INTERNATIONAL ARCTIC RESEARCH CENTER — UNIVERSITY OF ALASKA FAIRBANKS

People of IARC

Bob Busey.

Bob Busey

As Research Engineer at IARC, Bob Busey plans and maintains much of the technical project design of IARC research. With expertise in electronics, remote telemetry, and hydrology, Busey has enabled new and innovative science at the organization that would not otherwise be possible. Working closely with IARC research faculty, Busey travels widely across the state of Alaska to install and service an array of field study equipment and technology.

Contact Bob Busey

What would people be interested to know about your work?

While many people might describe scientific study as “technical” in general, I work even further toward the technical end of the spectrum. My work is spread across many different projects, and it is meant to provide a lot of the tools and capabilities necessary to carry out advanced, long-term Arctic science.

For anyone familiar with Alaska and the Arctic, it will come as no surprise that research projects here exhibit many unique characteristics and needs, and as a result, IARC projects often require custom designs.

For example, for my current work on IARC’s Arctic Next-Generation Ecosystem Experiments (NGEE) project, I had to devise a large-scale and complex setup of several hundred permafrost and surface energy balance sensors at our field site near Barrow, Alaska. Meant to provide us with dynamic measurements of the heat and energy exchange, or flux, that takes place within and above the permafrost, these sensors yield data that can vastly improve both our global climate models (GCMs) and landscape evolution models. All these sensors are required to operate as a system that can be accessed and diagnosed instantly and remotely, within an environment fraught with extreme weather conditions.

What do you think is important for people to understand about your work?

My design work combines engineering and natural science, while my field work requires familiarity and comfort with the wilderness and the technology I bring into it, as well as the ability to move from one unique research situation to another with relative ease.

My role often involves very effective collaboration, as it’s meant to facilitate the larger research designs of other scientists and science projects. All of this requires a unique approach that I might compare to an Olympic biathlon (skiing/target shooting) event—one side favors physical strength, while the other rewards mental focus and acuity.

Another project I’ve been working on takes place at the Caribou Poker Creek Research Watershed (CPCRW), in collaboration with IARC’s Bob Bolton and Jessie Young. Accessing and outfitting this site to measure the runoff, snow melt, radiation, wind speed, precipitation, and soil temperature and moisture levels required by the project has meant a great deal of field design and improvisation within the watershed itself.

New challenges arise frequently, including both typical extreme weather complications and animal vandalism of equipment (such as moose robbing us of rain gauge funnels).

How have your background and personal interests affected your scientific career?

Fortunately for me, my interests and scientific work overlap significantly. Raised in Alaska, I’ve long enjoyed outdoor activities like camping and hiking, and I get to do plenty of that as part of my job, whatever the time of year. I also like to bike, and for winter riding I’ve put my technical skills to use assembling headlights that shine brighter than most cars!

Bob Busey checks to see that a water gauging station, inundated at break up on the Chandler River, is still operating. (Photo: E. Lamb)
Bob Busey checks to see that a water gauging station, inundated at break up on the Chandler River, is still operating. (Photo: E. Lamb)
Bob Busey adds additional solar charging capability to a hydrological and ecological monitoring site within a birch stand in Alaska’s boreal forest. The site uses energy-consuming heaters to monitor sap flow in the trees. (Photo by B. Busey)
Bob Busey adds additional solar charging capability to a hydrological and ecological monitoring site within a birch stand in Alaska’s boreal forest. The site uses energy-consuming heaters to monitor sap flow in the trees. (Photo by B. Busey)
Bob Busey prepares to put temperature instruments into a soil pit on the Seward Peninsula. (Photo: J. Cherry)
Bob Busey prepares to put temperature instruments into a soil pit on the Seward Peninsula. (Photo: J. Cherry)