Archive for April 2010

Megan is doing polar bear field research in Alaska’s North Slope. Read her previous post, Field Note: Like a Heat Wave.

A researcher in the artifical polar bear den

I spent the morning setting up sensitive microphones in the relative warmth of a “polar bear” den, which we dug ourselves. The floor of the den was about 2 meters (6.5 feet) below the surface of the snow. After I relayed the cable to a crew-member, I took a moment and sat on the floor of the den. I admired the construction of the den and the quiet, protected environment that we had created.

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When we talk about climate change, one of the first things we need to clarify is the difference between climate and weather. The term “climate” refers to the longer-term trends in atmospheric conditions that characterize a particular region. The term “weather” refers to what’s happening at the moment: the day-to-day atmospheric conditions in a particular location. For example, I can guess that right now, in San Diego, the weather is about 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius), and there is no rain. That description of the weather fits right into the climactic norms for San Diego in April. Right now, the weather at our field site on the North Slope of Alaska (see previous post, The Science of Shoveling Snow) is about -11.2 degrees Fahrenheit (-24 degrees Celsius), with light winds out of the northeast and no precipitation.
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I arrived yesterday in Alaska and traveled up to the North Slope this morning. Today is the first day of fieldwork for our study of how vehicular noise penetrates the snow and ice of a polar bear’s den. Much of our polar bear research revolves around exploring their acoustic ecology. Our interest, and that of our project sponsor, Polar Bears International (PBI), is to develop a better understanding of the impact of industrial and vehicular noise on denning polar bears. Because pregnant polar bears excavate snow dens in some of the same areas that hold much of the Arctic’s petroleum deposits, there is a keen interest to assess the potential impacts of these activities and develop more effective mitigation strategies in the near future.
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