August 31, 2006
I had time to look around BASC and Barrow some this afternoon. BASC is housed at the old Naval Arctic Research Laboratory (NARL) established in the late 1940's. Many of the buildings were built in the 40's and 50's and appear old and look somewhat run down. Of course just being in Barrow causes buildings to weather quickly. Because the ground is permafrost, the water, sewer and other pipes are not buried but are above ground. Of course they would freeze solid if they were exposed, so they are enclosed, insulated and heated. To keep from blocking cars and trucks many are also elevated. This gives the facilities an industrial appearance. Despite its appearance BASC is a hub of arctic research in the United States. Scores of scientists from around the world come here to make their observations. Currently a new building dedicated to climate change research is under construction.
Barry and Ev Sherr, the members of our group who specialize in marine microbial phytoplankton, and I walked around BASC, across the dirt road to the gravelly beach. We passed one of the residences where the hindquarters of a caribou are draped over the porch handrail. In back, draped across a sled the hides were drying.
Acting like a tourist I posed beside a couple of bowhead whale skulls. Really cool jellyfish, the diameter of a basketball, lined the water's edge. Phalaropes were wading in the shallow water feeding. The water was clear, the sky partly clear- a beautiful day but with a biting wind. Drifting with the currents, sea ice offshore constantly shifted position. A beautiful pristine environment.
Off shore in the unspoiled waters, surrounded by sea ice, was a ship currently being used to support the search for oil under the seafloor. Two days ago the Secretary of the Interior was here in Barrow to give his blessing for additional oil exploration and development in the area. This led the three of us to wonder about and discuss our concerns for drilling for oil offshore in such a hostile, unique and fragile environment. What impacts would that have on the bowhead whales, their food chain and the natives who depend on them? Why as a nation, aren't we putting larger amounts of resources into developing alternative energy sources? How much energy do we waste with our lifestyle?
Question of the Day: Do you think about where the energy you use comes from, and how that area is affected by the development?