Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The End of the ICE-MITT Tour

Pretty mountains (sketchy driving though)
Thank you for joining me on this wild and crazy 2 month long expedition.  We are back at Dartmouth after 6 weeks in Barrow, AK, and a long 2-week 4,700 mile journey across Canada and the USA.  I apologize for the lack of posting during the road trip.  Excuses can include 10 hours of non-stop driving, waking up early to pack all the gear, extreme exhaustion, lack of internet, etc.  Or realistically, it was simply a bit of burn-out.  The one thing it was not though, was a lack of beautiful scenery and exciting stories as the road trip was pretty epic.  Looking back at the last two weeks, a few observations:

Starting the road trip in Fairbanks, AK went well and Fairbanks is a pretty awesome city.  University of Alaska, Fairbanks (UAF) has a small ski park complete with jumps and rails right on campus.  There are awesome snowshoeing/cross-country ski trails all around campus.  It was daunting jumping into the truck with 3 of us and Nukka crammed into the cab about to start 4,700 miles of driving, but also exciting at the same time.

So many great ski lines
Never stay in a town called Destruction Bay.  Poor choice on our part.  Things were going very smoothly (wow... I still can't believe I was able to say that) right up until this evening in Yukon Territories.  It was pretty warm this evening and we awoke to find out that we can't keep the generators running through the night.  Although the exhaust was being piped out the back of the Uhaul, the generators still made too much heat and the back of the truck was around 90 ºF.  Although the ICE-MITTs well exceeded all expectations, it was simply a bit too challenging trying to maintain the desired temperature gradient in that climate.  Thus, we slowly began witnessing our first major uncontrolled temperature fluctuations.  Our solution was to minimize the time the generators were running and anytime we weren't on the road, we plugged into wall outlets (surprisingly easy to find at hotels despite a few interesting but minor mishaps).  We also experimented with using dry ice to cool the back, but it was simply too large of a space for the amount of dry ice we could obtain.  In the future, we need to either cut a hole for venting in the truck (Uhaul probably wouldn't be too happy) or find a refrigerated truck.  We did keep the back of the truck door partially opened and tied together with rope.  Canadians, true to their reputation of being overly friendly/helpful, continuously tried waving us down on the highway to let us know that the back was open.  The first few times I was concerned that perhaps the generators were falling out the back.  Eventually, though, it got old pretty fast and was difficult to let people know that we were not purposely ignoring their dire warnings.

Little kids pretending to be polar scientists
The Yukon is beautiful.  It was such torture though being on such a time crunch and also not having my skis.  Around every turn was a mountain more beautiful than the last.  Ellyn and I were nearly drooling the whole way picking out which ski lines we would take.  I know British Columbia is quite beautiful as well, although the section we drove through was quite flat.  Edmonton, AB was a well needed break point and our first opportunity (of many) to share our work with the general public.  We stopped at the Telus World of Science museum and setup our demo/display for people to enjoy.  It was such a blast sharing our adventures from the last 2 months and letting kids try on our Arctic clothing and play with the corer and real sea ice.

Entering the USA in North Dakota was our first sign that we indeed were making good progress.  It was fun meeting up with friends now that we passed along the way.  We also had countless incredible interactions with teachers and their classrooms as we continued the trek back to Dartmouth.  Once the Uhaul finally pulled into campus last week, I think we were all thoroughly exhausted.  Although there was some loss of the precise temperature gradient in the sea ice, we were pretty psyched to still have Arctic sea ice after such a long adventure.  The number of obstacles/challenges we overcame is simply staggering.  We turned off the generators for the final time, loaded all of the ICE-MITTs into a cold room at the med school, cleaned up our disaster we had created in the back of the Uhaul, and enjoyed a weekend off... finally.

Why did the bison cross the road?
Or so we thought...  It turns out that the cold room in the med school failed that first night and turned the cold room into a sauna, thereby melting all of our sea ice.  Although this was indeed a bit of a dagger to the heart (losing our ice at this point after overcoming so much), it is important to keep things in perspective before anyone starts sending any condolences.  As a science project, we may not have the desired results.  However, as an engineering project, the ICE-MITT tour was an incredible success.  Our invention worked!  We showed that we could maintain a temperature gradient in sea ice, even in a room temperature environment.  The proof of concept represents a major step forward for transporting sea ice for future analysis.  We had also prepared ourselves for total ICE-MITT failure by taking extra sea ice cores and shipping them isothermally with FedEx prior to leaving Barrow.  Thus, we can still perform microstructural analysis with microCT on these cores that are now safely in the Thayer cold rooms.

Sadly, this does represent the end of my 3rd (and potentially final) field season at Dartmouth.  However, the adventures and stories I've had during these 3 expeditions will remain with me forever.  Plus, knowing my interests, I'm sure I'll find my way back to one of the poles, if not both, at some point in the future.  Until then, so long.

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