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GEOS/MSL 695 Field techniques in interdisciplinary sea-ice research (2 CR)

Brief course description and rationale

            This is a course for graduate-level students that is open to post-graduate professionals from relevant fields; openings may also exist for a small number of advanced undergraduate students with appropriate background with permission from the instructors. The course offers hands-on introduction to the principal field techniques employed in sea-ice studies of an interdisciplinary (geophysical-biogeochemical) nature. The course focuses on sea ice as an instructive example of the close intertwining between ocean, ice and biosphere processes and humans in the polar regions and the transdisciplinary importance of the ice cover in the Arctic system. The course will be held with the support of the Barrow Arctic Science Consortium (BASC) in Barrow, Alaska and consists mostly of field-based instruction and completion of different research modules with a laboratory component, some introductory lectures and evening seminars/discussions.

           The course is organized such as to encourage interdisciplinary approaches to the problems posed, addressing in particular the themes of temporal and spatial variability of geophysical and biogeochemical variables at different scales and the central role sea ice plays in the Arctic through the services it provides to ecosystems and human activities. The course is designed as an international effort at the peak of the International Polar Year (IPY) and includes a group of recognized experts as contributors for the different modules (see below).

Student Learning Outcomes:

The goal of this course is to introduce students to different approaches and methodologies in interdisciplinary sea ice research. These will include biology, ecology, sea ice geophysics and chemistry, oceanography, remote sensing and statistics. Discussions and lectures during the field course will broaden understanding of the complete scope of sea ice services provided to the ecosystem and humans in polar environments. This course will introduce students to different approaches to successfully address challenges of field research in the Arctic and Antarctic and allow students to design interdisciplinary field components of their research work. Students taking this course will receive training in applying modern state-of-the art tools and will also improve their writing and oral skills based on assignments given during the class. The class will provide students with a perspective of different and potentially conflicting uses of sea ice in Arctic environments. Students will be introduced to research approaches and methodologies that can provide stakeholders with data of relevance in the context of planning for and adapting to environmental and socio-economic change.

Instructors: Hajo Eicken,   Rolf Gradinger (UAF), Kunio Shirasawa (Hokkaido University) and contributing sea-ice experts (for details see below)

Please contact us by email to set up appointments. Most of the course information will be provided by email, so please check your email at least once a day.

Students: Open to graduate students (in earth, environmental, marine and biological sciences and engineering) and post-graduate professionals from relevant fields; openings may also exist for a small number of advanced undergraduate students with appropriate background with permission from the instructors; max. number of spaces: 24; to apply, Send your application to Rolf Gradinger and Hajo Eicken - deadline: Feb 22, 2008, final participants will be selected based on criteria outlined in the application document; there may be modest amount of funds available to support selected (international) students' travel costs if they lack financial means for participation

Duration: 12 days in Barrow, Alaska in May 2008 (student contact hours based on 8 hours of lectures and 56 hours of lab plus additional reading and writing assignments. meets requirements for two credits of intensive, summer-session course).

Course contents

All students will participate in the following modules:

Module 0, Sea Ice Politics and Policy: Deriving a Sea Ice System Services Approach (Lovecraft)
Introduction to socio-ecological systems, sea-ice system services and approaches in problem definition

download link module 0

Module 1, Introduction to remote sensing of sea ice properties and processes and its application in sea-ice field research (Eicken)
Seasonal cycle of sea-ice reflectance (albedo) and surface temperature based on AVHRR data analysis; synthetic aperture radar (SAR) backscatter signatures of sea ice; use of remote-sensing data in designing field measurement programs; regional upscaling from field measurements through remote sensing

download link module 1

Module 2, Sea ice thickness, morphology and deformation (Haas and Druckenmilller)
Direct measurements of ice thickness and surface elevation (including differential GPS); electromagnetic induction measurements of ice conductivity and derivation of sea-ice thickness; ice morphology (level, rafted, ridged) and its relevance for sea-ice system services

download link module 2

Module 3, Ice-core and in-situ measurements of sea-ice physical properties (Ingham and Eicken)
Ice core drilling and sampling; in-situ measurements of ice temperature, ice electrical conductivity, and other key properties

download link module 3

Module 4, Sea ice optical properties and radiative transfer (Perovich)
Measurements of all-wave total albedo and above-/in- and below-ice spectral irradiance; attenuation of shortwave radiation as a function of snow and ice properties; impact of biological and sedimentary inclusions on radiative transfer in the sea-ice system (incl. modeling)

download link module 4

Module 5, Ice engineering properties (Masterson)

Ice properties and processes relevant for offshore and coastal engineering applications, in-situ measurements of ice engineering properties

download link module 5

Module 6, Sea-ice flora and fauna (Gradinger, Nomura)
Collection of ice and water samples, measurements of biomass and composition of algae in the water column and sea ice (chlorophyll a), estimating primary productivity rates using optical techniques (PAM), determining PAR light intensities available for algal growth, determination of macronutrient concentrations within the ice and in the brine channels, impact of sedimentary inclusions on productivity, measurements of abundance and diversity of sea-ice meiofauna (metazoans: polychaetes, turbellaria, nematodes, crustaceans), calculation of potential role in ice-based food web (using allometric equations)

download link module 6a plus paper by Steffens et al.

download link module 6b

Module 7, Ice-ocean interaction, heat and nutrient exchange (Shirasawa and Nomura)
Measurements of under-ice temperature, salinity and currents; heat transfer from the ice bottom, stratification and oceanic boundary layer processes under sea ice and impact on nutrient fluxes; calculating nutrient budgets including an estimate of required nutrient input from the water column to sustain ice-algal growth during experimental period

download link module 7

Module 8, Ice seals and their habitat (Kelly)
Locating subnivean breathing holes and lairs of ringed seals using traditional methods (trained dogs) and remote sensing (infrared sensors); using GPS and GIS to map distribution of seal holes; describing and quantifying the biotic environment (evidence of interaction with conspecifics and/or predators (polar bears, arctic foxes, gulls, ravens) and the abiotic environment (snow depth, water depth, ice deformation); monitoring use of breathing holes and lairs using acoustic and infrared sensors; live capture and handling of seals

download link module 8

Module 9, Traditional and local knowledge of sea ice (Huntington and Iñupiaq sea-ice experts)
Introduction to Iñupiaq sea-ice science (including field trip)

download link module 9

Module 10. Snow on sea ice (Sturm)
Measurements of snow depth and key snow properties and processes

download link module 10

Module 11, Integrated sea-ice observing systems (All)
Introduction to automated measurements in context of observing system; synthesis of course modules


The instructors will prepare a detailed field handbook covering all modules. Students do not need to purchase any textbooks for this class. Suggested reading materials will be identified and made available in electronic form at no cost to the students at the latest one month prior to the start of the course. No additional library access is needed while being in the field. Students are expected to have read all field handbook instructions before traveling to Barrow. Students are also expected to be familiar with the UAF library electronic resources (such as web of science and electronic journal access) to access additional resources required for the final reports.

Course organization:

            All students will complete Module 1 individually before the onset of the field course.

           For the field course, the students will form interdisciplinary teams composed of between 3 and 5 students (depending on enrollment). Each team will complete all field-course modules. The reports on the different field course modules will then be prepared by groups of students with the appropriate disciplinary background, such that each student is at responsible for a final report on three field modules (in addition to Module 1 which will be completed prior to the course by every student). For example, one sub-group of students with a physical sciences background will team up to complete the final report for modules 2-4 (drawing on the data collected by all groups), while another sub-group with a biological background will be responsible for reporting on Modules 5, 6 and 8.

            During the field course, each group completing fieldwork will be accompanied by an instructor (and/or bear guard depending on weather, location and course progress). Laboratory work will be organized accordingly.


Grading policy

Grades will be based on reports (80 %) and course participation (20%) which would give us a bit of flexibility to recognize that somebody in a poor group may still be performing at a higher level.

Grades will be determined jointly by the instructor team based on student performance. We will use the following letter grade system:

F: <50%,

D: 50-60%,

C-: >60-63%,

C: >63-67%


B-: >70-75%






Students should be familiar with the UAF Honor Code (you find it in the catalog). Neither cheating, plagiarism nor fabrication will be tolerated. Any student found cheating during the exams or to have plagiarized or fabricated statements (including passages from web pages) will receive an automatic 'F' for the class . Any student found turning in a paper that has been used in another class will also receive an automatic 'F' grade for the class.

Learning disabilities : All disabilities have to be documented by UAF's Center for Health & Counseling, and instructors receive a formal letter requesting that we make accommodations for any student with disabilities. Please contact us as early as possible (not later than March 15, 2008) about your special requirements you might need. We will work with the UAF office of disabilities services (474-7043) to provide reasonable accommodation to students with disabilities. Note that the ability to conduct field work in harsh environments and transportation by snow machine will be essential to successfully complete the class.

Course schedule (see linked pdf file for details)

Course preparation (April): Work through web module on field safety; complete reading assignments; complete remote-sensing data analysis project

Day 1: Arrival in Barrow, Alaska, Orientation (introduction, field safety, general course overview, remote-sensing project discussion, introduction to modeling)

Day 2:   Introduction to BASC facilities and housing; Afternoon: Snowmachine, gun and ice safety, polar bear safety, communications; brief, 2-hour field trip with introduction to environment and key techniques; Evening: Laboratory set-up and preparation of field instruments

Day 3 to Day 10: Field experiments and laboratory work by individual groups. Detailed descriptions of the assigned tasks will be handed out to all students one month prior to the field trip.

Day 11: Completion of experimental work and data analysis; evening summary symposium with presentation of preliminary results

Day 12: final project meeting, presentations, pack up and leave on afternoon flight to Fairbanks

Course completion: Complete final report by June 30; final grade by July 31

page modified May 12, 2008 .