Sitting here in Denali, enjoying hot showers and laundry, I am anxious for my time in the field. I am not anxious for the work, rather I am anxious about the water. Toolik has strict restrictions in place. I am allotted two, two-minute showers a week, and one load of laundry every two weeks. With this in mind, I chopped 12 inches of my hair before I left (I donated to Wigs for Kids) and have a limited amount of clothing options (this was also done because of space and travel constraints). Listening to my laundry slosh in the machine, letting my wet clean hair dry naturally in the warmth of the sunshine streaming in the kitchen window, I wonder why Toolik has such water constraints. I really know the answer –the Arctic Region is considered a cold desert.

I currently live in Tucson, Arizona, in the heart of the Sonoran Desert. I practice and teach about water conservation. I live in a desert environment and welcome our bi-yearly monsoon storms with enthusiasm. In Tucson, water conservation is, for now, done purely by the individual. We have no restrictions in place. Large golf courses and schools are now using reclaimed water to water their fields and grass, but other than grass roots efforts, water harvesting and conservation are left up to the individual.

So how is the Arctic a desert environment? How can Denali in the subarctic be considered one too? Close your eyes and imagine Denali or the Arctic in the winter. What do you see? If you see inches upon inches of snow for Denali, you are correct. However, the snow is dry, not wet snow (ideal for snowball fights). Here the average is 10 inches of snow, which would equate to 1 inch of rain – so even though there is a lot of it, it doesn't all seep into the ground as moisture.

Now close your eyes and imagine a desert. Do you see sand dunes and feel hot? Is your desert barren of life? In some cases, like the Sahara, that is accurate. My desert, the Sonoran, is brimming with life adapted to the climate, the high temperatures and low precipitation. The Arctic is the same way. It also is brimming with life – hearty plants and animals that have adapted to living in some of the world's harshest conditions.

As a cold desert, the Arctic region receives less than 10 inches of precipitation a year, roughly the same as the Sahara. The Arctic region is surrounded by water, so it is hard to imagine it being a desert, however, the temperature of the water is so low that the water is always frozen (although we are seeing a shift in this as temperatures rise.) The precipitation that does happen in the Arctic takes the form of snowfall and slight drizzling rains, which usually occurs in the summer warmer months. The winter is dark with six months of sunless days and temperatures way, way, way below zero.

I've been asked what I have done to prepare for my time in the Arctic region. Besides cutting my hair, experimenting with dry shampoos, and rotating my clothing supply so items can be worn multiple times without washing, I have also taken a course on the Arctic through Coursera, a free online learning platform. Through my time in Alaska acclimating to the continuous daylight and drop in temperature (highs in the 50's) since leaving Tucson at 112 degrees, and these courses, I have gained a whole new level of appreciation for the Arctic Region and what makes it so special and truly unique.

And while I can, I am enjoying hot showers and clean clothes...

Deserts of the World
From the website: Seven Continents. https://www.whatarethe7continents.com/deserts-of-the-world

Comments

Virginia

Svea,LOVE your entries so far. Jam packed informational entries show how passionate you are about this subject. I do have two questions, one I know already but am not sure kids do, and one I am curious about myself.
First, would you explain to anybody out there what dry shampoo is and how you use it? I know most adults will know but I'm not sure kids know what it is.
Second, you say the Arctic Desert gets about 10 inches of precipitation per year....how much does it get in the warmer months vs the winter months?

Svea Anderson

Thanks for your questions Virginia!!
Taken directly from a USA Today article on "Everything you need to know about dry shampoo," dry shampoo is- "From reviving limp hair and banishing greasy scalps to boosting voluminous roots, dry shampoo offers a magical promise to users: fresher hair, no soap and water required." It is literally just that and I have been experimenting with different brands throughout my trek up North. With only two showers a week, I am in dire of need of something other than a baseball hat or beanie, to make my hair look magical! HA! :)

To answer your second question, the research I have done indicates that most of the the precipitation occurs in the form of snow during the winter months. I will continue to research how much it gets in the winter versus the summer months with the knowledgeable folk here at the Denali Education Center and get back to you!