Satellite City in Barrow, Alaska

Today was another unusually warm and beautiful day in Barrow, Alaska.  Clear skies and lower 50s.  We, however, were locked in the server room all morning completing the setup of our servers.  After lunch we got to get out and see some more of the surrounding area.  We took a trip to see “Satellite City”, an area outside of town where all of the satellite dishes are located.  It is interesting how the dishes point at the horizon, instead of up in the sky.  In order for them to work properly, there can’t be anything in front of them.  Luckily finding empty space  isn’t much of an issue.  

Barrow Satellite City
Barrow Satellite City

There are absolutely no wires connecting Barrow to anyway else.  Power is generated just outside the city by a power plant that runs on a natural gas reserve.  All communications – data, voice, and video must be sent and received over satellite or long-range radio.  The BARC has 6Mbps of bandwidth being sent and received over an AT&T satellite, the equivalent of four T1s . Internet speed is pretty good for uploads or downloads, but the latency of over 500ms makes for long delays between clicks.

After visiting the satellite dishes, we went to a research hut on the south side of town to fix a webcam that wasn’t communicating back to the BARC.  Once that was done, we drove a couple of miles past the hut to the furthest point away from Barrow that you can get to by road.  We took a few pictures there and tested data communications.  On the way back, we asked Dr. Beck about all of the fences that we kept seeing around town with snow around them.  I thought the fences acted as wind breakers in the winter.  The fences are actually designed to accumulate additional snow around them.  That way in the summer those piles of snow melt more slowly, thus providing more water for the town to survive on throughout the summer.

With the warm weather today we noticed a lot of mosquitos buzzing about.  Alaska is known for their terrible mosquitos in the summer due to the amount of stagnant water.  Dr. Beck said he had never seen Mosquitos this far North in all of his trips to the area over the past 20 years.  That has been a running theme for this trip.  Everyone we talk to comments on how unusually warm it is and how quickly the ice melted this year compared to previous years.

We also learned how the building pilings are installed.  All buildings around Barrow sit on pilings.  The “ground” is actually mostly water with some gravel and dirt mixed in.  To install the pilings in the winter they use a drill rig to drill holes for telephone poles.  They put the poles in the ground and then set them by pouring water and gravel around the pilings, which then freezes.  So their “concrete” is actually just ice and gravel. 

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