouse.


“Tent City”

By the 3rd night, however, I was STOKED. What an amazing, simple, lifestyle. When  ‘home’ is a little arctic hut, and the day’s duties include collecting snow and firn samples with the goal of better understanding the Earth’s past climate, a unique rhythm can set in, both individually and within the group. Upon leaving summit, the only illness I feared I was getting was what our professor, Ross Virginia calls “Arctic Fever”—the need to return year after year after year for this totally unsurpassed feeling of adventure, camaraderie and discovery.

Igirls at Summit

Excited to be Women in Science. Photo by Courtney Hammond.

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While Steph’s permeability measurements (see the post from July 23) served as our chief scientific focus on the ice given their direct relevance to her dissertation work, they were far from the only in-situ data we collected.  We measured many standard physical properties (stratigraphy, density, temperature, etc.) in the 1.4-meter deep snow pit to gain both practice with field instruments and familiarity with snow properties.  In addition, I elected to take hourly temperature measurements to complement data I am analyzing in my current project.

1) A qualitative look at the pit “stratigraphy” (layering of the snow):

Ali looking at Layers
 Ali and Jess looking at layers of “hoar,” comprised of very coarse and porous grains.

We looked at the snow from top to bottom, observing changes in its appearance and labeling it on a spectrum from coarse to fine.  Steph has experience characterizing snow coarseness from the Antarctic firn cores she analyzes and shared her knowledge with the group.  Lee also conducted a “hardness test” by looking at the relative depths to which she could push a pencil into the snow with the same force.

2) Density: We measured the density of the snow continuously from the surface to the base of the snow pit with a small, sharp metal tool.  We generally expect density to increase with depth (as more and more snow builds up, the underlying snow compacts), but the density values and amount of change vary between sites and times of year.

The metal tool cuts into the snow, leaving a 3-cm high rectangle in the pit wall.  We measured the weight of the extracted snow on a balance and divided that by the known volume of the tool to give density.

Density Measurement
Chelsea handing Lee the density cutter filled with snow, ready for weighing.

The pit wall with holes left from density measurements.

3) Temperature: Nine thermometers placed in the pit wall provided a temperature profile with depth.  I elected to take regular readings of near-surface snow temperatures in the hope that they could elucidate the source of some variability in Summit temperature data I’ve been analyzing back in Hanover.  Additionally, I was interested in seeing how deeply the daily fluctuations in temperature are “felt” in the snowpack.

Temp Log
The top five thermometers, spaced at 2, 4.5, 7, 13, and 20 cm from the surface.

Our scientific experiences in the field were complemented by talks that we’d prepared for each other (Mary gave a talk on firn which virtually the entire camp attended!) and interactions with other scientists on base.  One in particular, Kevin Hammonds, is a grad student at the University of Utah and gave us a tour of the “Mobile Science Facility” (MSF) of the Integrated Characterization of Energy, Clouds, Atmospheric state, and Precipitation at Summit (ICECAPS) project for which he is a summer technician.  He showed us the myriad of radar, LiDAR, and microwave instruments and cameras designed for looking at the microstructure of clouds and snowflakes.  Check out the cool pictures from his blog!

Being at a site of both current and past groundbreaking science was humbling in and of itself.  For those of us who study ice and climate, seeing the top of the GISP2 borehole provided a highlight of the trip:

The ice core from the Greenland Icesheet Project (GISP2) reaches two miles down to the base of the ice.  It archives over 100,000 years of Earth’s history and has provided much of what we know about climate change today.

Summit provided an ideal classroom for sharing glaciological knowledge; I think we were all bummed that our time there was so short!

Group shot at Summit
The group on the stairs of the “Big House” at Summit Station.

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Thursday was a great day for physics in Kanger! Our mighty group was fortunate to partake in a tour of the internationally recognized research facility, known as Kellyville. Located about 16km from the KISS center in Kangerlussuaq, Kellyville is a small research community operated by SRI international in cooperation with NSF and the Danish Meteorological Institute. They specialize in upper atmospheric studies, and house a wide range of instruments installed by researchers from around the world.

July 19, 2012
Approaching Kellyville, we got a nice view of the layout of this microcommunity of small houses, one main instrument building, and the large radar with parabolic dish.


Inside the main instrument building.

Our tour began with a walk through the main research building, where an on-site electrical engineer along with research engineer in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Dartmouth, David Mcgaw, explained to us how the collection of intricate instruments housed here are currently being used for atmospheric and ionospheric projects around the world. These techniques are being used to study phenomena ranging from the physics of the auroral emissions, to the dynamics of solar storms!


The indoor instrumentation was definitely amazing, however the most impressive of these instruments stood outside of the building…


The Incoherent Scatter Radar!

Equipped with a 32m steerable parabolic dish, the Incoherent Scatter Radar collects direct measurements of the ionosphere via a radar beam into the upper atmosphere.

All in all, we had a fantastic day and learned a lot about atmospheric physics!

More updates on our next adventure to follow shortly…but until then, we’d love to hear from YOU! Is there anything in particular you would like to hear more about? We welcome suggestions!

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