Welcome to the Pratt Lab blog! Dr. Kerri Pratt is an assistant professor in the Departments of Chemistry and Earth & Environmental Sciences and faculty associate of the Program in the Environment at the University of Michigan. We study the chemical interactions of atmospheric trace gases, particles, clouds, and snow, with a focus on the Polar Regions and wintertime environments. Our interdisciplinary research has relevance to climate change, air quality, and human health. As an analytical chemistry lab, we primarily apply novel mass spectrometry techniques to our field research. We invite you to follow our adventures in (and outside!) the lab!

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

A Day at the North Pole

We spent several days breaking ice, which is quite a sensory experience – a cacophony of smashing, grinding, and growling accompanied by massive vibrations as this 100 m long, 10,000 ton ship slides over meter thick ice and crushes it, sending chunks of ice past the propellers and around the sides of the ship while traveling at a steady speed of 3 knots. But now, on Aug 12, we made it. We were all waiting in anticipation as we slowly traveled farther north. Past latitudes 86, 87, 88, 89! deg N, every day taking me further north than I have ever been before. Our main goal was the search for the perfect ice floe on which to set up our sampling station for 5 weeks of science. But as we past 88 deg, and then 89, it became apparent that we were nearing the North Pole. And when you’re that close, you have to go!

We paused for 24 hours at the pole, situated around 89 deg 58’ , for a North Pole science station. This was about 5 miles away from THE pole, blocked by a massive ice floe, but when you’re that close, you’ve made it.

We collected genuine North Pole water for an experiment, sampled genuine North Pole air, and even tasted genuine North Pole ice (refreshing, and slightly salty).

This was also the perfect opportunity to get a group photo on the ice in front of Oden.
Then we got to celebrate! The captain invited everyone to a toast on the ship’s bridge, followed by a 3-course dinner (and yes, we all had to dress up!) It was an opportunity to take a break from the science and step back, enjoying what a unique experience this is, and how lucky we all are to be a part of it. Not many people can say they’ve been to the North Pole (and on my first trip to the Arctic, no less!). And now I get to publish future papers with North Pole data, how neat!

The view from the North Pole always changes, since it is all covered by sea ice!

- Rachel Kirpes, Pratt Lab PhD student on the Oden

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Rachel at the North Pole!

Pratt Lab PhD student Rachel Kirpes reached the North Pole on the Swedish Icebreaker Oden! Let's learn about connections between sea ice, microbiology, aerosols, and clouds! #arcticocean2018

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Photo by Lars Lehnert

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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Entering the Ice

Less than two days after departing from Longyearbyen, we reached the marginal ice zone (MIZ), where the first small bits of sea ice appear in the water. Being at sea, on such a large ship, is full of noises. The Oden, being an icebreaker, isn’t designed for open water. So the first leg of our journey was full of sound and movement as the ship swayed back and forth, vibrating as it crashed through waves. Along with the gentle swaying, the ship tends to sing – the noises were curiously in tune, like an ethereal orchestra accompanying our expedition.

But once we reached even the first bit of ice, the sound and movement suddenly changed. The rocking stopped, the ship was much steadier surrounded by ice, and all of a sudden it was much quieter. At this point, experiencing such a drastic change, and looking outside to see ice moving all around us, it was very clear that we were now in the Arctic.

We paused in the MIZ for a 24 hour intensive sampling period. This was very busy as everyone was working hard to run instruments and conduct experiments only two days into the campaign. But this station was essential – in order to establish a reference, in an area with open water and some sea ice, to compare to our measurements once we got deep into the pack ice. Sea ice defines the uniqueness of the Arctic environment – impacting the ocean and atmosphere physics, biology, chemistry, and meteorology.

As our science commenced, the novelty of our environment was never lost to me, that we are in the Arctic Ocean, surrounded by sea ice, looking out over a landscape that could be another world.
 My first views of sea ice!

- Rachel Kirpes, Pratt Lab PhD student on the Oden!

Friday, August 10, 2018

Adventures in Longyearbyen

Completing the transit from Helsingborg, we arrived at Longyearbyen, Svalbard on July 28. This gave us a couple days to get off the ship and explore before everyone joined for the official start of the expedition. I made sure to enjoy my last chance to be on land for 8 weeks.

Longyearbyen is on the Svalbard archipelago, and is known for polar bears, mountains, and a history of coal mining. Now, the town is a main tourist hub for outdoor adventuring. And also claims the northern most brewery in the world!
There are great mountain views right from town. Also a good spot to watch for Arctic terns!  
Longyearbyen is located on a fjord and right up to the mountains. Great place to start an outdoor adventure. But as soon as you leave town, everyone is strongly advised to bring bear protection!

But we’re not removed from the world yet – even at 78 deg N, Longyearbyen has a Radisson hotel! While we were in town, we also enjoyed our last chance to have internet access before continuing on the cruise.

Disembarking the ship for an afternoon in town also provided a great opportunity to get a photo of Oden, our home for these 10 weeks.
Once the full science team was onboard, excitement about the upcoming expedition took over. After leaving Longyearbyen on Aug 1, next stop: Marginal Ice Zone!

- Rachel Kirpes, Pratt Lab PhD student on the Oden!

Friday, August 3, 2018

Hello from the Arctic!

I departed the U.S. on July 8 at the start of an adventure that has taken me through Sweden, on a ship north to Svalbard, and then continuing north, north, further north…

The majority of this time will be spent aboard the Swedish icebreaker Oden, as part of a joint scientific venture between the United States National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat (SPRS) to support the Arctic Ocean 2018 campaign. Most of the scientific work onboard is being conducted under the umbrella of the MOCCHA campaign (Microbiology – Ocean – Cloud Coupling in the High Arctic). Research groups from the U.S., Sweden, and across Europe are all studying different aspects of the complex Arctic climate, including air-sea exchange, aerosol physics and chemistry, bubble physics, sea ice biology, seawater chemistry, meteorology, and much more. It is an exciting, unique opportunity to collaborate with many great scientists in order to better understand the Arctic.

Most of the science team gathered in Helsingborg, Sweden in early July to meet Oden in port for “mobilization”. This was a wild, busy four days of unpacking, organizing, and setting up equipment on the ship to prepare for the expedition. I was lucky enough to then have a week to travel in Sweden and Denmark before returning to the ship in Helsingborg on July 20 for the “transit” to Svalbard. Only a few scientists for this early “preview” of the expedition, allowing us 10 extra days to continue setting up our instrumentation. This included many long days of troubleshooting, machining, cleaning, and rebuilding parts of the sampling set up. But with everyone’s help, it all came together in the end.

The official start of the expedition (or research “cruise” as we like to call it) began in Longyearbyen, Svalbard on Aug 1. There, the rest of the scientists joined the ship, and we were ready to sail north. All together, on the ship we total 23 crew members, 9 SPRS staff, and 41 scientists.

The goal is to travel north into the Arctic Ocean pack ice (aiming for somewhere ~87 – 89 deg N), in order to find a large ice floe to anchor Oden and set up an ice station for scientific measurements. Stay tuned as we continue north and into the ice!

- Rachel Kirpes, Pratt Lab PhD student on the Oden!

Enjoyed some wonderful sunsets during mobilization while working on the 7th deck (highest part of the ship)
Hit some big waves during the transit!
Enjoyed beautiful weather for most of the transit from Svalbard to Longyearbyen

Monday, July 30, 2018

Icebreaker Oden & Rachel arrive in Longyearbyen!

Pratt Lab PhD student Rachel Kirpes arrives in Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway on the Swedish icebreaker Oden after the open ocean cruise from Helsingborg, Sweden!

@rmkirp: Caught a pic of Oden, my home for the next two months for #ArcticOcean2018 while enjoying a day on land in Longyearbyen before heading (further) north.

DOE ARM Early Career Press Release