After hiking in Denali, Tanya and I rode the Alaska Railroad to Anchorage and then drove across the Kenai Peninsula to the town of Seward. This marked the southernmost point of my nearly 1000-mile overland trip from Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Gulf of Alaska in the south.
The route from Prudhoe Bay to Seward. Courtesy of Google Maps.
From Seward we embarked on a 3-day kayak camping trip in Kenai Fjords National Park. The scenery was spectacular, with mountains and glaciers, deep blue sky, swirling mist and clouds, and wildlife everywhere: otters, seals, whales, sea lions and all types of birds.
Humpback whale in Aialik Bay, Kenai Fjords National Park.
Kayaking by Aialik Glacier, Kenai Fjords National Park
Finally, sadly, our trip was over and it was...
The Alaska adventure continues! After leaving Toolik I spent 2 days in Fairbanks. First I hiked to the U of Alaska’s Large Anima Research Station and then, after picking up Tanya at the airport, we went to the World Eskimo Indian Olympics at the Carlson Center on the banks of the Chena River. The WEIO has been taking place every year for over 50 years, featuring native athletes from the US, Canada and Greenland competing in traditional events. We saw the ceremonial costume exhibition and the Ear Pull competition.
Costume exhibition at the World Eskimo Indian Olympics
In the ear pull, contestants sit facing each other with their legs crossed, and a loop of sinew is threaded around their ears. The goal is to pull the loop off your opponent’s ear -- like tug-of-war. Best of three...
This morning we left the Toolik Field Station. I took the first shift driving the Ford truck down the Dalton Highway, 230 miles from Toolik to the Yukon River.
Driving the Dalton Highway over Atigun Pass.
Louise, a student from California working on fish studies at Toolik, drove the rest of the way into Fairbanks. It was a 9-hour, 357-mile trip on dusty dirt and roller-coaster pavement warped into dips and bumps from frost heaving.
We also rode with Rolf and Thorsten, two German researchers studying the Northern wheatear, a bird that summers on the tundra around Toolik. They fitted over 100 wheatears with 1.5-gram geolocating backpacks that will record their 15,000-mile migration to west Africa and back. Rolf's specialty is photographing insects in flight, and he's posted amazing...
If you're a high school or college student and think it might be interesting and fun to do research at a place like the Toolik Field Station for a summer, here's what I want to tell you:
You CAN do it.
In fact, there are a lot of college students working at Toolik this summer. Two of them are on our team, working on an "REU" - a Research Experience for Undergraduates. If you're thinking about going into the sciences, start planning now to get yourself on an REU for at least one summer during college.
Sarah Hay is from Pennsylvania and just finished her sophomore year at Bloomsburg University, where she's planning to major in biology. She's doing an REU with the environmental biology group here at Toolik, studying the bacterial communities in lakes and rivers.
From May 26 through July 17 the sun never sets here at the Toolik Field Station. This is a 1-minute time lapse video showing the midnight sun over Toolik Lake.
Midnight sun over Toolik Lake.
I’ll be leaving Toolik in few days, heading for Fairbanks to meet Tanya and travel around Alaska. Spending 3 weeks here has been an amazing experience and I’m looking forward to bringing the tundra into my environmental science classroom this fall.
Molting caribou near Imnavait Creek
In the past 2 ½ weeks I’ve been trying to explain the team’s complex work on the tundra carbon cycle. For years the team has been taking thousands of samples from the soil and water from the Brooks Range to the Arctic Ocean to understand how carbon moves across the landscape. They’ve even been doing DNA analysis of the microbes that convert organic matter to CO2 and methane, and studying the effect of sunlight in making it easier for microbes to break down organic matter.
Now that I’m nearing the end...
After having sampled the land, lakes and rivers near Toolik in the northern foothills of the Brooks Range, today we drove north to the coastal plain of the Arctic Ocean.
Field truck parked on side of the Dalton Highway.
We sampled the lakes there to try and find out how they might be affecting the carbon cycle on the tundra, and what role they play in converting organic matter to heat-trapping gases like CO2 and methane.
That's me getting ready to wade into a coastal plain lake.
The coastal plain is almost perfectly flat, with tundra stretching out in all directions. I waded into the lakes to check the light attenuation of the water column, to get a better understanding of the nature of the organic matter present in the lakes.
Jason and Katie tested the temperature, pH, and...
Today was a quiet day in camp, catching up on computer work. But I did manage to get out and paddle around Toolik Lake in one of the camp's canoes.
The lake and the mountains were beautiful, with amazing clouds over the Brooks Range to the south.
It was fun to talk about spiders yesterday, but let’s get back to the carbon cycle now. In a previous post I described some of the team’s work on the role of sunlight in breaking down organic matter to make it easier for microbes to convert it to CO2. Now let’s talk about the microbes.
The microbes play the key role in breaking down organic matter and converting it to the heat-trapping gas CO2, which promotes global warming. In fact, microbes are so numerous that they play a far more important role than animals or anything else in breaking down organic matter to produce CO2. And as I’ve discussed before, as permafrost thaws there’s a lot more organic matter available for the microbes to eat.
To get a better understanding of how organic matter is being converted to CO2 now and in the...
One of the great things about learning Arctic science here at Toolik is that there’s a wide variety of projects going on. While my team is studying how carbon moves across the landscape, other teams are studying plants, birds, insects, airborne chemicals, hibernating squirrels, and spiders.
So today I broadened my horizons by going out in the field with Team Spider, which includes Nell Kemp, the other PolarTREC teacher at Toolik right now.
Nell Kemp doing field work along the Dalton Highway.
Wolf spider in Team Spider's lab. Note the round, gray egg sac on her abdomen.
Team Spider is studying the ecology of wolf spiders on the tundra, especially the impact of parasitoid wasps on spiders. If you’ve been in my Environmental Science class, you know about parasitoid wasps that...