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Frozen Fourth of July festivities

By Machiko Yasuda

Jul. 7, 2008 1:40 pm

Celebrating the Fourth of July with an outdoor parade and barbecue in the midst of subfreezing temperatures and a shrieking snowstorm may seem to most an absurd proposition.

For me, it is just another day in the life here at Summit Camp, Greenland.
The staff of the camp as well as the fellow scientists who conduct research experiments here put together half a dozen floats and marched through the Arctic chill (some half-dressed) in honor of America’s anniversary. My fellow campers, who come from everywhere from Germany to Georgia, then enjoyed an incredible BBQ feast and continued the festivities into the night. (In fact, as I am typing this blog, they are having a dance party in the Big House, our communal dining and living space.).

As suggested by our snowy procession, the days here in the Arctic are just as often unpredictable as they are routine. This is because my main responsibility as a student research assistant for associate professor Jochen Stutz’s group is to monitor one of our instruments, the Long Path DOAS, which stands for Differential Optical Absorption Spectroscopy.

If the machine is operating without any problems, there is less work to do, and I may focus my time on other smaller projects undertaken by the group. If, however, poor or unstable weather conditions or technical errors within the instrument arise, I must attempt to fix them.

Let’s just say that the Long Path machine can be described as needy and attention-starved, and that Greenland, well, does not have a perfect climate. Thus, I spend much time walking out to the instrument with a fellow group member to tend to and resolve any problem areas.

My work with the machine and with the Stutz group for the past three months, has required me to dive head-first into the world of atmospheric science, a branch that I was almost completely unfamiliar with as recently ago as March.

Still, it has been an exciting and fascinating introduction so far, particularly due to the fact that my major is still undeclared. Though I have not yet decided whether my path will run through the Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences department or elsewhere in South Campus, participating in the Greenland field campaign has taught me a great deal about topics including how wind direction affects visibility and the proper way to wire an exhaust fan. I know now that regardless of which discipline I pursue, the science of the atmosphere will matter significantly to me.

While the Arctic trip has been both illuminating and absorbing, the experience has been even further enriched because of the company I am surrounded by.

No matter where they are from, the motley crew of people here are brilliant, goofy and a pleasure to be around. I have learned just as much about research methods and atmospheric chemistry from my conversations with them as through my own everyday practice.

We live together, work together and eat together. But more importantly, we laugh together, share struggles together and play cards well past a decent hour together.

Because I cover the night shift for the Stutz group ““ as mentioned, our Long Path machine requires constant attention ““ I must stay up and check on our machine remotely until 2 a.m. Through the evening hours, I have played way too many games of Scrabble and euchre with the other night owls, I have heard a countless number of jokes, some of them good, most of them corny, and I have made some unforgettable memories.

Despite the fact that I am by far the youngest of the group, I feel a real level of camaraderie and warmth from the other researchers, and the staff here at Summit and I hope that the friendships born here last in the outside world as well.

It is interesting how two weeks in isolation, spending all of one’s time with the same group of people, can form such a tight-knit community.
Here, they call the central gathering space where we all spend our time, the Big House. During my time here, it has become a Big Home.

Photos from the trip:

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Machiko Yasuda
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