Saturday, August 6, 2011

Toolik redux

Toolik is the kernel of Joe's and my Alaskan experience. It is the reason we came to Alaska in the first place. I first lived here in the summer of 2009 as Donie's research assistant. The following summer, Joe experienced his first Toolik summer hired on as a Field Operations Assistant/camp bike mechanic while I stayed in Fairbanks working in the lab on Donie's snowfence-isotope project. Now the end of this summer has brought us together, along with Mark, for Donie's Anaktuvuk River Fire "pluck"--an army of students, scientists and volunteers converged in Toolik's Lab 2 to disassemble chunks of tundra into discrete plant pieces in order to understand the tundra's productivity 4 years after the fire.

I return to Fairbanks tomorrow, and these past 17 days have been intense, often challenging, and also very grounding. While here I've re-acquainted myself with lots of folks and met some very cool people. I've also been working on an idea for a study of my own that should complement Donie's work on plant community changes/shrub expansion in the tundra under climate change--I've begun collecting soil samples that I will germinate in the spring to understand how fires and thermokarsts affect the seed bank of such large disturbed areas, and thus how these disturbances might affect genetic diversity of plant communities.

Joe fills up at Toolik

Chez Shibinex, our cozy quarters for the next several days

Mark in the middle of the pluck

Kyoko takes leaf area index measurements

Flying to the burn

Donie and Peter with pilot Matt at the burn

Four years later the burn's effects are still evident--these cottongrass tussocks survived the fire but died subsequently

We measure the productivity of vegetation using a variety of different methods: percent cover, foliage reflectivity, and leaf area

Cloudberry is abundant at the burn site

The famous Blacklight Party

Laura shows Kyoko how to measure the reflectivity of an orange

The girls enjoy a well earned hike in the Brooks Range

On Sheep Mountain looking North, Colin can see his site at Imnavait Creek

Claire leads the way down just before it rained

Gus and crew comparing "samples"

Dr. Ray shows us a tiny white spruce tree, a survivor of tussock transplant experiment 32 years ago--the only spruce tree known to survive this far north!

Christian flies us to our destination in style

Camilo and Kira harvest a soil sample at the burn

The thermokarst at NE-14, a lake just north of Toolik, was discovered just a few years ago. The permafrost underneath is still actively melting and collapsing the soil and vegetation down the slope into the lake, while some species, like this fireweed, seem to benefit from the disturbance.

Lakes I-2 (in middle of photo) and I-1 (larger lake behind it) have both mature and active thermokarsts on their south banks. I-2 has a more active one at its inlet a little further east

My first transect at Lake I-2 where I collected seedbank samples

I-1 way in the distance. Will I ever get there before I leave?

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