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.
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!!