My name is Craig Aumack and I’m a scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Currently, I’m on a National Science Foundation funded field expedition in the Arctic Circle, based out of Barrow, Alaska. My research team includes Lamont-Doherty colleagues Andy Juhl and Rebecca Fowler, and graduate student Kyle Kinzler from Arizona State University.

I study organisms that live in and just below Arctic sea ice to ascertain their contribution to marine food webs. These organisms comprise the base of the polar web, feeding larger marine organisms like fish, seals and whales. This information may provide a clearer understanding of the relationship among sea ice and communities in a changing Arctic ecosystem.

We’re here to answer questions about our research, what it’s like to live and work at an Arctic field camp and any other questions you may have.


  1. Our project website: and our posts on Columbia University’s Earth Institute blog:

  2. Juhl/Aumack lab website:

  3. Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory website:

  4. Lamont-Doherty on Twitter: (use the hashtag #LDEOarctic to find tweets related to our project)

Edit: Thank you all so much for your questions and interest in our research. We're stepping down from the computer and heading back out into the field. To learn more about this project and follow our progress in the Arctic, visit our website and blog:

Comments: 199 • Responses: 78  • Date: 

ionicbondage15 karma

Do you know any good polar bear jokes?

CraigAumack34 karma

Q. Where do polar bears keep their money? A. In snowbanks.

-- Rebecca

kobewest15 karma

Do you think scientists should be conservation advocates or do you think there should be a hard line between facts and advocacy to maintain credibility?

CraigAumack10 karma

Wow, that is an interesting question! I think it is really up to the individual scientist. I personally am concerned about collecting data and discovering any trends that can be interpreted from that data.

comicsmaniac9 karma

What's life like in the Arctic? Can you describe a typical day?

CraigAumack14 karma

Typical day: (1) Get up and make lunch for field. (2) Move over to staging are where we pack all the gear we will need for sampling that day, strap it down to sleds (think over-sized dog sleds), and attach the sleds to snow machines. (3) Get dressed in several layers of warm clothing and head out to field sites. We always have a bear guard with us as a guide and for protection. (4) We tend to prioritize certain sampling (in case we get recalled) and go down the check list retrieving samples and setting up other experiments. Somewhere in there, we eat lunch. (5) Head back to staging area where all the gear needs to be rinsed off, samples are loaded into a truck and taken back to the lab. (6) Samples are then cataloged, stored, and/or diluted in filtered seawater. We then process the samples we can while reviewing any underwater video footage we may have captured that day. Usually by now, it is between 8-9:30 at night.
(7) We tend to have a group dinner. (8) Back to lab to finish any samples and get a sampling plan set for the next day. (9) Bed....

on days we don't go in the field we are working in the lab to catch up on sampling, maintenance to field gear, and other activities (like reddit AMAs ;)

xeones6 karma

bear guard

Is this what I think it is?

CraigAumack7 karma

Yes.... A person whose main job is to keep an watch out for polar bears. They are armed and carry "firecracker" rounds that are designed to scare off a curious bear that begins to wander too close.

svanho3 karma

Are polar bear threats that big of a risk? Have you had any close encounters?

CraigAumack6 karma

They are an ever present risk, simply because they are curious animals and may or may not leave you alone. We have had close encounters in the past but our bear sightings this year have been non-threatening. We generally keep an eye on them when they are spotted and they simply wander on by keeping an eye on us.

quatch3 karma

what do you eat for lunch? I've given up eating anything beyond trailmix. It never stays unfrozen.

CraigAumack5 karma

Tomato soup and pilot crackers are a lunch staple because they don't freeze and you can eat/drink them with gloves/gear on. Trail mix is also super popular.

quatch1 karma

I am shamed that I never thought of this :) Probably some confluence of shipping weight and others not liking soup.

I'd given up eating lunch on my second field campaign after I got sick of PB&J made on toast (the toast doesn't freeze like bread). Was introduced to trailmix (I did scouts, so unsure why it never occurred to me either) on trip 3, and it was the bees knees.

CraigAumack1 karma

Sounds like you know that food planning is a crucial part of fieldwork. Soup and trail mix are great in the field, but I'm fairly certain no one in our group wants to be consuming them again any time soon after we leave Alaska.

Oilfield_Insider8 karma

What are the direct effects of normal drilling (i.e., in the absence of a spill or accident) on the environments that you study?

Do you think arctic (or Antarctic) scientists would be better suited for travel to Mars, given their work in harsh, cold environments, and ability to be separated from society while remaining focused on a scientific mission for long periods of time?

CraigAumack11 karma

(1) With our ice coring, we try to core through the bottom of the ice as gingerly as possible to avoid shaving off the very fragile bottom section. If you mean oil drilling, I am afraid I do not know.

(2) Some polar science is conducted just to look at organisms that live in extreme environments, environments that mirror similar conditions to those that could exist on other planets. That being said, I am not going to Mars.

rocketmonkeys1 karma

Why do you not want to break through the bottom? What would happen? How thin is thin (do you leave 1/10/100 ft?)

CraigAumack1 karma

We do core right through the bottom of the ice, but we do so carefully because the algae we're studying live in the bottom of section of the ice. We want to be sure that section of the ice core is intact when we pull the core out of the ice, because that is some of the more valuable we need is contained. Checking out this post ( may help you visualize what it is we're doing when we drill a core from the sea ice.

quatch1 karma

Does sea ice instant-freeze your equipment in the drill hole if you don't pull it up fast enough?

Do you do roughness measurements on the bottom of the ice/salinity profiles of the ice? This would be valuable information for microwave remote sensing.

CraigAumack1 karma

Yes, if we were to leave instruments down in the drill hole for any length of time, they'd definitely freeze into the ice. But most instruments we're just deploying for shorter lengths of time, no more than an hour or so, and we skim the ice off the top of the hole as it begins to form. At the moment we do measure the salinity of the ice but not surface roughness.

quatch1 karma

I mean right on breakthrough. With lake ice when we punch through if you don't get the drill out of the hole in one or two seconds it will freeze in. Seems to be the confluence of cold tool and lots of shavings, as it isn't really a problem to stick metal rods through the slush once the hole floods fully.

CraigAumack1 karma

Oh, yes, that can happen here as well. In fact, it did a few years back, fortunately on the last day of the season as our drill got pretty damaged.

qrstu47 karma

As a mechanical engineer, is it possible for me to get involved in marine biology as a research assistant or similar? I would be good at collecting and analyzing technical data but obviously no knowledge of biology.

CraigAumack7 karma

I have seen many engineers work side-by-side with marine biologists on various projects. These usually involve ROVs, sub-surface data recording devices, or automated water/benthic samplers. I would suggest looking into positions in Ocean Engineering or Resident Technician positions on research vessels.

Gravy-Leg__6 karma

How do you sample the microorganisms? Is contamination an issue you have to deal with?

CraigAumack10 karma

We drill and section certain parts of the ice cores and allow them to melt in filtered seawater. This helps the organisms deal with the salinity shock that comes from melting a sea-ice core by itself. Once the core is melted, we sample the water for microorganisms. We are always concerned about contaminating our samples.

Unidan5 karma

Hi guys!

I'm an ecosystem ecologist, and this work sounds really interesting! Apologies for all the questions, but I'm extremely interested!

  • Are there Little Auks where you guys work?

  • From your marine food webs, would you be able to identify a single "keystone" organism?

  • I feel like DOC would be a cool thing to measure for you guys, do you examine that? If so, what lab techniques are you guys using for quantifying DOC?

  • When you take an ice core, do you have to preserve it in a single block, or can you guys break it up and put it into baggies?

Thanks for taking the time to answer questions, and here's some terrestrial soil baggies if you feel homesick from staring at ice all day!

CraigAumack5 karma

  1. No auks here, or at least not at this time of year. Lots of other birds though. Snow geese, eider ducks, snowy owls, snow buntings and very soon a lot of shore birds will be coming up from the south.

  2. We're not doing the kind of research that would allow us to address that question.

  3. We do look at DOC using the high temperature catalytic oxidation method.

  4. We take temperature measurements for the whole core, then cut it up and take various sections, depending on what we want to measure, (such as the bottom, where the algae are) back to the lab for experiments and analysis.

Unidan4 karma

Excellent, thanks for taking the time to answer, and good luck with the project!

CraigAumack4 karma

Thanks, good luck with your research too.

GuidoZGirl4 karma

Ocean acidification is a growing hot topic in my area. Have you seen evidence of this as a growing problem in the area you are researching?

Second question: with the awareness of noise pollution in the water and how it's impacting whales and other species what do you feel it would take to make this problem fully realized by society and to what degree of action is needed to make the ocean waters more habitable again for the sea life with respect to this? I do hope I worded that well enough. :-)

CraigAumack3 karma

There is reason to believe the polar oceans would acidify more rapidly than other areas of the planet, but it not something our research group has focused on. We do not have a long enough data base to see any acidification trends in sea-ice.

vanillacupcake44 karma

Do you see any evidence or believe that global warming is affecting the Artic Circle, if so what?

Why do you believe your research is or could be important?

What's the most interesting thing you've learned so far?

What surprised you most about the artic circle in general?

CraigAumack4 karma

(1) Locally, continued reduction of sea-ice coverage along with changes in sea-ice formation, sea-ice breakup, and coastal erosion. These changes, we see locally, are consistent with changes reported elsewhere.

(2) We are really interested in the sea-ice community and its contribution to underlying marine systems after its export from the sea-ice. As sea-ice conditions change, likely this coupling between first year sea-ice and the pelagic/benthic systems will change as well.

(3) I am fascinated by the fact that a species of jellyfish under the ice drag themselves along the ground to collect algae that export from the sea-ice. On another note, I found it interesting to learn that one of our bear guard owned a pet wolverine.

goldfire6264 karma

Do you prefer the cold wilderness up there or do you miss society? What's the one thing you miss the most?

CraigAumack4 karma

I love it up here, there is always something amazing to see. Last year I watched a pod of beluga whales swim by our location, less than 20ft. away! However, after awhile I do miss the comforts of home and friends. I miss my dog.

hsmith7113 karma

Regarding the relationship among sea ice and communities...

Which animals and plant life have you personally observed to be most affected by the changing conditions?

Which animals and plant life have you personally observed to be most affected by the impact to animals and plant life in the first question?

CraigAumack5 karma

Great question...and a tough one to answer. Based on our observations I would say that sea ice algae is certainly affected by changing sea-ice conditions and overlying snow cover. How these changes impact organisms living under the ice (either in the water column or along the bottom) is one of our primary research interests. It is apparent that these creatures readily graze on algae exported from sea-ice, how any change in the sea-ice community may affect those organisms in the long term is still to be determined.

SamuelDADams13 karma

How was the project funded? do you think that climate change is drastically hurting these organisms? if so are there other food sources that whales, fish, and life can sustain from if we loose these organisms from climate change? what do you eat up there? is it ever to cold to work? do you ever just hangout and not research?

CraigAumack5 karma

1) The project was funded by the National Science Foundation. We also received funds from the Brinson Foundation for equipment.

2) I believe the steady decreasing sea-ice coverage will ultimately cause change in Arctic marine systems. It is difficult though to predict that change.

3) In the field, we eat a lot of tomato soup and other food that we can eat/drink with gloves/gear on. We usually make dinner together back at one of the huts in the evening.

4) Not ever too cold with the right gear, however when it gets too windy we have white out conditions and that makes it impossible and unsafe to work.

5) We try to maximize our time here and work as much as possible to get the data and observations we need, since getting to Barrow is an extensive endeavor. That said, once in a while, if we're all caught up in the lab and can't get out in the field, we'll take time in the evening to chat or check out Barrow. There's lots of flexibility in being outdoors right now, since the sun is shining all the time!

themysterycow3 karma

For Craig: How would you say that being forced to shave your head as result of a bad mid-nineties Super Bowl bet shaped you into the globe-trotting international man of science that you are today? Serious answer only, please.

CraigAumack2 karma

I would say no correlation. How did you like the result of that last Superbowl!?

roncola3 karma

Someone on your crew knows about the Cthulhu Mythos? You should be afraid for digging holes in the ancient ice lol

CraigAumack4 karma

We only core first year sea ice so their is little chance of unearthing powerful beings trapped in "ancient" ice.

The_Real_Praxis3 karma

I'm personally scared of large fish.... and the ocean..... What was the most terrifying animal you have Worked/Studied with?

CraigAumack3 karma

A tie between polar bears (in the Arctic) and leopard seals (in Antarctic). On land, polar bears tend to keep their distance but are massive none-the-less. Underwater, leopard seals can be incredibly intimidating to divers.

reyshells3 karma

I just received my bachelors of science in marine biology about a week ago. Any good tips on how to enter this field of research (arctic/marine ecology)? I've got my eyes fixed on grad school, but I'm taking a year off in hopes that I can find some good entry level work to supplement my CV, which already includes work with nudibranchs.

CraigAumack3 karma

Graduate school is a great way to advance your career, and there is often funding available to pay your tuition and a stipend. In the meantime, you could look for work at marine science laboratories and through organizations like ASLO and AGU, which have job postings on their websites. Signing up for this listserv ( will also introduce you to many opportunities in the field. Good luck!

The_Doctor073 karma

How many pet penguins do you have?

Will you name one slippy if you haven't already?

CraigAumack2 karma

I am sorry to report that we have no pet penguins, as they are found almost exclusively in the southern hemisphere. The Arctic has polar bears, but we're told they don't make very good pets.

kr2623 karma

Are glaciers actually melting as fast as the media says, or is it a bit exaggerated?

CraigAumack3 karma

Sorry, glaciers are really not my field of expertise as we work with first year sea-ice. I would imagine it depends on the specific glacier and media source.

Woodchopping2 karma

Wouldn't you rather do research in some tropical areas? And also, why aren't the algae in tropical areas too? And aren't they afraid of the dark and White walkers during the polar night?

CraigAumack4 karma

There are plenty of algal species in tropical areas as well! I love working in polar regions, they are the areas of the planet where change is most apparent and there is still much to explore at the poles.

Woodchopping5 karma

Yes, but what about the White walkers up there in North? Aren't you afraid of them?

CraigAumack6 karma

If you mean polar bears, we are very concerned about them and always bring a bear guard to keep watch while we sample the ice. If you mean the walking undead that live beyond the Wall in Game of Thrones...well, we avoid Westeros.

Frajer2 karma

Does it get lonely there?

CraigAumack5 karma

We keep each other pretty good company. Barrow is also a town of about 4000 people with restaurants, a cultural museum, etc, so there are things to do when we have the occasional free moment. Also, with access to the internet, it's easy to stay in touch with friends and family while we're up here.

jjh19632 karma

Could you describe your accomodations after spending all day outside!

CraigAumack4 karma

The living accommodations could best described as rustic without the charm. We live in old cold-war era Quonset huts on a former navy base. The huts are old, but warm and equipped with the things we need after a long day in the field: heat, hot water, kitchens and internet. While not glamorous, we are comfortable and always happy to return home.

i_crave_more_cowbell2 karma

Is there anything extremely surprising you found out about living in the arctic, or that you found in general?

CraigAumack3 karma

Most people might be surprised to learn that the Arctic, though an extreme environment, supports thriving, diverse communities of people, marine organisms and wildlife. Barrow is a tight knit community of hard-working people who are extremely friendly and supportive of our research endeavors. One of the most surprising things of late is the amount of mud that's created as temperatures warms, snow melts and the ground thaws.

CautiousTrain2 karma

Anyone on the base ever read The Terror by Dan Simmons? That's what sprung to mind with living way out in the Arctic.

CraigAumack2 karma

Yes, I have. But with the consistent ice melt the Northwest Passage is fairly open compared to the mid- 1800s.

scoutycat2 karma

1) What do you think of environmental groups like greenpeace and their tactics?

2) How long will you be up there for?

3) What's the most beautiful or spectacular thing you've seen while up north?

CraigAumack2 karma

Andy and Craig are here almost 5 weeks, Kyle is here 3 weeks and Rebecca for 2 weeks. Andy and Craig have been working in Barrow for quite a few years and are usually here for 4-5 weeks.

The most beautiful and spectacular things we see while working in the Arctic are polar bears, snowy owls, jellyfish under the ice, beluga whales... all of the wildlife we don't see while at home in New York. And, the blue color of the ice on a sunny day, says Andy.

llama_laughter2 karma

What are the biggest impacts or concerns when it comes to ice shelf melting? How many organisms will be directly impacted?

CraigAumack2 karma

Ice shelf melting happens every year, it's part of the natural cycle of things. The timing and extent of the ice shelf melt is more important because Arctic ecosystems function very differently when they're covered with ice vs open water, which is part of what we're working to understand. And every organism stands to be affected either directly or indirectly.

funkseoulbrotha2 karma

Weird question, but I must ask.

How tasty is the ice?

Does it taste different than..your standard ice cube that you get from the fridge?

CraigAumack2 karma

If you like your ice salty, you'll find it quite tasty. Average salinity of the sea water here is about 32 ppt, which is close to average. Keep in mind that's it's sea ice that we're studying, so it differs quite a bit from the freshwater ice you make in your freezer.

funkseoulbrotha3 karma

Owned by Science and common sense.

Way to go me.

CraigAumack2 karma

We're not judging, we want this to be an educational experience!

ShingamiOfSmarm2 karma

Hey! Much admiration for you guys for putting this much effort into science.
On a personal level, what's the big hope or dream or idea that keeps you adamant enough to spend all this time in the Arctic doing research? Discovering a new species, finding information to save endangered species, finding things to advance medicine, etc?

CraigAumack3 karma

It's actually the cutting-edge research. We've carved out a niche for ourselves that is really unique and it turns out to be scientifically really rewarding. If we didn't do this, nobody else would.

ShingamiOfSmarm2 karma

So are you in it for the research itself, or do you have some long-term hopes/goals to apply the research to?

CraigAumack3 karma

Well, of all the things we do, this is probably the least applied, the most fundamental. Nevertheless, the work we do is important and relevant for understanding how Arctic marine ecosystems function and how they may change in the future.

CaterpillarPromise2 karma

I am a marine science major, looking to go into water reclamation. Do you have any advice for me?

CraigAumack2 karma

We're excited to receive so many questions related to research careers and opportunities. Check out our advice elsewhere in this AMA and best of luck.

DownvoteAll_I_Say1 karma

What is the scariest part about the Arctic?

Do you have many encounters with the wildlife?

CraigAumack2 karma

The scariest part of the Arctic at this time of year is the constant daylight. It means it's easy to lose track of time and suddenly realize you've worked a 16 hour day. In general, I think we all find life in the Arctic more exciting and interesting than scary. On this trip we've had few encounters with wildlife (so far). A few distant polar bear sightings and tracks around our sampling site. And, as the temperature warms up, we're seeing more birds, like snow buntings too. While there is an abundance of wildlife in this area, we haven't seen much of it out on the sea ice.

Rytlockfox1 karma

What's the most fascinating animal you have worked with/Studied, and why?

CraigAumack1 karma

Given the nature of our research, we are naturally fascinated by the algae growing in and on the underside of sea ice. Many people don't think of the Arctic as an environment that hospitable to plants, animals, or maybe even people, but in fact there are communities of algae growing and thriving inside the ice... and that is pretty cool because it shows that life can exist even under what we may think of as extreme conditions.

TheStarkReality1 karma

Things live in the arctic?

CraigAumack2 karma

So many interesting things live in the Arctic! And we are just beginning to learn about some of them. Take a look at some of the marine life we've filmed on this trip:

Alarmed_Ferret1 karma

Hi! I am interested in biology as a career, perhaps even marine biology. My question is this: What sorts of subjects do you need to be good at in order to be successful? Which maths are important? How hard is it to go on these research expeditions? Thanks!

CraigAumack1 karma

A basic science background background is key, general bio, physics, chemistry and calculus. Statistics should you choose to go to graduate school. We don't find it hard to go on research expeditions, but they certainly aren't for everyone. They often involve working very long hours in challenging conditions. That said, they are also a wonderful way to travel the world, learn more about it and meet fascinating people.

Alarmed_Ferret1 karma

I hadn't even thought of statistics, but it makes sense that you'd need to have a good grasp of it. I'll definitely keep this post in mind. Thank you for the quick answer!

Follow up question: I saw that you mentioned funding being available for graduate school to cover tuition, is there anything similar for scholarships for college? I'm white, male, and not disabled in any way, so finding scholarships is usually a bit harder. Are there any organizations that want to fund aspiring biologists that you could refer me to, or should I just expect a lot of student loans?

CraigAumack1 karma

Hard to comment on the availability of scholarships for undergraduate work, not being too familiar with that. Students can often find support for graduate school through National Science Foundation programs like GK-12 and IGERT. Individual researchers sometimes have money through their NSF grants that can be used for student support, you may see positions like this advertised through organizations like AGU and ASLO.

Alarmed_Ferret1 karma

Thanks for the help. Another question for you: What's the most interesting thing, in your opinion, that you have found so far on this trip?

CraigAumack1 karma

The tremendous number of jellyfish and other kinds of gelatinous zooplankton that we're seeing under the ice is really unexpected. We've seen these in the past, but never as many as we're seeing this year.

Alarmed_Ferret1 karma

Has anyone managed to capture any? I was reading your blog and I know you mentioned someone wanting to get a hold of the isopod in your "What Lies Beneath the Ice" video for further study.

CraigAumack1 karma

We managed to capture several isopods yesterday. Some by accident, in a small dredge we use to collect sediment samples from the ocean floor, and some on purpose, in traps we improvised in the lab our of buckets, wire mesh and tape. We're interested in the isopods to see what they eat... if they're eating ice algae or other types. We'll share photos and video of these on the website soon.

taylorcraig6341 karma

What is the most dangerous marine animal you've come in closest contact with?

CraigAumack3 karma

We've not been in close contact with any dangerous marine mammals. The closest dangerous creatures we encounter here are our hungry colleagues after a long day in the field when there's only one granola bar left in the lunch bag.

Dracola1121 karma

I'm really interested in biology, but I'm lacking anything that resembles knowledge about how the field works. What are some typical things that somebody in your field does in a workday?

CraigAumack3 karma

That varies quite a bit depending on whether we're working in the lab or out in the field. In the lab we spend a lot of time in front of a computer. We do a lot of writing, so having good writing skills is valuable. We do a lot of data analysis too. Chemical analyses too. Field days can be physically demanding under unpleasant conditions, but we also get to see a lot of beautiful and amazing things. Most people doing this work get hooked on it by the fieldwork. If you want to see more about what we do during our days in the field, you should look at our website:

quezi1 karma

My girlfriend is up in the Arctic next month conducting sea ice/climate change research, interesting stuff! In terms of the ecosystem structure, is there one organism that plays a central 'king pin' role like that of E. superba in Southern Ocean ecosystems?

CraigAumack1 karma

There just might be, but we're not doing the kind of research that would allow us to address that question.

AshleyJean6151 karma

In your opinion, what's the most difficult aspect of living an working in the Artic? Anything you didn't expect?

CraigAumack2 karma

The most difficult part of doing research in the Arctic is shipping our scientific equipment up here. We have to bring our entire lab with us, everything we need to do our work here, so we ship an enormous amount of stuff and then we have to ship it back. There are almost always problems with this process, it takes a long time and it's expensive. Living and working here is actually quite easy, it's just getting things here to do our research that's complicated.

Corrupt_Spartan1 karma

Hey guys! I have been very interested in your work and I am getting to do some coral research down at the Florida Keys with the Wave Foundation. May I ask, what got you interested in marine organisms in the arctic?

It is because it is a remote topic?

Are you interested in the life?

Or is it god damn fun?

Edit: College of Charleston for Marine Biology and other sciences.

CraigAumack1 karma

Hello, I was originally interested in kelp research as I had spent some time diving in Northern California kelp beds. This led to a graduate program studying Arctic kelp beds and things went from there. I do enjoy the remote locations and am VERY interested in the life! It can also be really damn fun!

Corrupt_Spartan1 karma

Truly amazing work you two have been doing. Please keep it up. Don't think I will be doing arctic organisms but it is a cool subject to work on. Thanks!

CraigAumack1 karma

Thanks for your interest!

OatmealPowerSalad1 karma

I'm about to graduate with a dual degree in Biology and Film and I'm trying to put together my next few years to inch my way towards doing documentary/research work in the arctic. Are there any things you've wanted to tell people about arctic field work that they never ask?

CraigAumack4 karma

Ironically, I graduated with a dual degree in Marine Biology and Film. Now I am doing research work in the Arctic so that path is familiar to me. I am actually amazed by the variety of questions we are getting on this AMA, as for other things that aren't asked about I would say the general diversity and abundance of life up here. Generally speaking, people imagine polar environments as barren but it is quite the opposite.

quatch1 karma

Have you done any fieldwork in polar darkness? If so, beyond lighting, what extra planning was required?

CraigAumack1 karma

Not Arctic fieldwork, currently it is currently 24 hr sunlight. I have been in Antarctica during 24hr darkness but the field work had pretty much concluded at that point.

iNoScopedRFK1 karma

As an aspiring marine biologist (although I would like to focus on marine mammology, specifically cetaceans or pinnipeds) that will (hopefully) be attending grad school within a year or two, do you have any career advice? Any tips? If you could have done anything differently, what would it be?

CraigAumack1 karma

Stay in school! There aren't that many opportunities without (at least) a masters degree. Graduate school will advance your career, and provide valuable learning opportunities and exposure to the science community. General advice is don't specialize too early in undergrad, get a good basic science education: chemistry, physics, math, biology. Try different things (lab work, field work, etc) to find out what you enjoy.

iNoScopedRFK1 karma

I've already received my bachelor's degree in oceanography and am currently doing research. The plan is to go back to school for my Ph.D in a year or two. Any other tips besides staying in school? I've heard I should look into fellowships.

CraigAumack1 karma

Definitely look into fellowships. You should have no trouble getting financial support to do a PhD in ocean sciences. Contact PIs you're interested in working with, look for positions through places like ASLO, and consider NSF fellowships like IGERT or GK-12. These will also give you great teaching/education experience if you're interested in that.

DudeInArmor1 karma

Today there are clearly some huge issues with the arctic/sea ice surrounding climate change, unfortunately most of the younger generation seems to be very apathetic to these problems. My question is: How do you guys hope to make your research more accessible to the general public?

CraigAumack1 karma

By doing things like Reddit AMAs -- and more! Seriously, we are committed to outreach and work with teachers and students, and also try to take advantage of technology to share our research. This is our first time doing an AMA, we are also keeping a blog during our time here, and Rebecca is sharing photos on Twitter (see links above). Our question is: do you have suggestions on how we can make our research more accessible to the general public?

brikah1 karma

Do you guys have any pictures of wildlife you're seeing out on the ice? I'd love to see a polar bear riding a narwhal, though just one or the other would do.

CraigAumack2 karma

We've not seen much wildlife yet, but you should certainly visit our website for photos of wild scientists at work. As for the photo of a polar bear riding a narwhal, we've set up that photo shoot for tomorrow. Stay tuned!

Stumpledumpus1 karma

How different is life in Barrow compared to where you are all from?

CraigAumack2 karma

Three of us live in or near New York City, the other guy, Kyle, lives in Phoenix. Needless to say these are very different places from Barrow. There are likely more people in a few square NYC blocks than there are in Barrow. And New York is a vertical city of tall buildings, while Barrow is horizontal with long views of the sea and tundra. Most people who live here are Native Alaskans (Inupiat), who maintain their cultural heritage and traditional hunting and fishing lifestyles. A very different way of life from what we know in the lower 48, and one that is very cool to learn about and temporarily be a part of.

Aendresh1 karma

I am about to go off to a university. I am planning on getting my degree in marine biology as well and would be very interested in your advice on breaking into the field of study. How did you get started and what advice do you wish others had told you?

CraigAumack1 karma

Look elsewhere in this AMA and you'll find some suggestions from us. You're on the right track, be sure to take courses in chemistry, physics, math, biology, etc. Don't feel like you have to specialize too much as an undergrad, try different things and you'll have a solid foundation on which to build a career.

Khalzar1 karma

Just wanted to say i admire your work and am jealous as hell, realized after finishing my teaching degree that i wanted to go into bio field study rather than teach it (although still fun). Thanks for the AMA

CraigAumack1 karma

It's never too late to make a change! One of us, Rebecca, is a former teacher who's now a science communicator at Lamont-Doherty. And she's been on several research expeditions like this one to help scientists with outreach. But, should you choose to stick with teaching, there are many ways for teachers to be involved in scientific research. If you live in the U.S. check out the Research Experience for Teachers (RET), funded by NSF. There are also ways to go on oceanographic research expeditions, NOAA and IODP have teacher at sea programs.

NomNomMeatball1 karma

Have you ever seen a giant squid?

CraigAumack2 karma

Not outside a picture.

Oxnard__Montalvo1 karma

How's the SCUBA scene up there?

CraigAumack1 karma

Not as pretty as the Antarctic and the visibility is generally bad, but still interesting and unique. The bottom is mostly unconsolidated sediments with a number of large isopods and amphipods scurrying around. However, the Arctic kelp beds are sudden oases of kelp, red algae, and invertebrates.

Erespendejo1 karma


CraigAumack2 karma

Hey Hugo, much cooler!

chadehooper1 karma

As a current senior in marine biology, what are some jobs that one can acquire with just a bachelors? It seems that grad school is required for nearly everything, however I'd prefer to take a year or two off. Also, your project is amazing, a lab at my university just got back from an Antarctic trip to study Inverts.

CraigAumack1 karma

With a bachelors degree you certainly qualify to be a technician in lab. Check out the resources we've posted elsewhere in this AMA or ask around among the scientists you've been working with at your university to see if they might know of opportunities for you.

TallPaul4121 karma


CraigAumack1 karma

I have been working as a polar biologist in one way or another since my I started graduate school. I received my Master's while working on Arctic kelp beds and my PhD. while working on Antarctic macroalgae. I guess each step through my academic career helped me prepare for the next research endeavor.

DworkinsCunt1 karma

As someone with a useless undergraduate degree in liberal arts and no discernible skills, is there any way I could get some kind of support staff job that would allow me to travel to the high arctic?

CraigAumack1 karma

Sure, there is need for workers at/around Barrow and there are always jobs through oil companies along the North Slope of Alaska. Just depends on what you want to do. I imagine if you search for scientific support staff or other positions in this area you'll find something.

classical_6string1 karma

Hi from Eugene, OR! Thanks so much for doing this.

I'm in a play here, and the character I play is a marine biologist. I was just wondering (for character research and depth of subtext), have you noticed any correlation between fish 'sleep' time and factors such as change in light, predators or time of day? Any interesting factiods you can share about fish 'sleep' in general? That may be an oddly worded question...


CraigAumack2 karma

Yours is a very interesting question, but unfortunately, not one that we are able to answer based on our research.

Quwilaxitan1 karma

I wish I had an amazing scientific question for you but I don't - I'm just in awe of your amazing willingness for adventure and science. Good for you for bettering the human race.

CraigAumack1 karma

Thanks for reading, we appreciate your interest in our work.

definehappiness1 karma

What urged you to go there? Was it hard leaving all 'society' behind, travelling to such a remote and uncertain part of the world?

CraigAumack1 karma

Curiosity, wanting to know more about Arctic marine ecosystems and the kinds of organisms living in this environment. The opportunity to do research in an unusual place. While Barrow is remote, it's not too hard for us to live here for a month. The town has grocery stores and restaurants, like anywhere else, so life is pretty comfortable.

rocketmonkeys1 karma

Scenario: you drill too deep, and awaken an organism that takes over your bodies one by one leading to mayhem, murder, and suspense. Standard fare.


  • Who gets infected? Why? (they leave the door open, ignore protocol, are unlucky, etc)
  • Who is the protagonist? What skills do they have that allows them to survive?
  • Last, how does it end? (Lone helicopter rescue, military neutralizing the site, etc)

Also: what kind of neat/cool/unusual gear do you have? What gear are you most thankful for?

CraigAumack1 karma

We're not wanting to give away our contingency plan for that scenario, so let's address the last question, it's a good one. One of the coolest pieces of gear we have on this trip is a small remotely operated vehicle (ROV) we've nicknamed Brinson. It's equipped with a GoPro camera and we've been sending it down to capture footage of the algae growing on the underside of the ice and to see what other organisms are living in the Arctic Ocean. We've gotten some great footage of isopods on the seafloor, algae and the occasional fish and jellyfish. The ROV is important because it gives an idea of what's happening in the whole Arctic marine ecosystem, not just in and just below the ice. So, we're very thankful for Brinson, and also for long underwear and warm socks.

leftieloosie1 karma

Do you have a favourite surprising evolutionary adaptation that has occurred in the arctic ecosystem? Or even just a surprising trait from a favourite organism.

Also, have you seen proof that the ecosyetem is adapting at all to the current climatic changes and do you believe it has a fighting chance to keep up if the world continues to change?

CraigAumack1 karma

That's an excellent question. Favorite evolutionary adaptation, it's hard because we don't yet know about the ice algae to know how they physically cope with the conditions in the Arctic.

The ecosystem won't ever go away, we'll just see changes in the dynamics of it. Organisms that can adapt quickly will be superior to those that can't, so some populations of organisms may diminish or disappear. So there would likely be a change in species turnover and dominant organisms. Part of what we're doing up here is basic research about the marine ecosystem because once we understand that we can better understand how the ecosystem may change in response to climate change.

Stephanie6667771 karma

Has any new information about the narwhal come to light? I have been interested in this animal for quite some time. I would love to see a dissection ( of one that died of natural causes of course) with a little more information on their body structure and life style. All i have learned from research at home is horn length, general location, and that they are very mysterious.

CraigAumack1 karma

Sorry, we don't study marine mammals, so don't know much about them either.

Blizzity1 karma

What is the single biggest change in the high Arctic over the last 10-20 years?

CraigAumack1 karma

That depends on your perspective, of course, but I'd say the amount of open water in the summer time. That's the biggest because it affects climate, heat, precipitation, the ability to exploit the land and water.

Distaplia0 karma

Hello Craig. My question is: do you guys have a happy hour everyday after work where you drink tequila and tonic? and if so, is "Down in a Hole" by Alice in Chains the theme song for said happy hour?

CraigAumack2 karma

Nope, no happy hour nor alcohol up here.


What's the hardest part about working in the arctic?

CraigAumack5 karma

The wind.....cold I can deal with but trying to do field work on a windy day is miserable! It's crucial to have the right clothing and be well prepared or changing weather conditions on the ice. We're typically outside for 6+ hours at a time, so staying warm and dry is probably our biggest challenge.

JedaBlack0 karma

Can a small black puppy survive in that temperature?

CraigAumack1 karma


Mapcinq1-1 karma

Is it cold?

CraigAumack3 karma

It is cold, though not as cold as it is in winter here. Temperatures are ranging a bit with spring weather, and have been between 10 - 35F during our time here. Of course, when it's super windy and you're working outside, you feel much colder than that.