Hiking China Valley + Jade

Saturday was a rough day in the lab.  We were doing a bunch of methods troubleshooting, which is often very discouraging as it often seems you do a lot of work for very little progress.  By evening time my team was downtrodden, so we decided to trek up Jade mountain.  This is a nice hike that is close to camp and can be about a 2-3 hour round trip (depending on how much time you want to dawdle once you reach the top).  Hiking was very cathartic.  We shed the stresses of the day and were greeted at the top of the hill by some spectacular views!

Fireweed in the foreground, with an unknown yellow flower in the background (any suggestions on the identity of the yellow flowers is welcome!)

Fireweed in the foreground, with an unknown yellow flower in the background (any suggestions on the identity of the yellow flowers is welcome!)

Brandon looking like an explorer on the top of Jade.

Brandon looking like an explorer on the top of Jade.

Since our time here at Toolik is short, we haven't been taking much time off.  However, after a long week of troubleshooting, we all needed a day off for mental sanity and decided to continue our hiking streak into the next day.  The deal was sealed when we woke up to a stormy day (which limits what we can accomplish scientifically outdoors).  For most groups at Toolik, Sundays are usually the a day off to take a hike (or take a nap :-).  So, we decided to seize the rather rainy day with a hike up China Valley! 

The view of the Sagavanirktok River from a ridge adjacent to the China Valley.

As we were hiking back to the car, my friend Jason broke into a run to grab something off in the distance.  He grabbed at something in the tundra and came back hauling his prize -- a doll sheep skull with the horns intact!!  All and all it was a fun day of tromping around in the tundra and climbing mountains!

Jason posing with the doll sheep skull -- horns and all!!

Posted on July 23, 2014 .

Tundra Tromping

We have been doing some recon work to find some field sites for our research -- which really  means that we get to tromp through the tundra and act like great explorers!  Brandon and I had a lot of fun walking around and scoping out the landscape.

Our research focuses on photochemical processes that occur in meltwater seeps that are abundant throughout the Arctic.  These seeps form due to the melting of underlying permafrost (and subsequent pooling in the tundra).  In essence, the seeps are more or less large puddles ... They have high concentrations of dissolved organic matter (aka DOM), which produces reactive species when exposed to sunlight.  These reactive species could potentially play an important role in breaking down organic pollutants that are transported to the poles.  I am interested in how long these compounds will stick around in the Arctic once they are deposited.

As a mini background: Persistent organic pollutants (or POPs) are transported from the lower latitudes to the poles through what is known as the "grasshopper effect"--- this occurs when organic compounds volatilize at lower latitudes during the warm periods.  They are transported towards the poles and are deposited during the cold months.  Multiple cycles of this process result in the transport or "hopping" of the compounds all the way to remote locations in both the Arctic and Antarctic.  I am particularly interested in a class of brominated flame retardants called polybrominated biphenyl ethers  (PBDEs).  PBDEs are present in many common household and industrial goods including electronics, foam, and even fabrics.  They have made a few appearances in various news outlets and gained attention in the past for years as many studies (for examples of articles, click here and here and here) have documented their presence in arctic wildlife -- correlating possible negative health effects to PBDE concentrations.

Okay, enough you say!  Let's pick up on a slightly happier note here -- in order to narrow down our possible field sites and sample chemistry for a variety of meltwater seeps throughout the North Slope, Brandon and I went exploring!  We had a lot of fun tromping around the tundra -- here are some pictures!

Plant life!  To the left above is a "stream" of cotton grass.  There are wet areas in the tundra that are not quite streams, but rather slow trickles of water.  Cotton grass loves this environment and grows abundantly through these wet and marshy areas.  The cotton grass follows the wandering track of the water, making it look like a "stream" of the plant.  We have heard rumblings that there is actually a group here studying these water tracks -- I'll have to hunt them down to find out more about them -- it is such an interesting feature!

As we were driving around, we passed a little lead car, with a sign on it saying "caution wide load."  Every driver on the Haul road is required to have a CB radio that is on channel 19 while driving to communicate with other drivers.  This was one of many examples when I was happy that I had the radio.  The lead car instructed us to pull over because she had a load "24 wide" coming through.  Click through the pictures below to see it approaching.  Can you guess what it was?!

You may have already guessed, but the mystery object was a boat!!  They were hauling a boat up to Prudhoe Bay for oil exploration out off of the coast.  I thought it was a pretty impressive (and unusual?) sight -- 

Finally, my first post about tromping around in the tundra wouldn't be complete without a reference to the Alaskan "State Bird," the mosquito.  As with every summer in Alaska, the mosquitoes are flying in full force here.  According to the researchers that study bugs, we have just hit the peak mosquito population in the past few days and they should start to wane.  Apparently the showed up just a few days before we arrived?!  Oh lucky us!

Posted on July 15, 2014 .

A Final Toolik Hurrah!

I am back at Toolik this summer for a final 5 week field season.  There are 3 of us in the little lab group: my adviser Yo, my labmate Brandon, and myself.  After 4 days of rain when we first arrived at Toolik, we had a week-long stretch of bright and sunny days.  So this past week we attempted to get out in the field to run experiments as much as physically possible!  Luckily, today is cloudy and I am finally catching up on life in general -- correspondences with friends, e-mail, and my journal posts!!

The days leading up to our departure for the field flew by in a blur.  We headed to a conference in NH for a week, then spent the night in VT at my adviser's house.  The following day we drove down to Boston to catch our flight out to Fairbanks.  Travel is normally pretty exhausting, but by the time we landed in Fairbanks, I felt like I was unraveling around the edges.  Not only were we driving all over the East Coast in the days leading to the trip, but we had to schlep all of our awkward and heavy field gear with us.  In the classic penny pinching manner, we opted to carry our 200+ lbs of luggage through the Boston airport rather than pay the $4.00 to rent a cart (upon review of this fact -- what in the world were we thinking?!?).  By the time we made it to the check-in desk, I was bathed in sweat and ready to get rid of our bags.

After the mad dash through the airport, we made the flight and enjoyed a gorgeous sunset from the plane...

Sunset from the air!

We arrived in Fairbanks to a bright and sunny night, exhausted and ready for bed.

The following day we covered the entirety of Fairbanks in our beastly truck, gathering gear and provisions for the drive up the Haul Road to the Toolik Field station.  Brandon, being a growing boy in his 20's has a ravenous appetite, so Yo and I were both concerned that he would be hungry on our long (8-10 hour) drive to the field station.  There are very few places to stop for food along the Haul road, so it is generally best to bring plenty of snacks...but I think we may have overdone it this year.

Brandon discovered this huge sandwich (maybe 13" or more?!?) in the deli section of the grocery for only $13.00.  He started eying the sandwich and considering how likely it would be for him to actually consume the whole thing.  Our scheming adviser wandered over to him to put in his two cents about the sandwich.  He grabs a little sandwich that cost $5.00 and lined it up along the giant sub, "1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6!  6 of this little sandwich is the same amount of food as the giant sub!  That is $30 worth of sandwich!  Do the math!!"

This pushed Brandon's buttons just enough to convince him to purchase the huge sandwich.  Next thing I knew he wandered over to me with a sheepish grin on his face and delicately placed his prize in the basket.  The following day, over the course of our venture north to Toolik, he started the monstrous task of consuming the sub.  By the time we made it to the Arctic Circle, he was moaning from the back seat about how he needed to lie down for a bit to digest.  Several hours later, he was still so full from the sub, he claimed that the "fumes" coming from it were still making him sick.  

At some point we were stopped due to construction.  At each construction point the cars are required to stop to wait for the pilot car, who drives North and South along the road to guide the cars through the construction zone.  At this point Brandon was getting so desperate to get rid of the rest of his sub, he hopped out of the car to offer up his sandwich.  Excited for the meal, the flagger followed him back to the car.  When Brandon took the sub out of the truck, the flagger's eyes became huge and he responded, "Woah! I'll share it with the guys!" 

Needless to say, we eventually made it up to Toolik ... without the sub...

Posted on July 11, 2014 .

Candle Ice

As many of you know, I am back at home now safe and sound.  The last few weeks in the field were quite crazy -- between finishing experiments and getting everything all packed up, I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off!  I am going to continue to post pictures from my trip though for the next few weeks -- there was so much I never got around to posting!

The pics in this entry are all from early season this year when the lake was still ice covered.  When I arrived the lake ice had just begun melting out and forming a nice thick layer of candle ice.  Candle ice forms as "fingers" oriented perpendicular to the ice surface.  According to the American Meterological Society glossary of terms, as the ice begins to melt or degrade, perpendicular fractures occur along the weak connections between ice crystals resulting in a honeycomb structure.  Water from the lake (or ocean) intrudes into the connections between the ice crystals causing further separation.   

I really like the candle ice - it sounds like a wind chime on the lake.  Whenever the wind blows or the water surface is disrupted for some reason, you can hear the ice crystals all clanking together!  Other people like the ice for use in whisky.  I am not particularly a whisky drinker so I have no idea the origins behind the tradition.  However, I was told from multiple scientists that I have worked with in the Arctic and Antarctic that candle ice is the "best" ice for this purpose :-)

Posted on August 3, 2013 .

Teardrop hike

This past sunday was my first (and probably only!) day off from labwork.  I was bound and determined to get outside and do something epic and awesome.  After talking with some of the other graduate students, we decided to head down to an area known as "teardrop" to hike and explore.  The name originates from the large teardrop shape that is formed by drainage paths around this area -- not because it is particularly sad, which was my first guess.   We headed out sunday morning ready for adventure, drove down to the Teardrop region, chose a ridge that looked amenable to climbing, and off we went.  

 I forgot how much I love hiking around Toolik.  There are no tracks or paths, we just choose where we want to go and forge our way ahead.  The wind was nonexistent and the bugs swarmed us from the very first step we took throughout the hike, but I didn't care -- we were hiking, exploring, and viewing the gorgeous terrain that you just won't experience anywhere else.

Our hike started in the riverbed in the right of this photograph.  We slogged our way over the ridge and then headed up, up, up!!  (you can actually see the mosquitos in this picture, they are all the little black dots!)

The hike started up a riverbed, which we followed until the river became too large to walk amongst the rocks.  From there we transitioned onto the tundra to make our way to the base of the ridge.  For those of you who haven't had the experience of hiking on tundra, it is quite a challenge.  The bundles of grass known as Tussocks are fairly firm, but do not form a constant firm terrain.  You can try to step on top of the tussocks, but they may wobble and you can easily fall off (I also always worry that stepping on the tussocks is pretty high impact on the plants).  Or you can take awkwardly placed steps to walk on the squishy ground between the tussocks -- but sometimes it is hard to walk between closely spaced tussocks and the level of "squishy-ness" isn't always even!  In the past I think I compared tundra hiking to trying to walk over a field full of a mix of bowling balls and pillows, but half the time you don't know whether you are stepping on a bowling ball or pillow till you put your foot down!

Anyways, after a a couple of hours we made it to the base of the ridge and decided to make it to the first knoll we spotted before we braked for lunch.  We wistfully dreamt of a nice steady breeze if we got up and off of the tundra.  Alas, there was a slight breeze, but not enough to discourage the swarms of mosquitos, so we stopped and ate our lunches underneath our head nets and bugshirts (a shirt that is made of material woven too tightly for the bugs to bite through -- they also have a hood with netting that covers your face and zips closed at the neck.  This allows you to zip yourself in, pull your arms in, and eat a sandwich inside the shirt for a relatively bug-free meal!).  

After our brief break for lunch we soldiered on through the mosquitos up the ridge to the highest point.  We met a lot of interesting plants and rock along the way.  We even saw a marmot, but he ran away so quickly I couldn't get a picture.  Something I didn't know before: marmots make a loud crying/squealing noise.  I had no idea they were so loud!!

I always feel like a great adventurer when hiking around Toolik -- no matter what happens it is always an adventure.  Throughout the day we stopped to marvel at the interesting rocks and plants.  We happened upon several really interesting rock formations that I have no idea how they formed.  I want to do a little investigation.  I actually found a limestone rock that alternated between black and white layers ... the only explanation I could come up with is the system shifting between oxic (white layer) and anoxic  (black layer) conditions?!  We found lots of interesting fossils including lots of corals, as well as a few brachiopods, bryozoan, and stromatolites (I will post pics and descriptions later on)!  Here are a few great adventurer pics.

We followed our ridge around in whatever way we could -- mostly comfortable hiking with some scrambling over rocks.  While we were hiking we spotted a second dry (mostly) riverbed on the opposite side from our ascent.  We decided to continue along our path until we found a way to get down to the riverbed and then follow it home.  The "down" part of the hike hurt a whole lot more than the "up" part in my opinion.  My knees protested all the way down to the valley, but I stumbled and bumbled to the riverbed and was really relieved once we were on flat terrain again.  

I think all and all the hike was about 10 - 11 miles long with lots of elevation gain, which isn't too shabby for a randomly chosen ridge.

Our highway down off of the ridge, down the riverbed, and back home!  From this perspective, the ridge looked like easy walking down, but it was a bit steeper than I expected!

The last part of this hike we passed an area that usually has quite large ice deposits that are known as Aufeis.  According to the all-knowing Wikipdedia, Aufeis means "Ice on top," which I would believe since aufeis forms from the freezing of over bank river flows.  As the weather becomes colder in the wintertime, upwelling of the groundwater is deposited as large layered sheets of ice.  When spring comes, these thick ice sheets persist into the summer.  However, at this late point in the season only remnants of the ice remain, but it is still fun to see the layers of ice!

Remnants of the aufeis, forming a mini ice-cave overtop the river

Posted on July 10, 2013 .

Wild Fires

I mentioned in my first post that I wanted to do a little more research about fires in the Tundra before providing you with any more insight into their importance up here.  The smog from the recent fires has finally cleared the past few days, giving us a gorgeous view of the Brooks Range.  However, I realized that although I generally know that fires are common in Alaska and often originate from lightning strikes during the summer months, I don't know much else about tundra fires.  When I took classes in ecology way back when, we learned that forest fires were important to allow proper forest sucession.  Some plants have seeds that may only be germinated once exposed to fires.  In addition, we were told that fires clear out the excess of plant debris build-up.  They sort of 'wipe the slate clean' in the forest.  Before looking into the fires, I assumed they played a similar role in the Arctic and are necessary for succession of the landscape.  However, after doing a bit of reading I learned that there are a few big differences between forest fires and tundra fires and much greater concern about the recent tundra fires in the Arctic.

Before I go into this, I want to say that I am by far not an expert in this matter, but just found some of these facts interesting and wanted to pass them (and a few articles) along.  One of the interesting facts that I found about Arctic tundra fires is that we are still learning about the importance and function of fires in the Arctic ecosystems -- most information on this topic was published in the last 5 or 10 years.  Alaska experienced the largest and longest burning fire on record during 2007, which occurred near the Anaktuvuk River, a short helicopter ride from the Toolik Field Station.  At Toolik this site is just referred to as "the burn site."  Scientists here have a unique opportunity to study  the effects of fire on many aspects of the Arctic ecosystem as well as examine how quickly the environment may recover.  Much of our understanding of how the Arctic responds to large-scale fires originates from research of the 2007 burn site.

Tundra fires are a topic of current of concern since as the climate in the Arctic becomes warmer, the frequency of scale fires has increased.  Recent research has revealed several basic reasons why this is an issue.  The first reason is because the fires release massive amounts of stored carbon to the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide (which is a greenhouse gas).  The tundra stores large amounts of carbon in the plants and and organic materials.  However, the fires result in a rapidly release of the sequestered CO2 back to the atmosphere.  The excess carbon release is not limited to the period of burning -- the effects of reduced vegetation and elevated microbial degradation of freshly released organic material results in a large excess of flux of carbon into the atmosphere continues once the fires subsided.

The second reason that tundra fires are of concern is the effects on the permafrost.  Similar to forest fires the tundra fires reduces the reserve of organic material (dead plants etc.).  The difference is that the presence of this organic layer in the Arctic tundra is necessary as insulation to the underlying permafrost.  Thus the lack of this insulation results in more rapid melting of the permafrost which may have many consequences (e.g. increased microbial metabolism, increased CO2 production, destabilization of land surfaces ...).  With increased frequency of fires, the vegetation in the tundra does not have adequate time to recover and rebuild the organic layer, resulting in devastating losses to the permafrost.

  If you're interested in more detailed explanation about the burn, here are a couple of nature articles about the effects of the 2007 fires in Alaska:




This is a picture I took in 2009, when I had the opportunity to travel out to the site of the 2007 fires.  Just 2 years out, the bundles of arctic grasses (known as Tussocks) are fighting to make their comeback. 

Posted on July 9, 2013 .

Water Collection at the Sag!

For those of you that don't know already, I want to give you a brief description of what I am doing up on the North Slope of the Brooks Range in Alaska!  A more detailed discussion of my research can be found here.  In general, my research up here involves looking at the degradation of a specific type of brominated flame retardant called Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (or PBDE for short).  These compounds are transported to the poles in air-born dust and particles.  However, we don't really know how long they hang around once they are deposited in the Arctic.  This is where I come in!  I am researching how quickly PBDEs break down when exposed to sunlight.  We are particularly interested in a substance called dissolved organic matter (DOM) which is found in water systems all over the world and originates from the breakdown of plants and animal matter.  No one really knows the exact composition of organic matter, but we do know that when you expose it to sulight, it becomes reactive and may help degrade organic contaminants in the environment.   

One goal of my work up at Toolik is collection of dissolved organic matter so that when I get back to Ohio, I can continue my degradation experiments in my laboratory at home.  Last week we collected about 100 L of water out a a site north of Toolik adjacent to the Sagavanirktok River (called "Sag" for short).

Water from the Sag that is lined up and all ready to filter! 

We have to first filter all the water to remove any particulate.  Then we use a method called Solid-Phase Extraction (SPE) to remove the DOM from the water.  This is quite a process for 100L!

Okay, enough of the science :-)  I also wanted to give you a few pictures of the gorgeous scenery up here.  I got to take my bike out on the Dalton highway the other night and caught some nice images as the sun dropped closer to the horizon.  The haze that has set in from all the fires makes some really nice colors as the night progresses.  

Although the wind disappearing means that the mosquitos come out to bite, the water on the lakes become still and I caught this pic of the dusky evening. 

As I was heading back I started to hear thunder in the distance and decided it was time to turn back to camp.  I was still about 2-3 miles out of camp when I saw the first lightning strike.  I counted for the thunder and the storm seemed to still be over 10 or 15 miles out, so I figured it was safer to try to haul back to camp than sit on the side of the hill in the rain!  From that point in the ride, it was all downhill to camp anyways, so I popped my bike in a high gear and flew home.  I arrived back to my weatherport about 3 minutes before the skies opened up and the downpour started!!  I got pretty lucky with that one!!!

This is a view of the Haul road leading back to the Toolik Field station (to the right in the picture).  The storms are just moving in over Toolik.

Posted on June 29, 2013 .

Toolik Again!

Hello from the Arctic!  My adviser and I arrived back up at Toolik Lake Field station Friday of last week – both a little tired from the drive but excited for our great adventure ahead.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with the transit to/from Toolik:  The trip begins with the flight into Fairbanks.  We had one layover day in town, collecting various supplies we didn’t want to ship up to the field base.  Fairbanks is an interesting little town.  It is very spread out and there are an odd assortment of very touristy shops mixed in with local artisans stores, industrial supply, and many more suspicious offerings (such as “asian massage” parlours ???).  There are also a whole lot of subway sandwich shops.  It felt like everywhere we went there was a subway!

The second half of the venture is the drive up the Dalton Highway.  The field station is located on the northern slope of the Brooks Range, which is about an 8 to 10 hour drive from Fairbanks.  The weather during the drive north was gorgeous – sunny and windy, which kept the mosquitos at bay!  Sadly we didn’t see any wildlife.  Normally I thought you generally see a variety of wildlife during the drive: moose, bears, foxes, muskox, mountain sheep … but we didn’t even see many squirrels!  What we did see was a ton of construction on the road and lots of tourist vehicles.  I am constantly amazed the types of cars people bring on the haul road.  including a variety of mini vans and small underpowered sedans.

Always a popular stop -- the sign located at the edge of the Arctic Circle!!

An adorable tiny dog peeking out at us from the car infront of us.  At this point we were following a "pilot car" that guides you through precarious construction zones.  The problem with these sites is that once you arrive at the edge of construction, you have to wait for the pilot car to circle around to pick you up... it can often take quite a while ... nap time!

This is smoke from a fire we observed from the Dalton Highway.  This fire is currently about 400 acres large.  I was informed this is relatively small in the scale of Alaska fires! 

Fires are a common occurrence in Alaska.  I was chatting with a construction worker today on the Haul road while we were waiting for a pilot car to guide us through the construction.  I asked her if the haze we had been experiencing was due to a particular fire.   She looked at me like I was crazy and said, "Fire?  There could be a fire anywhere!"  She is right, Alaska is quite a vast land and fires are an integral part of the ecologic system.  I will have to do a little more research on this and get back to you about the specific importance of Arctic fires.  However, I was taught that in other parts of the world, fires are important to some species to allow seed germination and clear out the underbrush.

The past week my advisor and I have been running around trying to get our lab spaces set-up.  We brought a lot of sensitive instrumentation with us, which has been a challenge to get running ... things are beginning to get on track the past couple days, so I will hopefully have a more positive update for you soon!!

Posted on June 27, 2013 .

Day 7 - Ride to Malaga

he ride on day 7 was tough.  I decided today to go out with the boys to hammer.  My thought was, that it was the end of the week and I might as well put it all out on the line and see where it takes me....

Posted on March 4, 2013 .

Water pics!

My mom came through with pictures of the water that I didn't manage to snap the prior 2 days of the ride.  The picture below to the left is of the lake we crossed.  If you look off way in the distance of the lake, you can see the bridge we rode on the next day!  It looks so far away!  The picture to the right is the following ride to Route after crossing the bridge.  The water looked so inviting -- sigh.

Posted on March 4, 2013 .

SLB Day 6 - Pico de Veleta

The ride starts down in the outskirts of Granada.  It is quite warm at the base and we all had the seemingly endless debate of what to wear during the climb.  Again, nerves were a little on edge in anticipation of the ride. ..

Posted on February 25, 2013 .

SLB Day 5 - Rute

I honestly don't remember the ride for day 5 of Strong Like Bull very well.  I think my endorphine addled brain was starting to get confused at this point!  I do remember the key climb on day 5 was called "Rute," and to get there required a lot of Spanish downhills...

Posted on February 25, 2013 .

SLB Day 4 - Sanctuary

Day 4 started off with an early morning swim.  This was an awesome way to strech out my legs and get everything moving again after the day off.  I need to remember to incorporate more swimming into my workouts.  At the end of the swim, I did some 100m intervals alternating between IM and free.  It was pretty fun!  I don't think I've swum an IM since middle school ...

Posted on February 25, 2013 .

Hotel Rural Carlos Astorga

I just wanted to post a few pictures I took around the Hotel Rural Carlos Astorga, which was gorgeous.  Plus, there was plenty of heat and hot water for showers and warming up post rides :-).  The hotel was located in a rural area between Granada, Malaga, Seville, and Cordoba...

Posted on February 23, 2013 .

Day off in Granada

Day 3 was our first rainy day in Spain.  After our first two epic days of riding (at that point Puerto del Sol still felt pretty epic!!) the break was welcome.  I wasn't fully over the jet lag and was happy for a chance to doze throughout the morning before we took a sight-seeing trip into Granada...

Posted on February 19, 2013 .

SLB Day 2 - Zafarraya

On day 2 of the Strong Like Bull, we rode up to the town of Zafarraya, which is a municipality of Granada.  The climb this day was much longer than the first day.  The key climb was 11Km to the top of the pass, which was followed by another 4km climb on the way home.  The total ride was about 64 miles for the day.

On the second day, I finally figured out what everyone meant by "spanish downhills." ...

Posted on February 19, 2013 .

SLB Day 1 - Puerto Del Sol

I am in Detroit for another hour or two before my last flight back to Columbus.  This has been an amazing week and I want to do a few posts to capture some of the beauty we encountered the past few days.

For those of you I haven't talked your ear off about this camp, I am arriving home from the Strong Like Bull cycling camp in the Andalusian mountains of Malaga, Spain.  It was an awesome week of riding and great company!  Our group was fairly small for the first few days due to flight delays ... 

Posted on February 17, 2013 .

Jade and YOY!

Allison and I tore through the filtering a lot faster than than we predicted.  We collected and filtered a total of 14 carboys of water (~280 L of water) and extracted organic matter from 5 of those carboys (100 L water).  The past couple of days we worked on packing up and shipping the remaining 9 carboys (55 to 60 lbs each) back to Ohio State University!


We had a few extractions remaining to do and we still needed to collect some soils from around Toolik for Allison, who is examining plant uptake and soil sorption of several hormones.  She will be using the organic-rich tundra soil as a comparison to some of the agricultural soils she has been using for her experiments.  We decided to tackle the soil collection first, combining the trip with a hike up Jade mountain, located on the opposite shore of Toolik Lake from the field station.  We took a canoe across the lake and collected soils just off shore, to prevent any contamination from the field station from influencing the samples.  After a bit of digging, we realized that it is surprisingly difficult to cut through the tough root system of the moss and grass that dominate the tundra!  However, after a bit of work (and a lot of jumping on the shovels) we successfully collected enough soil.  We tucked the shovels and soil samples underneath our overturned canoe on shore, and headed up Jade.  It was a gorgeous day, yet clouds loomed over the horizon threatening rain, so we didn't dawdle in the hike -- which means that I sadly didn't take too many pictures.

A friendly Sik Sik (arctic ground squirrel)!
A friendly Sik Sik (arctic ground squirrel)!
Toolik and the Dalton Highway from the top of Jade Mountain!
Toolik and the Dalton Highway from the top of Jade Mountain!

We made it down Jade as the winds started to pick up.  The trip back across the lake was directly into the strong gusting winds and we made only slow, halting progress across the lake as we headed back toward Toolik.


There were quite strong winds, which resulted in some interesting clouds.  From what I have read, the choppy/grated - looking clouds are an indicator of turbulent winds.  During our venture back, we spotted a family of loons!  The two parents were diving into the water to collect food to bring back to the babies.  Loons primarily eat fish, but will eat other small fauna if necessary.

The whole Loon family!

The whole Loon family!


One of the loon parents, just before it dove to catch its prey.Loons are about the size of a duck or a small geese, yet their markings and call is extremely distinct.  They are difficult to take pictures of in the water since their bellies are submerged as they swim.  The wind and waves also didn't help in photo documenting the loons, yet I managed to get a couple of pics that you can really see their gorgeous markings!!

The loon showing off his gorgeous markings!
The loon showing off his gorgeous markings!

The loon parent and chick as they swam awaySince we only have a little work left, we seized the opportunity on Friday to go out with Elissa and her assistant Andrew to go catch young graylings known as YOY, which stands for Young of the Year.  Elissa works for the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) and one of her many projects is to track the yearly growth and development of the graylings.  They have 5 sites on the Oksrukuyik Creek, where they have been collecting for multiple years.  We hunted the YOY with small fish nets (like those you use in an aquarium).  The YOY are quick and blend easily into rocks, which makes catching them actually quite a challenge! We learned how to corral the YOY into a corner to catch or move a mass of YOY toward other people standing waiting with the nets.  By the end of the day, we were a YOY catching machine!

Elissa putting our YOY in fresh water for their trip back to the lab
Elissa putting our YOY in fresh water for their trip back to the lab

The YOY are still tiny, but I am told that they are significantly larger right now than at the beginning of the season.  Apparently when they were first collecting the YOY, they were just tiny little eyeballs with fins!

Some of our successfully caught YOY
Some of our successfully caught YOY
YOY closeup.  They are quite pretty fish, with tiny little spots all over them.
YOY closeup.  They are quite pretty fish, with tiny little spots all over them.
While out YOY hunting, we actually spotted a Caribou prancing through the tundra!
While out YOY hunting, we actually spotted a Caribou prancing through the tundra!

Caribou!! In the afternoon, we took the truck back out to Imnavait since we had caught wind of a fox family living out near the river.  We spotted them immediately upon driving up the access road to the creek.  There are supposedly 3 or 4 baby foxes, but some of them are a tad skittish.  However, 1 of the fox babies was quite brave and seemed unafraid as we watched him sleep.

"what are you looking at?"
"what are you looking at?"
Posted on August 6, 2011 .

Solid Phase Extractions

It has been a while since I have written a science post -- so I want to share with everyone how we are actually processing some of the water while we are in Alaska.  I will end with some wildlife pics, I promise!

We are using a common method to isolate dissolved organic matter from water called solid phase extraction (SPE) cartridges.  Each of these cartridges is a plastic collumn with a small amount of porous material at the bottom that bonds to organic material (ours contain 5g of solid phase, but they come in all different sizes). 

Our extraction set-up!

We have developed a system of tubes that allow us to pass water from the 20L carboy into the top of the cartridge.  As the water drips through the solid phase, the organic matter bonds to the material and is removed from the water (a process called "loading" the collumn).  Since no solid phase material completely removes 100% of the organic material from the water, we are using 2 types of solid phase material: C18 and DVB.  These two types of solid phase bond to slightly different types of organic matter, which will hopefully give us a representative picture of organic matter composition.

As the organic matter is loaded onto the collumn, a dark band appears at the top of the solid phase.  Throughout the process we monitor the water that comes out of the collumn to determine when a significant amount of the organic matter is no longer bonding to the collumn and is actually just flowing through the solid phase (this is known as "break through").  At this point, we stop dripping water through the collumn and it is time to get our organic matter out!

Two completed C18 Cartridges after 15L of water were passed through each collumn

In order to remove the organic matter from the solid phase material in the collumn, we need to pass some liquid through that the organic matter will be more soluble in than water - which will allow the organic matter to dissolve in the liquid and be released from the solid material.  In our case, we use methanol to flush out the organic matter.  It is actually quite fun to watch the band of material moving down the collumn as we pull the methanol through!

The beginning of the extraction

The band of organic matter is moving down!!

... almost to the syringe...

Here it comes!  Look at that golden color :-)

... and out comes the organic matter!

At the end of this long process, we have a gorgeous amber brown material that will later be dried down to a powder for all of my experiments at OSU!!

The syringe at the end of the extraction full of our precious organic matter

Okay, so now for the promised animal pictures :-).  Allison and I headed out a couple of days ago to the Oksrukuyik Creek (pronounced Oxy-curic) to collect more water.  As we were driving, we spotted a muskox, which looked like a mass of fur moving along the river!

Unfortunately the muskox is a little out of focus, but he looked like a walking long haired wig!

While scoping out field sites we also spotted an Alaskan Lake Trout!

Posted on August 4, 2011 .