Tuesday was a pretty spectacular day at PolarTREC orientation. We spent the afternoon at the PermafrostPermanently frozen ground. Tunnel. What an experience walking back in time. I remember the tour guide pulling out a blade of grass from the tunnel wall; as green as the grass I mow each summer back home in NW Pennsylvania, but this blade of grass was different. It had been frozen in time nearly 20,000 years ago. It was then I started looking around me and realizing the incredible amount of biomass that has been locked up for many thousands of years. And permafrost (land that is frozen year round) isn’t just in the area around Fairbanks … it covers nearly 20% of the Earth’s surface. But the reality is that we are loosing permafrost each year due to warming temperatures around the Globe. With the thawing of the permafrost the biomass will decay releasing more methane and carbon dioxide with the potential of accelerating climate change around the Globe. Although more research is needed to fully understand the impact of losing vast amounts of permafrost, current predictions based on available research does not bode well for the future of the planet.
Capturing the Elusive Northern Lights
Then Tuesday night we hit the jackpot with the northern lights. I had been keeping a close eye on the weather and aurora predictions for Fairbanks, and sure enough right around 9:30 PM the map of current aurora activity showed that they were moving into the Fairbanks area. A small group of PolarTREC teachers had been enjoying some social time in Room 533 when I announced, “It’s time!” We all scurried around grabbing coats and camera gear and we met downstairs to voyage out into the cold in an attempt to capture the elusive Northern Lights. We headed out Chena Hot Springs Road trying to find a clearing void of bright lights. About 10 miles out we found a side road off Chena with an area where we could set up our cameras. The lights had already started, so we quickly set up shop and the show only got better from there.