lördag 14 mars 2009

Going home

What happened?? All of a sudden the days just started flying by and the next second, I'm packing my bag to go home again! I definitely didn't sleep away my time, we just realised that within the last 60 hours we've slept 8 hours in total... It was a long day today, starting last night with really really good aurora! Unfortunately it wasn't our radar run, but we were up in the science building anyway and got some great data! I was determined not to go to sleep until the camera boxes had been shipped off to Tromso and Stockholm again with FedEx today, but it was a bit trickier than I thought (I don't think I've ever filled in so many forms in my life!) so that's why we didn't get some rest until 5 o'clock this afternoon! At one point during the form signing, Tobbe just decided a corner in the FedEx office was a good enough place to take a nap, which was fair enough, since I didn't manage very well to stay awake in the car when spending hours trying to find the place. Oh well, now we have 4 hours of sleep before heading to the airport, I think we will both be snoring our way over the Atlantic tomorrow.

So, as a last note from my stay in Alaska, I'm putting out a photo from the Dalton Highway (the road up to Toolik) showing the true Alaskan nature, and another one of the aurora we saw last night... It was really pretty! I'm going to miss gazing out for aurora every night, but I'm really looking forward to getting to sleep during the nights again. And I hope I'll be back in Fairbanks soon again!

torsdag 5 mars 2009

Rocket launch!

So the last night of the February rocket window passed with a substorm and brilliant aurora... but no rocket since we were even worse out for winds than we've been before! That means that we will leave Toolik and Alaska without a rocket launch! =( The devastation was total! So total, that we decided we couldn't have it like that, we needed a rocket! So, as Faye would say, what is a girl to do? Well, we needed to build our own rocket! We told Scott and Shelby about our plans, and they had lots of ideas! Shelby turned out to be a top-class producer of hydrogen gas, and Scott is very handy, so they quickly turned a toilet-paper-roll and some tape into our own Toolik Hydrogen Rocket. The rocket was then placed in a tube, with hydrogen gas underneath, that we were going to ignite with a long pokey stick! It was quite windy outside but we decided we were NOT out for winds, and survaillance said GO so we went...5-4-3-2-1 and BOOM! The rocket flew through the air... almost a whole meter!! We were laughing so hard, rocket launches are so much fun, and after having waited for 4 weeks up here it felt so great to finally get a rocket in the air!

Scott and his creation
Shelby's hydrogen gas producing device, the gas fills the tube to the right

After some sequence tests we decided that the Toolik Hydrogen Rocket was ready for launch!


And it went! Just not so far...
So, I know you're all dying to hear if we got any good data? Well, the aurora wasn't so impressive tonight, but two nights ago we had a proper substorm, the whole sky lit up by the aurora and there were so much structure in there! We were standing outside for ages, just gazing up at the sky and all the beautiful forms showing up there... I don't know if you're getting fed up of aurora pictures here, but I can never get enough, so here are some more!

With the rocket window being closed now, we're heading back down to Fairbanks on Saturday, for the third part of this adventure (the first one being working on SMILE at Poker flat and the second up here at Toolik). The last part will be our PFISR radar campaign, when we will try to get some black aurora in our cameras.. We have radar runs almost every night next week, from 22 to 04, so we might as well just stay on a night schedule until we go home.. and we are going home! It's now settled that we are both going back to Stockholm on 15 March. So we're about to start our last week in Alaska, which feels good.. and still, somehow, I really like it here and a part of me could stay forever.

tisdag 3 mars 2009

Sweet aurora!

Last night of the rocket window... and we're out for winds again!! This is so frustrating. We're having nice aurora in our cameras at the moment, and they can't launch any rockets... well, all we can do is continue observing it, and collecting optical data. I was out last night collecting some optical data myself, the aurora was amazing, and I got my first photos of coronal aurora... and I saw blue aurora! I'm posting some of my photos here, so you can see. I think we got some really good data last night, we were pointing toward Kaktovik where Hans and Allison are making measurements with their cameras of some 'whimpy minibreakups' that must be something not a lot of people have studied before! Well, when looking overhead we got more dynamic stuff. It was a Themis conjunction night too, which means this data will be very valuable since there's also satellite and radar data for it.

This is what Kristina calls Sweet aurora! I agree!

Well, I can definitely see some blue stuff in there...

Are those two separate arcs?? Is that black aurora?? This is quite an interesting event!
Today we needed a break again, and went out and helped Scott bring logs to the sauna. The great thing about carrying lots of wood down there is that we got to play with the snow machines again! We took a ride over the lake afterwards and it's soo much fun flying over the snow piles! Here's a photo of the sauna (the view through the window is soo nice when sitting in the heat in there):

Tobbe, getting logs from the sled to bring into the sauna. It was a gorgeous day today!
Well, the last night of the rocket window for this period (the next window starts again 15 March, but I don't know yet if I will be around for that or not) is not over yet, and the winds can still change. Could everyone please do an aurora and wind dance for us, we need some help to get this rocket in the air tonight!

söndag 1 mars 2009

Snow blizzard

Yesterday we experienced a proper snow blizzard.. we had winds of 60 mph (28 m/s for all Europeans and other sensible people) and snow, the whole building was shaking and we had to spend a couple of hours closing up the window again that blew open! I've made it into a habit to go outside every hour to check on the weather and aurora, for our updates from here to the rocket people down at Poker Flat, but yesterday I just turned in the door, it was impossible to even step outside. So we spent the evening monitoring the rocket progress without being able to take part much, and then watching 'North to Alaska', an old John Wayne movie from 196o - a film where men are fist-fighting rough heroes and women are deceptive and silly (oh, and beautiful obviously)... Not the best film I ever saw, but I've been humming on the theme song ever since!

Today we had to face the consequences after the blizzard... Our boxes had been filled with snow, even though they were covered up, and then the snow melted since we have heaters inside them... so when we opened the guppy box today there was 2 cm of water on the bottom! We spent the rest of the evening taking things inside and getting everything dry again (we managed to fix a broken transformer to the mount by applying some female touch.. that is, using the hairdryer!) and in the end everything worked, hurrah! The time really does pass quickly although we are just waiting. But doing anything up here takes 3 times as long.. For example, all the work on pointing the boxes in the right position was useless, since the blizzard had blown them down anyway today! So just to start over... I have no photos to put out here from the blizzard, it's kind of hard to catch on camera, and Tobbe wouldn't let me take a photo of him using the hairdryer on the transformer PCA... But I do have a photo of the boxes with some aurora that I took two nights ago. That night we had brilliant aurora, and we kept observing lots of black aurora and other sweet things until the sun came up again.. Unfortunately they couldn't launch the rocket that night either, they were out for winds (it was too windy in the atmosphere for the rocket).

From left to right: Alvis, guppies, Blvis, house. From top to bottom: Sweet aurora, fainter arc in the distance, our boxes with cameras.

So, we are still here, still waiting. We've rebooked our flights so right now we have tickets to come home on 15 March.. Let's see if that is realistic or not!

tisdag 24 februari 2009


The good news are: We are finally in for winds, the ALVIS camera seems to be working again (knock on wood), the solar wind is kind of behaving and we used our once-a-week shower allowance today.
The bad news are: It's been overcast the last two days, and it's been snowing lots today, the aurora hasn't cooperated quite as much as wanted, the BLVIS camera is still fighting us and we used up our once-a-week shower allowance today.

Every evening during the rocket window we run outside once an hour (at least, most of the time we're out there anyway, just checking on the instruments or fiddeling in some way) to check on the weather and aurora. This is of course getting slightly tiresome in the long run, so yesterday we decided it was time to get ourselves some extra Aurora watchers, and build the compulsory campaign snowmen! Here they are, we call them Glen and Greg, they're looking out for aurora for us, proudly equipped with the Cascades-2 hats! (The red stick in Glen's hand is what we've used for marking pointing directions for the boxes).

Glen and Greg - our aurora watches
When Glen and Greg were ready, we had to take a group photo of TeamToolik, all with our rocket campaign caps! Steve Powell has been selling specially designed Cascades-2 caps to everyone during the campaign, and we got a bunch with us to give to the Toolik staff. They were very happy to get them, Fay even wanted hers signed! The staff here are really great, they cook for us and make sure we're happy most of the time. This morning they helped out when Tobbe decided it would be a good idea to wake me up by setting off the fire alarm when making toast.. It took them the better part of an hour to stop it, and the sound of the bell was horrendous... thanks Torbs!
TeamToolik eagerly waiting for sunset and aurora!
Right now the window is open, but since we're overcast as well as Kaktovik, and there isn't much activity yet, we are back to waiting.. and trying to get some work done in the meantime.

söndag 22 februari 2009


22 Feb - and the rocket has been out for winds now three days in a row! So we're patiently waiting... But it's not like we're sitting here and having nothing to do, on the contrary! That's why it's so interesting to work with systems like the Alvis and Blvis cameras, there's always something not working and more tests to do! :) The number of times we've been trying to focus, change lenses, change horisontal/vertical shift speeds, baseline clamps etc on them... grr, I'm actually quite fed up with them at the moment! And we were supposed to get papers and theses written while being in the loneliness in Alaska... But you can't just work all the time, so we make sure we get to do some skiing as well! Yesterday the sun was shining so we went out for a trip up the Jade mountain... which was beautiful! Other occupations on our spare times have been philosophising, sauna-based life analysis, trying to find (and fight!) the inner spectral point, etc.. We are truly reaching new depths here, it must be the climate (or perhaps the Mountain Dew?)!

Tobbe practising his outdoor philosophy pose

it was a beautiful day for skiing!

Toolik field station, in the middle of nowhere (seen from the Jade mountain). The road above it leads north, up to the Arctic Sea.

Chocolate break on the top of Jade mountain

Two nights ago we had some more aurora here. It's the first time I've seen proper red aurora, and it was dancing for us, it was soo beautiful! We got so excited that we by accident woke the others up that were staying here (and sleeping since hours back), but they didn't complain about getting some proper aurora to look at, they don't get much of that in Alabama where they were from...
Red and green aurora drapery at Toolik
So we're making the most of the time while waiting for winds to ease, clouds to go away and cameras to cooperate.. and yes, we are actually getting somewhere on the writing too, just very very slowly.. :)

onsdag 18 februari 2009

Lehmacher rocket launch!

Last night was a busy night! It got cold (-30C) and clear, so we took the opportunity to focus our cameras and check with stars where they were actually pointing (instead of trusting my compass that confused us a long time until I realised I was also carrying the inclinometer which has a magnetic base in my pocket...) We were in the middle of fiddeling with our cameras, when we got the information that all stations had clear skies and the Lehmacher team were about to launch their four Turbopause rockets! And at 1 am they launched the first one! We tracked it with the guppy cameras, and checked in Alvis if we could see it there (we haven't gotten the Blvis camera to work quite yet). We quickly adjusted the pointing position for Alvis, so for the second, third and fourth rockets we got the TMA release in all three cameras! You can see a photo from the guppies here:

We were standing outside, looking at the rockets too, that was cool! While doing that, we had some aurora to the north of us.

The problems with the Blvis camera have been bothering us for a couple of days now. We have software to run it both in linux (preferably) but also windows, and switching between the two means taking monitor and keyboard outside... standard procedures for arctic scientists of course!

Starting up the Blvis computer in the right mode.

We're still working on the problems, but today we're a bit limited by the snow blizzard that is passing by. I tried changing some lenses and filters already today, but gave up when the big lid with the dome flew off in the wind! Fortunately nothing was damaged, but it was a struggle to get it back on again. Opening the lids to the other boxes also means letting lots of snow in, so we decided just to leave things as they are tonight... we are not going to be able to make any observations from here anyway.

Then there was the problem with our sealed window.. We have to have cables coming through an open window, and this we had sealed properly, we thought. Until we started to get winds at 55 mph... all of a sudden our 'wall' blew in, and wouldn't stick back there again! After two hours of fighting we went to get help from Fay and Joe. Joe, Tobbe and me managed to put plastic around the window from the outside, and then piling up things in front of it indoors, as you can see...

Trying to seal up our window with cables pulled through

So that should keep it closed for the night!

måndag 16 februari 2009

Helicopter flight over Brooks mountains!

Today was a day off at the rocket range, and so we decided to take some time off too, and do other things than just work (after all, it is Presidents day!).. So what is there to do in Toolik, apart from skiing and enjoying the sauna?
Well, you can always take a ride on the snow scooters, or in the helicopter!!! That is exactly what we did today! Two other scientists were taken out by helicopter together with a portable fieldstation (?!!) to do measurements in nowhere for a couple of days, and the pilot got back and asked if we wanted to go for a ride, since he had to go and fill up the tank anyway! Of course we didn't say no to that!!

Me, in front of the Bell 206 helicopter

The view was magnificent, we went up to the Brooks range and to a gas station up there. The pilot, Scott, was really great, and showed us how a helicopter works... and even let both of us fly for a while!!! That is, he was still in charge, we got to do the steering for a bit. It was quite hard as the helicopter was very sensitive and would tilt immediately as you moved the joystick. It's a bit like playing videogames though!

The Brooks mountains

The pilots! I had things under control until Tobbe insisted on trying a triple Mollberger..

Happily exhausted we came back to the camp, rested a while and then decided it was time to go for a ride on the snow scooters! Joe came with us, and took us to the other side of the lake, where we walked up a small hill, for a better view. Since it's a nature reserve out here, we're only allowed to drive on the roads, and on the lake.. But the lake is big enough and you can really get some speed there, and fly over huge snow piles!
Joe and Tobbe, on our scooter trip

Right now Joe is cooking us dinner and has heated the sauna for afterwards... Life at Toolik really isn't too bad!

Well, just to show you we've done some work here as well, I will put out some random pictures here:
ALVIS and BLVIS, piled up and pointing towards Kaktovik, for observations there at a low elevation. This is why it's slightly difficult to move the boxes around during the 1 minute of warning we get about where to point them once the rocket is in the air. It takes a lot of practise!

We had some wonderful aurora the other night! The whole sky was lit up by it. Unfortunately they couldn't launch the rocket into this, of various other reasons. They did do tests of the instruments on the payload, and SMILE was behaving properly! We also had a test-run with all optical equipment, which went well in the end, although it started out quite chaotic before I had a good system. It was really good to practise, I'm glad that wasn't the real thing!
It's not so cold here anymore (about -10C) but we found out that the bunny boots are really comfortable and great at keeping our feet warm, so now we wear them constantly when going outside! And, for being that large, they're not that heavy either. It really is like the insulation is made of Helium instead of air...

Bunny boots with a Tobbe attached to them

We're now hoping for some more stars soon, so we can focus the cameras properly, and check with the stars where we're actually pointing. We've had some problems with cameras not working, as well as not being able to see anything through filters, but hopefully we're on our way to solve those problems... would be nice if we could solve it before the rocket gets launched, and not afterwards!

fredag 13 februari 2009

Exploring the surroundings

The last two days we've been busy setting up all the systems, installing software and pointing cameras... Here's a photo of the portable observatory, placed and pointed outside our building. Alvis and Blvis will be put next to it soon.

Dome set up for guppies (not there yet in the photo)

... so we decided it was time to take a break and try the skis we brought! Of course the weather didn't cooperate, when we went out the wind had picked up quite a bit... but that couldn't stop us! Apart from the wind it was a gorgeous day, and we had a really good time! We went across Toolik lake and up a small mountain on the other side.

View from just outside our building

Going on skis to the mountain on the other side of the lake
The wind made the snow blow around our feet in the same way as I'm used to from Svalbard.. There are no trees here either to stop the drifts. Going uphill and against the wind was hard work, but once we got up to the top it was really worth it! And going down was just brilliant! So was the sauna afterwards...

Our camp, seen from the top of the hill

Late in the evening we got some more company here, two other scientists arrived, and with them they brought Alvis!! Finally, now we have everything to set up the systems, I was particularly happy to find the inclinometer there, best thing there is! First thing tomorrow morning will be to put everything outside. I really hope the wind has died a bit until then, setting up Blvis outside in the snowstorm today wasn't very nice to do.
Today was Lemacher's 2nd day of their rocket window. We are going to track their TMA (trimethylaluminium) releases with the cameras from here, so we're on call when they drop their count to T-10 min. They will launch 4 rockets, with 15 minutes apart, and we're going to try to track the drifts of their TMA clouds. Since we still have a lot of work to do on pointing the systems and setting them up, I hope it will take at least one more day before any rockets are going into the air.. We need clear skies to be able to focus and point the cameras properly, and we haven't had that for a while. There should be some more activity tomorrow too, so we're hoping to see some more aurora from here then! For more news on the rocket campaign, have a look at www.spp.ee.kth.se/res/tools/gb/alvis/index.html.

tisdag 10 februari 2009

First day at Toolik Lake

We made it to Toolik, so right now me and Tobbe have been dropped in the middle of nowhere in northern Alaska (actually the latitude is just 68deg, which is close to the latitude of Kiruna, but it feels more remote!). The drive up here took 10 hours, but was ok, since the landscape was beautiful (we crossed the Brooky Mountains, saw some moose and raindeer on the way) and our driver Joe played really good music! =)

Our truck, loaded with boxes, cameras, computers.. as well as two excited scientists!

We stopped at Yukon River for a short break, before we got up to the higher mountain passes. Up here no trees are growing, and there are mountains in the distance.. It reminds me a bit about Svalbard, but perhaps just because the wind really aches in my face when going out in -35 deg C! One nice change though is that we don't have to bring a rifle when we go out! Here are some more photos from our drive:

The Alaskan pipeline, that brings down oil from the north coast of Alaska. It's more than 1000 km long!

The view along the road was spectacular, even if it wasn't a very clear day. Too bad it got dark in the end, but the full moon was up, throwing a spooky light on the mountains.

So, today was the first day here, and we were busy trying to set up the guppy cameras, placing the portable observatory outside and trying to pull cables in through windows, without cooling down the whole building. Toolik field station is actually really big, in the summer time they sometimes host more than 120 people here! Right now it's just me and Tobbe though... and 4 station staff. So most buildings are closed. But it's a really nice place to be, it's warm and cosy, there's lots and lots of snacks and drinks available at any time and we have a nice lounge to ourselves, with video/DVD, computers, coffee machine etc.. We'll have no problems surviving here! The toilet is in a shed outside, but at least it is heated!

Toolik Lake Field Station

The staff told us before coming here that there's normally not that much snow here, so skiing could be hard, but we're glad we brought our skis, since this year it's been snowing lots, as you can see below! Tobbe was happy, as he immediately found a pile of snow to play in! We even had to ask Scott to remove some of the snow for us, so it wouldn't block the field of view of the cameras!

The king of the snow pile!

One of my concerns before coming here was that I wouldn't be able to do any sports, but I couldn't be more wrong! I didn't realise snow-basketball is a big sport in northern Alaska! Hm, but perhaps I'll stick to skiing instead... the surroundings are made for daytrips, so I'm longing to get the time to go out!

..and all we have to do is to dig out the ball!

We turned one of the bedrooms into our control room, and within seconds it was filled with bubble wrap, cables, computers and other stuff that just seemed to come from nowhere and wanted to join in in the general mess! After pulling cables through the window we had to seal it properly, as you can see on the photo.

Toolik groundbase control station

After dinner the guys had heated the sauna for us, so we finished the day by sitting in a hot sauna, and then running out in -35 to cool for a while (hm, wonder what the body really thinks about a quick temperature change of about 100 degC...)! My other big concern about Toolik was the restriction of only 1 shower per week, but we were allowed to have proper bucket showers in the sauna, so I think I'll make it into a habit, to use the sauna often.. it's so great to heat up properly too!

Our wood heated sauna, just next to a frozen Toolik Lake

lördag 7 februari 2009

Last day before Toolik

Wohoo, we finally had some equipment delivered! After spending two entire days on the phone, setting up weird arrangements and waking people up in Germany in the middle of the night we managed to close a deal so that Meghan and I could go out to the dodgy industrial areas in town at midnight on Friday, to meet someone who would perhaps be there to hand over the packages... We were expecting anything and regreted that we didn't bring our sunglasses to wear to better melt in with the Fairbanks mafia, but when we got there it was actually the two Norwegian boxes that were waiting for us! The packages turned out to be enormous, weighing 150 kg, so we considered hijacking a fork lift at GI, but we managed to get it out of the car and into the garage in the end anyway, hurrah!

Today was also Tobbes first day in Alaska, and I dragged him out to the campus early in the morning to help go through the equipment (and to get us some skis to bring to Toolik!). We soon got things set up, and you can see the mess we made on the photo below..

A very messy lab, but if you look closely you can find a jetlagged Tobbe somewhere in the chaos!

It turned out there is still a lot of work that needs to be done on one of the computers, but we will deal with it from Toolik. Right now it was a matter of getting everything we need before going, so we set up the guppy cameras in the portable observatory, to check that we had all cables etc.
Guppys attached on the steerable mount in the portable observatory

By the end of the day we had packed everything, and Joe came to pick it up for us. We are now ready to set off to Toolik, a 9 hour drive straight north, over the mountains, tomorrow morning. It's going to be so exciting to finally see what it's like up there! (For those concerned, I've got a lot of survival chocolate in my bag right now, so no need to worry!).

I've been bad at putting out photos lately, so here are a few more from my stay in Fairbanks.

This is the Geophysical Institute (GI) at the university in Fairbanks, and where I've been the last couple of days.

One great thing about being here is that I've been able to meet up with Anna Liljedahl, whom I hadn't seen for 11 years! She's just as happy and energetic as back then, and has really helped me out with all sorts of things here, like finding me warm clothes, gloves, driving me around, lending me all sorts of things, including skis... I didn't have to worry about a thing, thanks so much Anna! She lives with her husband Jeff in a little cottage in the forest, that is really cosy! They don't have running water and the toilet is in a shed with three walls... which makes it slightly cold at wintertime! I'm so impressed that they live like that, and that they seem to enjoy it so much!

Anna and Jeff's house

Anna cooking salmon for us in her kitchen, before heading out to the jam session

On Monday night we went to their house for dinner, and then out to Dave's cottage, for a jam session (Anna plays the drums, and get together with some people once a week to jam a bit). This was the true alaskan experience, we were out in a cottage heated by only an iron stove, playing jazz and blues (well, Anna and Dave were playing, I was mostly humming along). A weird, wonderful and totally unforgettable experience!

Anna and Dave, jamming in Dave's cabin

Fairbanks is really beautiful, I love how the sky turns pink in the morning and afternoon, and the snow glistening from the trees! Here's a photo from our forest walk last Saturday. Tomorrow during the drive up north I hope I'll get to see lots more of the Alaskan nature.. and the mountains!