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!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Saying Goodbye to Barrow

Our entire team had a fantastic week in Barrow, resulting in unforgettable memories and four coolers full of Arctic snow that we are incredibly excited analyze in the Pratt Lab back in Ann Arbor! Unfortunately, like all good things, it had to end. But before we took our long journey (3 flights, 1 hotel stay, and nearly 24 hours in total travel time) back to Ann Arbor from Barrow on Saturday we were treated to an amazing send off by the Arctic!

The sky was perfectly clear as the sun went down on our final night, painting the sky and snow in gorgeous shades of blue, yellow, pink, and purple. However, with clear skies and a forecast of a possible aurora borealis (or northern lights) sighting, we were hopeful that the sky would be an even more impressive sight later that night. And we were not disappointed! After bundling up for one last foray into the cold and a quick drive out of the bright lights of town to the dark tundra of the Cake Eater Lab, we saw a stunning display of the northern lights. Despite the cold temperatures we all stayed outside for hours admiring the streaks of green dancing across the night sky, only taking breaks to warm up in the Cake Eater Lab. It truly was the perfect way to end the week and made us even more thankful to have had the opportunity to conduct science at the top of the world.
Sunset over the tundra at the Cake Eater Lab
The view of the Chukchi Sea at dusk from outside our lodging was something I knew I would miss.
Alicia & Nate mesmerized by the northern lights
Jesus (grad student) from Penn State admiring the sky (and that great tower he put up!)
View looking straight up next to the Cakeeater Lab
As our week in the Arctic has come to a close, we would again like to again thank all of the people who helped us and shared this amazing week in Barrow with us, including the amazing staff at UIC-Science, Angela Raso (Purdue/Michigan), Dr. Paul Shepson (Purdue), and Dr. Jose Fuentes, Sham Thanekar, and Jesus Ruiz-Plancarte from Penn State. Also we owe a big thank you to all of our funding sources at the University of Michigan (HHMI Authentic Research Connection, Department of Chemistry, Program in the Environment, International Institute) who made all of this possible.

Monday, March 7, 2016

A Tower in Barrow!

The tower is up for our NSF funded atmospheric chemistry study, which is a collaboration with Purdue University and Penn State University.  It only took 4 tries to get it up too!  We finally managed to get it up after taking off some of the weight to be re-mounted when our collaborators from Penn State climbed the tower. Penn State researchers Prof. Jose Fuentes and PhD students Sham Thanekar and Jesus Ruiz-Plancarte worked very hard putting the tower together in the cold, windy environment. It probably also helped that we had a few more hands with PhD student Nate May and freshman undergraduates Alicia Kevelin and Claire Mattson coming in from sampling snow on the sea ice to help push up the tower and take pictures!
The fourth and final attempt at erecting the tower (Photo credit Claire Mattson)
Nate May looking happy through the upright tower
Getting this tower up was a huge success!  Since then Jesus Ruiz-Plancarte has very working very hard in the very cold and windy conditions to mount the instruments on the tower.  It will allow us to collect some really great data about the mixing of gasses on the Arctic tundra.  If you want to read more about the process or putting the tower up you can read about it on Angela Raso's Blog.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Mother Nature is On Our Side!

         As many of the locals and the Barrow NARL regulars continued to tell us, mother nature couldn’t have given Claire, Nate, and I a better trip! After our exceptional day on Tuesday (warm weather, polar bears, and caribou!), we did experience some of the high winds of Barrow on Wednesday, preventing us from heading out onto the sea ice on the snowmobiles. Despite this, we still headed out to the ‘cake eater’ lab where Angela Raso (check out her blog! ---> Snowkidding.blogspot.com) is doing her PhD research on fluxes of halogen species from the snow pack. There, we had the chance to collect samples of the tundra snow!
Using the power lines to find our way back to the lab...
           On Thursday, blessed with another full day of low winds and good visibility, we headed back out on the Atlantic ocean! Although we didn’t see any bears or caribou, we did get lots and lots of snow! With two days of practice behind us, we were seasoned snow collectors. We had become so efficient, that we managed to stop and take transects at five different locations! Our coolers are filling up quick!
           Video of us snow machining on the sea ice

       Friday, our last day, was forecast to have 25 mph winds and thus extremely uncomfortable temperatures. Dejected, we sat in our hut most of the morning. Productive as we were organizing all our pictures and records, we could not have been happier to get a surprise call from Dr. Pratt informing us that the conditions had dramatically improved! It was as if the sun came out just for us! We rushed out to the sea ice to get our last round of samples and to say goodbye to the beautiful Alaskan winter landscape. What an experience this has been.
PhD student Nate May, freshman Alicia Kevelin (me!), and freshman Claire Mattson
In all, we collected just under 100 snow samples! We could not have had a better turn out, and next year’s Chem 125- Authentic Research in Snow Chemistry students have a boatload of knowledge to gain from these sample analyses. With 8 full transects (including depth profiles) of snow samples extending from land to the very edge of Elson Lagoon, two full transects on actual ‘sea ice’, and both vertical and perpendicular (to wind) transects of tundra snow, students will clearly be able to see the changing snow chemistry and factors that influence it.
Personally, though, I just can’t wait to analyze these samples with ion chromatography! I have seen countless chloride, bromide, and sodium concentrations, numerous pH readings, and too many ion ratios to count, but I have never gotten to be on the other side- to reap the benefits of my own hard labor. Essentially going from start to finish, connecting all the dots. This is the closest I have ever gotten to making a real impact, and the feeling is much more exhilarating than I could have ever imagined. I am incredibly grateful that Dr. Pratt and our funders (Howard Hughes Medical Institute, University of Michigan Department of Chemistry, University of Michigan Program in the Environment, University of Michigan Arctic Internships, and National Science Foundation) made such an enormous effort to make this happen. As I am finally getting to make my mark on the world, this trip has sure made its mark on me.