Renewable Solutions

Tracy Dahl, who leads PFS’ renewable/sustainable solutions, wrote to us from near Toolik Field Station yesterday. He and colleague Joe Yarkin (seen in Tracy's photo, above) are in the area installing new solar power systems for Steve Oberbauer (Florida International U), who is leading a large International Tundra Experiment or “ITEX” effort funded by the National Science Foundation.

“Joe and I completed the installation of the first of the two ITEX/Oberbauer solar power systems to be deployed in 2010 today. As you can see from the photos, it was a little chilly this morning, with periods of fog, drizzle, sleet, and my personal favorite, freezing rain. It really wasn't all that bad when you are geared up for it in a full rubber suit, and it certainly beats the heck out of 70F and mosquitoes! Due to pre-assembling the power systems as full "kits" in Fairbanks, the first installation went off without a hitch and is working fine, despite some rather dismal solar conditions. Steve Oberbauer does not have his towers set up yet, so at the moment we just have a box full of anxious electrons ready to get to work. Note the hack saw in the one photo. Steve borrowed it and left it on the box for us—then it got glued on overnight by about an inch of ice from the freezing rain. 

“This first site ended up only 1000' or so from the gravel pit parking lot, so the PI and his grad student plus Joe and I each grabbed a handle and hoofed it out there across the tundra. Steve Oberbauer is definitely a hands-on kind of scientist. The power systems themselves export 12 volts DC and 110 volts AC over to the distribution center, which is sort of a miniature clone of the main system. Although it looks kind of incomplete, it is an intentional design. The systems can be expanded by 50% without any major modifications in the event the scope and power requirement grows. Yeah, I learn slow but at least I learn. The site for the second system was approved by Toolik GIS today and Steve will show us the site tomorrow. After that we will work out a schedule to sling-load the stuff out there by helicopter. I'll try to get some action shots—hopefully with the sun out.”

Since the 1990’s ITEX has been studying how tundra plants respond to climate change by manipulating conditions (increasing warming and humidity, for example) in small plots on the tundra. PFS is providing solar systems to help power new robotic platforms developed to reduce the impact of scientists working on the fragile tundra. More on Oberbauer’s ingenious “info-mechanical” sampling technology soon.

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