Plucking is hard work! It requires attention to detail and long hours. Today is day eight of the work. We have worked nonstop since last Monday, somedays even until 10:30-11:00 at night. Plant identification is harder if the plants are dried out, so once we start a quadrat, it has to be finished the same day. There is champagne to celebrate tonight after our last inventory and the lab is clean.
Throughout the week I was in charge of the group that went into the field to harvest the earth. Dr. Bret-Harte fell on Monday night and sprained her ankle, so she was unable to get to the tussock site. The work meant going out in the Arctic weather. One day is was almost 70, sweltering under the mosquito shirt and the rain pants we wear to collect samples. The weather then turned. This last week it has been raining, windy, and with a high of 45 degrees. Although this may sound very wimpy, I have been chilled to my core out in the field.
When you harvest the quadrat, after the cut, you dig your hands down into the earth to bring the plot up. At first you are in the organic growing layer where the plants are. You then have to scoop down under the earth to the roots and try to pry the plot up without destroying any plants. Your hands are digging down into the earth, all the way to the mineral level which lays right above the permafrost. The permafrost is frozen earth so when you reach that, your hands feel it. The only way I can think to describe is to have a bowl with a layer of ice on the bottom and ice water on the top and very carefully putting you hand in and trying to remove very important 12 year old scientific data.
Mineral soil which lays right above the permafrost in the tundra.
Our team is collecting two plots within one quadrat, leaving a middle section for another team who is studying the soil and roots.
Harvested quadrat plots in the tundra. There has been a lot of rain this week so the tundra is saturated.
I have never participated in this type of plant inventory. It has been an incredible learning experience. I am familiar with the different types of deciduous shrubs, the little green plants, and the moss and lichen that all survive the harsh Arctic conditions. These little plants are survivors, some being many years old. In these conditions, that is incredibly impressive.
Being part of the whole process, from being in the field cutting the earth, to the pluck itself, has made me feel connected and inspired.