(L)ab work in the north

Hello from 68 degrees north!

I’m spending the summer at Toolik Field Station, working for the Lakes Ecology component of the Arctic Long Term Ecological Research site (LTER). I’ll be spending summer solstice above the Arctic Circle, which means it’s definitely time to revive this blog.

Toolik is located on Alaska’s North Slope, in the foothills of the Brooks Range. The North Slope has been glaciated multiple times, creating kettle ponds that dot the landscape today. The project I’m working for studies the chemistry and biology of these lakes, particularly how they are changing as they age over time, and as climate changes.

Fog Lake

Ice remains on one of the Fog Lakes, a kettle pond created by glacial retreat.

I have several friends who have worked at Toolik, so I’ve heard for years about the delicious food and sauna on the lake. Having only been here for about four days so far, I can already recommend both; I just ate a peanut butter bar and teared up a little because the first bite was so good. This is definitely the land of the midnight sun–the sun is high around the clock, and won’t set until a month after summer solstice, on July 21st. (Curious about how the timing of sunrise and sunset change seasonally at your home? Check out this awesome link.)

The rest of the team and I arrived after a nine-hour drive up the Dalton Highway, known in Alaska as the “Haul Road.” It was incredible. Every second took me further north than I had ever been. After we left the boreal forest near Fairbanks and crossed the Yukon River, the views soon turned to tundra in the foreground with mountains in the distance, which is my favorite type of landscape. We saw a swan, several ground squirrels, and a snowshoe hare, the last of which had turned brown for better summer camouflage on the tundra.

Crossing the Arctic Circle

My colleague Kyle and I celebrate crossing the Arctic Circle on the drive north.

So far, we’ve mostly been unpacking the lab and getting prepped for the field season. There is still ice on Toolik Lake, so on Friday we rowed to the ice edge, hauled the boats onto the ice, loaded our instruments and bottles into sleds, and sampled through an auger hole. I had never sampled through ice before, and it was a blast, if a little chilly.

Today, we drove about twenty minutes north to the “Fog Lakes,” which will be another staple of our summer sampling. The four lakes we hiked to were also still covered with ice, so we just took surface samples from the shore. With the warm days we’ve been having (I’m wearing a tank top and shorts as I write this!), the ice will be gone soon, and we’ll delve into our full sampling routine. Happy summer, everyone!

(L)ab work

(L)ab work: It turns out that an ab workout is the perfect compliment to making a chemical solution.


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