CHS Staff Member Participates in Alaskan Research Trip
Jeff Bourke, building operations manager for the College of Health Sciences, participated in a 10-day research trip in Alaska last month with Dr. Craig Tweedie, professor of Biological Sciences.
Bourke, a native Australian who has worked at UTEP for over seven years, met Tweedie, a fellow Aussie, several years ago during a reception. Over the years, the two have developed a strong friendship that includes a blend of personal and professional activities.
Last month, Tweedie, who leads UTEP’s Systems Ecology Lab, called upon Bourke to help commission a new 34-foot research vessel that his research lab was planning to use to collect water samples across several sites in Alaska. Tweedie’s team examines how different ecosystem components function and how they respond to environmental perturbation – information that is contributing to national and international discussions about climate change impacts, ecosystem management and policy management. Bourke held a Merchant Marine license, which allowed him to drive vessels up to approximately 900 feet in length.
The vessel was built in Oregon and barged/trucked to West Dock in Prudhoe Bay. Due to several weather delays, the timeline to barge the vessel from its location in Prudhoe Bay to the research lab in Barrow would have been extended by three weeks. Bourke and Tweedie decided to sail the vessel instead, and after 12 hours of preparation, set out on their overnight voyage. While the voyage was thankfully uneventful, Bourke and Tweedie did encounter a polar bear swimming near West Dock prior to departure, as well as ice flows in Harrison Bay while underway.
“Upon arriving in Barrow, we had several days of bad weather, which delayed us from performing any research,” said Bourke. “Eventually, we got out on the water and went to the first two sampling sites – Avak Bay and Iko Bay, which were 25 nautical miles from Barrow. There we launched the dinghy.”
While Dr. Tweedie ran up-river to collect samples and retrieve an instrument from two other sites, Bourke and the crew motored out to run nets at the sampling sites.
“My main task, apart from driving the vessel, was to teach the crew how to safely deploy and retrieve the nets without fowling in the propellers. We dragged nets in three other locations and then motored back to retrieve the dinghy before going to three other sites to conduct water sampling,” Bourke explained. “The eight hours we spent on the water was equivalent to two days in Dr. Tweedie’s older research vessel.”
“This was a plan some two years in the making and I wasn’t disappointed,” said Bourke. “Dr. Tweedie has a wealth of knowledge and his entire team was a joy to work with. I’m also grateful to have deans that understand the importance of the role I could play in this kind of research and were supportive of me joining Dr. Tweedie. I’m hoping this will be a yearly excursion to the Arctic Circle.”