Saturday, 13 February 2016

Fieldwork Week 1: The Kjell Henrickson Observatory (KHO)

Unsurprising tip of the week: Russians really know how to party.

This is the first time for the Aberystwyth 7, that any of us have had a chance to do some field work. Admittedly for myself, my main research area is the Sun and one cannot really take a field trip to the Sun. A shame really. BUT, the fact that the field work wasn't tied directly into the Sun didn't make it any less fun.

The schedule for each day was a late start, we would gather at UNIS for around 4:30 pm, pack up the cars and head in the direction of Mine 7, one of the still functioning coal mines on Svalbard. This is about a 10km journey but doesn't take too long. Upon arrival we have to swap to a vehicle that is capable of traversing the harsher landscape up there, known as a Belt Wagon but for all intents and purposes it's an All-Terrain-Vehicle (ATV). A short but very bumpy ride later we arrive at KHO where there is a strict low light policy to ensure that no stray light enters the equipment and saturates the detectors. We would then spend the night doing some interesting science and learning about the individual detectors, what they're used for, who they're owned by, and the like. We'd grab ourselves a pizza and continue for a few more hours till around 00:00 or 01:00 UTC +1, at which point it would be another short trip down in the ATV to the cars and another short ride back to Nybyen where we'd attempt to get some much needed sleep.

KHO against a starry background

Specifically we got up to the following:

Tour of the facility, example calibration of the Meridian Scanning Photometer (MSP), familiarisation with the forms of data available online to predict the occurrence of Aurora, observing Aurora, food, and a lot of photographs of all of this. Interestingly I managed to find a Fish-eye lens that fitted the Nikon so I had a bit of fun with that obviously...

Started the evening with a quick visit to the SuperDARN radar which is due to open in March of this year. There were some power issues that were making it difficult for the radar to remain operational which means a bit of digging to make sure that the power source was still okay. Completed the rest of the tours around the facility and instruments at KHO, spent a little time looking at Aurora but the majority were obscured behind the clouds. We experienced a very strong sub-storm that saturated the detectors it was just a huge shame that the clouds had been in the way. More pizza was consumed.

This was calibration day and consisted of 3 main calibrations. In order to do this we had to mount a lamp of known intensity a certain distance from the detectors. Then there was a mount placed above the detectors to ensure that the incoming beam was directed straight into the apertures. We did this twice for 2 similar Spectrometers and had to do a slightly different set up for the last one but under the same setup: lamp -> mount -> spectrometer. These instruments only get calibrated once a year and so we had to make sure that what we did would be good enough for the scientists that are going to use them throughout the next 366 days. More pizza was consumed.

Today we were given the data from the sub-storm that I mentioned occurred on Tuesday night and were asked to calculate the position of the sub-storm based on the data that the magnetometers had picked up at different latitudes between Tromsø and Longyearbyen. Given that the Aurora was dominated significantly by green (emission from Oxygen), the peak height is said to be around 150-180km, which meant that our first calculation of ~7400km was sliiightly off... As was our second guess of 4.6km. What was thought to be a simple geometry problem turned into about 2 hours of calculations that kept bouncing between too low and too high a value for the height. EVENTUALLY Pål (pronounced kinda like Paul) let us get away with 511km and put the deviation down to the sporadic nature of the measurements from different locations and thankfully he was deliberately trying to demonstrate that the model we had been given was insufficient. It all made sense though our stomachs did not thank him for the delay in food. More pizza was consumed.

And that mostly concluded the goings on for the week, we had Friday off which was a nice chance to try and catch up on some sleep, not that it happened of course. It is worth mentioning that we had a journalist with us over the last 2 days of the field work who is making a documentary on what it's like for students to come up and study there from all over the globe which means you'll definitely be subjected to a professional video of our beautiful faces attempting to science at some point. No doubt our terrible attempts to calculate the height will feature... More importantly we took some rather cool photos with the guy and we're hoping that some of it will feature online soon so we can pass it on to you all!

And finally the best 3 photographs I managed to get of the Aurora up there:


Next on the agenda is the field work up at EISCAT Svalbard Radar, and you can bet there will be pictures there!

Time for a cuppah I think.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Caves of Iceness

Tip of the day: Don't buy salopettes from Mountain Warehouse.

It's nearly a week since the last post and about the most interesting thing to have happened in the period up to last Friday was the news that we had Friday off: LIE IN!!!! And you can bet that we all made the most of it; waking up at 11:30 am has never felt so good.

However, a day off doesn't always mean a day to be lazy here in Longyearbyen, for a lot of us a day off means a chance to go and explore some more / do something interesting. I think that's perhaps the largest difference that I have noticed between living at home and living here; people crave going out and doing something interesting and I have to admit that the feeling has spread to me too. As a disclaimer I wouldn't say that I'm not someone that appreciates the outside but after the last semester in Aber it felt like I'd never see anything outside of 4 walls again.

So! We went to revisit an area that we've already been but did so in the complete darkness, the final part of the safety training; a spot between Nybyen and Longyearbreen glacier. There isn't a huge amount there but a few spots to scramble up and enjoy, including some fun spots to "bum-shovel" down. And of course take a picture:

After a bit of waddling around we headed back and watched the Rugby whilst pre-drinking for the infamous Friday Gathering. Unfortunately for Noel he had class till 4pm which meant that he wasn't able to partake in the frivolities but did however get a head start on Friday Gathering, he wasn't too chuffed at how late we were... On the plus side though there was a lovely bonfire afterwards followed by an awesome meal at a place called "Barentz" which served gorgeous burgers and fries. If you ever come here I would recommend! The night was closed when me and Noel fell asleep on each other and attracted some confused looks by the rest of the bar; home time indeed.

Saturday looked to be a great day. Noel, Heather, and myself took a small hike up to Longyearbreen glacier to re-familiarize myself with skiing. Unfortunately no one had informed any of us that the ski's supplied by student equipment hadn't been adjusted to the requested boots which means, obviously, no skiing for me. I did however play camera man for the afternoon and got some clips for the upcoming videos, so it wasn't all a loss and the other two got some skiing in anyway.

Sunday, however, now that was one heck of a day. We'd had our sights set on the ice-caves for a while now and with the ever growing amount of light around noon we figured today would be a good day to take a look. So in this short video you get to see some of the walk up and the exploration within the cave. On and there's pictures too of course!

Whilst the pictures really don't do it justice, I hope you get a feel for what it was like being in such an awesome place with such evident geology surrounding you. Noel had a bit of an issue keeping his excitement in but really, who could blame him.

Other than that, the only really big thing to happen this week was some awesome aurora right outside our windows. I promised some pictures so, here you go:

It is worth a footnote, however, that we're finally home and settled in Barrack 11, sadly leaving Barrack 3 behind and all the awesome people there too. But on the plus side, Barrack 11 was where we obtained the aurora pictures so, it's not all bad.

Time for a cuppah I think.