Christine Hedge, August 6, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Christine Hedge
Onboard USCGC Healy
August 7 – September 16, 2009 

Mission: U.S.-Canada 2009 Arctic Seafloor Continental Shelf Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Barrow, AK, 71°18N 156°47W
Date: August 5, 2009

Weather Data 

Cloud cover: Overcast
Temperature: 450F
Winds: E, 17 mph

Science and Technology Log 

The ladder was too icy to climb down the ice shaft so Jesse had to repel
The ladder was too icy to climb down the ice shaft so Jesse had to repel

Wouldn’t it be amazing to find life on other worlds? Scientific evidence that Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, has an ocean under the ice cover and that Mars may have had an ocean in the past is leading astrobiologists to wonder if these worlds have or had microbial life.  One way to determine what type of microbes could survive in such hostile environments is to look for extreme microbial life right here on Earth.  These earthly extremophiles might be similar to microbes that have the “right stuff” to exist on those other worlds. Today, I went on a short trip collecting such microbial life with Jesse Colangelo-Lillis, a graduate student from the University of Washington. Jesse is working on his PhD in Microbiology/Astrobiology.  He is interested in bacteria that are psychrophilic (cold adapted) and live in hypersaline brines (really salty water) that are trapped between ice crystals in the sea ice of the Arctic. These uper-salty fluids remain liquid down to at least 350C and some viruses and bacteria persist – and may even thrive – there.

Jesse goes down to collect samples from the brine lens
Jesse goes down to collect samples from the brine lens

We were not looking at sea ice today but at a wedge of ice under the tundra that has a brine lens (a pocket of liquid salty water). Jesse repelled down into an ice shaft and collected samples of this liquid, which he will analyze for microbes.

Understanding how Earth life survives under such cold and harsh conditions is a first step to understanding how life might thrive on other bodies in our solar system.

Personal Log 

Tools of the trade for a microbiologist
Tools of the trade for a microbiologist

I am in Barrow, Alaska and the place is teaming with scientists doing interesting work. The weather is lousy so travel to the Healy is still on hold. Meanwhile, I am staying at the ARM (Atmospheric Radiation Measurement) Climate Research Facility, which is quite cozy.  This research facility studies the effects of clouds on global climate change.

Today was the day to learn about the community of Barrow.  There is a wonderful National Park Service cultural center here to help visitors learn about this region, which is home to Alaska’s Inupiat Eskimo people. The Inupiat Heritage Center offers beautiful displays explaining the traditional and modern life and values of these people.  Hunting the bowhead whale is at the center of this life. Today I saw men carving the baleen of the bowhead whale into beautiful works of art. To learn more about the Cultural Center visit:  http://www.nps.gov/inup

 

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