"Too-what?" is the usual response I get when I begin explaining where I'll be traveling to for my PolarTREC expedition. My expedition, now only eight days away, will take me to the Toolik field station. The facility is about an 8-12 hour drive north of Fairbanks, Alaska, and above the Arctic circle. It hosts researchers from all over the world and can support over 100 people with a cafeteria, bathhouse with showers, research buildings with laboratories, and a sauna.
I will likely be staying in a Weatherport tent with at least one roommate. Due to water conservation, I'm allotted two, two-minute showers per week and one load of laundry every two weeks. Don't worry, though. I plan on bringing an obscene amount of clothing and body wipes.
As the station is situated so far north at this time of the year, the sun doesn't set. Rather, there is a pattern of daylight, twilight, and then daylight again. This means I will unfortunately not be able to see the Aurora Borealis and will have to wear a sleep mask to block the light. Luckily, however, I will be able to see many of the "state birds" of Alaska, the mosquito...in swarms.
Some may wonder why would researchers focus on the Arctic, and why would you spend so much time with so many mosquitos? Why not the Bahamas? This is a big question to address succinctly. Briefly, the polar regions are experiencing climate change at an accelerating rate. These regions play a crucial role in the global circulation of ocean water and air, which helps maintain the global temperature. Therefore, to understand climate change and to attempt to forecast its consequences, scientists collect data such as permafrost melt, changes in ice sheets, and ice core readings, from the poles. There is also additional interest in the Arctic because it holds a large abundance of oil and natural gas resources and renewable energy including geothermal, tidal, and wind. Additionally, as the ice melts in the Arctic new, once inaccessible land and water becomes available. As there are many countries, including the United States interested in setting boundaries and accessing these newly revealed resources, the region may become hotly contested over the coming decades.