Posted by: crhammond | November 22, 2011

A Linguist’s Look at Language

In our everyday lives, it’s easy to take for granted our ability to communicate and express exactly “what we mean to say.” If you take a step back, and think about how we are conveying and encoding meaning in our language (be it English, Iñupiaq or any other language), it’s quite a complicated matter!  Over the last couple weeks, visiting researcher and linguist Signe Rix Berthelin helped us do just that in her second BASC Saturday Talk, a radio interview on KBRW and a visit with a Barrow High School Iñupiaq class.

Signe Rix Berthelin on a visit with Barrow High School students

Signe Rix Berthelin is a Danish master’s student of linguistics in Norway studying the Iñupiaq language here in Barrow.  Besides Danish, English, Norwegian and Iñupiaq, Signe has experience with German and Swahili as well.  How’s that for language?!  With her breadth of knowledge on various languages, Signe explained and demonstrated to students at BHS all the different approaches one can take to studying a language.  Signe’s own work has to do with semantics (meaning of words and expressions) and pragmatics (meaning of words and expressions in context).

One aspect of this that Signe touched on in the classroom with BHS students is the idea of homonymy (when unrelated meanings are expressed by the same word) and polysemy (when words have multiple, but related meanings).  With the help of the class, Signe explored examples from English, Danish and Iñupiaq and discussed the distinction between homonymy and polysemy. Homonymy, eg. ‘bear’=the animal and ‘bear’=to carry, is a historical coincidence. Polysemous words are the result of extending the meaning of a word to also cover something else eg. in Danish, where ‘banke’ can mean to knock (on the door) or to beat somebody up. Through these examples, Signe demonstrated how deciding whether the multiple meanings of a word are related is not always a straightforward activity.

The goal of Signe’s research here is Barrow is a detailed description of the Iñupiaq expressions ‘niq’ and ‘guuq’. From the work, she plans to produce a student pamphlet explaining the meanings of these expressions and how to use them while communicating in Iñupiaq and a Master’s Thesis contributing to the documentation and description of the Iñupiaq language.  In Barrow, Signe has interviewed speakers of Iñupiaq who have patiently shared their knowledge about the meaning of ‘niq’ and ‘guuq’.

Signe’s Saturday talk, radio interview and visit with students were fun and enlightening opportunities to reconsider the words and language we use everyday!

 Signe would like to note that her research is kindly supported by Nordic Association of Linguistics, Barrow Arctic Science Consortium and the Department of Language and Communication Studies at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

Posted by: crhammond | November 18, 2011

What do Cookies, Soil Hydrology and Sweden Have in Common?

What do Cookies, Soil Hydrology and Sweden Have in Common?

UAF scientist Anna Liljedahl!

A couple weeks ago, Anna Liljedahl visited with a group of high school students out at the Barrow Environmental Observatory as a part of BASC After School Field Trip program.  Anna is a researcher from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and has been coming up to Barrow for a number of years to study hydrology of ice-wedge polygons in the tundra.

Sunrise Beo

The Barrow Environmental Observatory

Upon first arriving out to the site, Anna split the group of high schoolers into two teams and gave each group a cookie.  She asked the students to place that cookie in “the warmest spot on the tundra.” Then Anna measured the temperature of the two spots chosen by the students, one near the surface of the snow and the other under 2 feet of snow.  The temperatures differed by a staggering 10 degrees Celsius!   Anna explained how the thick layer of snow actually acts as insulation for the tundra, so the cookie placed two feet down and out of the wind was in a much warmer spot than the other cookie placed near the surface.

Anna, who is Swedish, also used Swedish chocolates to demonstrate how water flows through polygon features on the surface of the tundra.  It was quite a fun and tasty trip, since the students got to eat the chocolate polygons after the demonstration!

Anna Liljedahl Digging in the Permafrost

But what does all of this have to do with Anna’s research?  Here is a brief description, in her own words, of what Anna is looking at here in Barrow and why we will be seeing her again in the spring:

“This research aims to define the present hydrology and its controls, illuminating how wetlands underlain by continuous permafrost may respond to a changed climate. The simulations have shown that ice-wedge polygon features play an important role in controlling both the ponding of water on the surface and the amount of runoff to the ocean.”

Posted by: crhammond | November 17, 2011

Saturday Talk: Talking Trash

This Saturday we will be talking trash at our Saturday Schoolyard talk, and we mean real trash!  Scott Barr will be joining us at the Barrow Arctic Research Center to speak about waste management.


Need a ride? A van will be in front of the Hospital door C at 1:00

 And then at Tuzzy Library at 1:15 pm to take people to and from the presentation.

Waste Management and it’s Impacts

Scott Barr

Saturday November 19, 2011, at 1:30 pm

Okay so you’ve yelled at Johnny enough times so that he finally gets off the Xbox long enough to take out the garbage.  Where does the trash go from there and does it matter?  Does waste management effect us and how?  Maybe we should be doing something else, but what? Join us this Saturday to discuss these important questions and more!

Posted by: crhammond | November 10, 2011

Saturday Talk, November 12th: Linguist Signe Berthelin

This Saturday, November 12th at the Barrow Arctic Research Center at 1:30 pm.

Host: Nokinba Acker, BASC

All Ages Welcome!

Need a ride?  A van will be in front of the Hospital door C at 1:00 and then at Tuzzy Library at 1:15 pm to take people to and from the presentation.

Modality and Evidentiality in Language

Signe Rix Berthelin

Masters Student of Linguistics, focusing on Iñupiaq

Signe will give an overview of the different kinds of modal meaning, and discuss the puzzling issues related to talking about these meanings. She will also introduce the exciting category of Evidentiality. Evidentials are expressions by which the speaker indicates how he got the information he is passing on to the hearer.

Modal expressions, e.g. English must and Iñupiaq –palliq-, indicate obligations, permissions, probability and certainty. In Linguistics, describing the exact meaning of modal expressions is challenging, and the task is not made easier when the expressions have more than one meaning.

Posted by: crhammond | November 4, 2011

BASC, Wildlife & AEWC team up to support KBRW

Did you hear us on the radio today?  This morning, BASC, the Borough’s Department of Wildlife Management, Alaska Fish and Game and the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission all joined forces to take part in KBRW’s annual Drive to Thrive.  Between “Keep on Whaling” and “Wild thing,” our crew raised over $2,000 for KBRW!

Thanks for KBRW for all it does for the community and special thanks to all those who called in to pledge support!

glenn drive

Basc’s Glenn Sheehan along Wildlife’s Johnny Aiken & Robert Akpik in the KBRW Studio.

kbrwThe crew answering phones and taking down pledges at KBRW.

nok and scottBASC’s Nok Acker and Scott Oyagak, ready to take calls!

mike donovanBASC’s Mike Donovan t taking down a pledge!

Posted by: crhammond | November 4, 2011

No Saturday Talk November 5th

There will be no Saturday talk tomorrow, November 5th.  Unfortunately our Community Outreach Coordinator Nok Acker has been out sick all week!

Be sure to get your sleep, take lots of Vitamin C and stay healthy!  Hope to see you at next week’s talk!

There will be no Saturday Schoolyard talk this weekend because there is a very special event going on at the Iñupiat Heritage Center on Saturday.  The Friends of the Tuzzy Library  are hosting an official book launch for local author Debby Dahl Edwardson and her new book My Name is Not Easy.

Debby’s new book was just announced as a finalist for the National Book Award, the winners of which will be announced mid-November at an event in New York.

Join the Friends of Tuzzy Library and Debby this Saturday, October 29th from 1pm-3pm at the Heritage Center to celebrate the release of Debby’s award winning new book!

Posted by: crhammond | October 27, 2011

Ecologist Katey Walter Anthony Speaks Tonight at the Hospital

Schoolyard Talk tonight presented by BASC Host Nokinba Acker:

Katey Walter Anthony  is speaking tonight, Thursday, October 27th at 7pm in the Hospital Large Common Room (Entrance E of the Samuel Simmonds Memorial Hospital).

Methane Bubbling Out of Lakes Around Barrow

Katey Walter Anthony

Aquatic Ecologist and Assistant Professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks

Katey will be speaking about methane seeps in Alaskan lakes, including those around Barrow.  For over 11 years Katie has been studying the tundra to determine the amount of methane seeping out of the ground.  Many of the lakes out on the tundra have methane actively bubbling up out of their beds.  Come learn about what she is studying and finding in these local lakes!

Posted by: crhammond | October 27, 2011

NASA Team Heads to the Tundra

Close up of an ice sample taken by NASA

The NASA Astrobiology Institute ‘Icy Worlds’ team based out of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, CA is currently up visiting Barrow and BASC for a two week field session out on the icy tundra.

The “Icy Worlds” team has a project running in Barrow focused on understanding the origin, distribution, and time variation in methane-rich lakes throughout the North Slope. The group is developing tools and techniques to map these lakes and conducting analyses on the water and sediments to understand the microbial populations that affect the lakes chemistry. This work is helping to advance the understanding of climate change on Earth by monitoring and measuring a powerful greenhouse gas (methane) and is advancing our ability to assess and identify potentially habitable environments elsewhere in the Solar System.


How does this relate to life on other planets?  Here is a quick snip-it from the NASA website about the project’s goals:

Europa, an icy moon of Jupitor: Photo courtesy of

“Icy worlds such as Titan, Europa, Encela- dus, and others may harbor the greatest vol- ume of habitable space in the Solar System.  For at least five of these worlds, Europa, Titan, Ganymede, Callisto, and Enceladus, considerable evidence exists to support the conclusion that oceans or seas may lie beneath the icy surfaces (Khurana et al. 1998, Kivelson et al. 2002, Collins and Good- man 2007, Lorenz et al. 2008). The total liquid water reservoir within these worlds may be some 30–40 times the volume of liquid water on Earth.

This vast quantity of liquid water raises two questions: Can life emerge and thrive in such cold, lightless oceans beneath many kilometers of ice? And if so, do the icy shells hold clues to life in the subsurface?”

The team has been heading out into the field practically every day to collect data, but took some time yesterday to visit with Hopson Middle School teacher Deb Greene’s 8th graders and 7th graders.  They chatted with the students about the solar system, the icy worlds as potentially habitable environments and the usefulness of Barrow’s backyard for the project.  They even showed some video taken the day before from a camera placed down under the ice in a frozen tundra lake!

Dr. Dan Berisford and Dr. Heather Adams talk with Hopson Middle School 7th graders

Hopson Middle School teacher Deb Greene with Dr. Dan Berisford, Dr. Kevin Hand and Dr. Heather Adams

For more information on the NASA “Icy Worlds” Project, you can visit their website at:

Posted by: crhammond | October 25, 2011

Photographers Kajsa Sjölander and Will Rose visit BASC!

Photographers and journalists Kajsa Sjölander and Will Rose visited Barrow and BASC in the last couple weeks to work on their new independent project, 70°, investigating all aspects of a changing Arctic. You may have seen them around town wielding their large cameras! They are just now beginning to process the images they have collected from all across the arctic, but you can get an idea for what kind of work they are doing by checking out the webpage for their last project, The Future World Project.

Here is a brief description of their new project, 70°, in their own words:

“The Arctic is the final frontier. Not yet fully exploited by mankind, this polar region will be the defining area on the planet of human ability or inability to move beyond fossil fuels and tackle climate change. The 70° project in it’s simplest form is about Climate Change and Resources in the Arctic. After working in Russia in 2009 and Greenland in 2010 collecting geoimage location data they noticed a correlation between the two stories. 70° is the vehicle, a line to follow, a journey through the stories and contemporary issues of the Arctic. The 70th parallel north becomes the thread of this project, a line cutting through the Arctic Ocean, parts of Canada, Russia, Greenland, United States and North Scandinavia.’

And image of Will and Kajsa’s, taken on their visit to Barrow

We will be sure to put up a link to the homepage for 70°  when it is ready, so check back!

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