The Burn ... and the moose chase

The largest recorded fire in Alaska occurred during the summer of 2007, when 256,000 acres of tundra ignited. There are several groups on camp that have started researching the regeneration of the land in the past couple of years and its effects on the land and water ecosystems. This past Sunday I went out with Cody to help with sampling and bathymetry of several lakes out at the burn site. Cody is studying the effects of the fire on lake productivity, so he was collecting water and zooplankton samples as well as several lake sediment cores to analyze sediment productivity. It took us about a half hour to arrive at the first lake we were sampling called North Lake. It was really cool to see the patterned ground from the air! Freeze-thaw action of the permafrost causes the land surface to break into polygons known as patterned ground. It makes the landscape look almost scaley (pic right). While we were flying over Horn Lake, we watched a moose wade across the water (I unfortunately didn't have my camera on the flight out, so I didn't get a picture of it, but I eventually met the moose later in the day, at a distance a little too close for my comfort level ...).

After the flight, we finally touched down at our first lake for the day. The tundra at the burn site is noticeably charred and the shorelines of the lake are definitely blackened from the fire. However, over the past couple of years, promising new growth has started, and now covers a significant portion of the charred ground.

We continued from North Lake to Horn lake where I would be responsible for mapping bathymetry of the lake. Cody fixed a little pinger on the bottom of the boat, which was connected to a GPS unit and tells depth at each point. Basically my job was to paddle back and forth accross the whole lake to map out changes in depth. It was a decently windy day and quite a large lake, which made the bathy mapping a really good work out! When I made it about half way across the lake, I spotted a moose on the far shore. He (or she?) wasn't full grown, but was definitely large. I thought, "well he's just on shore; I am okay with that." I continued mapping for another half an hour and the moose sat down in the tundra to watch me. However as I got closer to him, he suddenly stood up and then started getting in the water. My first thought was, "uh oh ..." and then he started wading accross the lake coming toward me. Now, the lake was really shallow--about a half meter deep in the middle of the lake--so although he couldn't charge, he could still probably trample me effectively. I immediately thought about the conversation we had in the helicopter on the way out about how more people have been killed from moose charging than grizzly bear attacks and I really wasn't about to test that statistic. As the moose continued toward me, I spun the boat and booked it back to shore. Although I was paddling against the wind, I paddled as hard as I could, and definitely gave it all I had left after doing all of the bathymetry mapping! Needless to say, he eventually lost interest in me and continued to the other side of the lake. However, I decided not to test him and pushed on back toward our launch point on shore.
Posted on July 21, 2009 and filed under Burn, helicopter, sampling, wildlife.