Starting on April 9th the CALON Crew will be headed back up to Toolik Field Station to begin their fourth spring field campaign. We will be conducting snowmachine-based research on frozen lakes between the Brooks Range Mountains and the Beaufort Sea Coast over a three week period. Check back in two weeks to follow the Crew along as they progress north across the frozen tundra and to meet the new members of this years research team.
The winter storm wasn’t’ really over, but Wendy and Lollie managed to fly out of AKP today, bidding farewell to Byron, who is going out to hunt geese (actually, he was out hunting geese yesterday during the storm as well and caught several). The view of the mountain pass as we left AKP was stunning.
Lollie and Wendy celebrated the end of their successful trip with a great meal and beers at Pike’s Landing in Fairbanks. Wendy has a long trip in front of her, and she should reach Houghton tomorrow afternoon. Lollie will be going back to Barrow tomorrow morning.
This morning we woke up to a new view of AKP: dreary drizzle, which changed rather quickly to a steady rain. We had a morning interview with our last, and 10th interviewee, and then Wendy checked the online weather for Anaktuvuk and saw that a winter blizzard was forecast for the next 2 days! This led to a flurry of activity: we were afraid that we would be weathered in for our departure scheduled for tomorrow (Sunday) so we tried to figure out how to get out before the storm. A Wright Air flight was scheduled to arrive today, and had one seat left. Chris summarily decided to take that flight and departed at 1pm, while Wendy and Lollie tried for another flight with another airline. That plane was scheduled to depart at 3pm, so we raced to the airport and waited. And waited, while a young, irrepressible flight liaison (who just graduated from AKP high school this week) regaled us with insights into airplanes and bad weather: “If you go down in the mountains, they’ll come get you pretty quickly, I think.” And “they say if you have to die, going down in a plane crash is really the best way, because it’s quick and you’re not alone.”
Anyway, the plane tried to land twice, but gave up and went back to Fairbanks.
So here we are. Lollie went to that kid’s graduate party and had a good old time eating caribou, but Wendy was stricken with an inevitable migraine and couldn’t try the caribou she was really craving.
Maybe tomorrow all will be well and we’ll leave on schedule. Meanwhile, the sun looks like it’s trying to come out….
We had another eventful day, and interviewed another 4 people, including Rhoda Ahgook. At 84, she is one of the oldest people in the village, and speaks Inupiat almost exclusively. While we sat in her house, she told the story of her family’s epic journey from Barter Island in Canada all the way to Anatuvuk Pass, travelling by boat, dog sled, and on foot.
We also visited the Simon Paneak Museum, which is overlooking the town. It’s a absolute treasure trove of indigenous knowledge and history, and is overseen by Vera Woods, the curator and researcher who helped to create a stunning multimedia display with videos, touch screens, and recreations of the life of the Numamuit people.
Wendy’s luggage finally did arrive on the afternoon flight, which is a big deal and ensures the success of our field season, because our chargers for the computer and the camera were in her luggage! It hasn’t gone quite the way we thought it would as far as doing the blogs regularly, either, because not only is all this a day late, but the wi-fi connection is very dicey, and Wendy tried loading this movie of her first beautiful morning in this amazing place. It was very difficult to send the movie file and that postponed the posting of this blog.
In any case, we managed to interview 4 elders today, and they were outstanding. The people of AKP have been really friendly and eager to share their knowledge! We heard stories of privation during years of famine in the 1950s, and stories that emphasize these people’s love of the land and joy in their traditional way of life, following the caribou herds and travelling vast distances. In the old days (pre-1970s) they used dogsled during the winter, or else they just walked. And boy, did they walk. Their famous story tells about the summer of 1949, when several of our interviewees were part of a walk of 100 miles to join their people in Anaktuvuk Pass. They were understandably proud of their accomplishment, and it remains a key moment in their lives.
Here’s a selfie of our intrepid team. There’s Lollie, Chris, and Byron Hopson, our resourceful community liaison.
This is Rachel Riley, in front of her vehicle, called an ARGO. Many people have them: they are all-terrain, amphibious vehicles…quite impressive. It is amphibious and doesn’t seem to damage the tundra as much as a 4 wheeler. Rachel just came back from hunting, and she’s a real dynamo at 73 years old!
Wendy got to Anaktuvuk Pass yesterday at about 3pm, ending an intense 50 hours trying to get there. The plane ride was great: traveling over the snow covered Brooks Range and flying into a strip of land along the river, between majestic peaks. This place is breath-taking. You can understand why the Numamuit love it here. Chris and Lollie wasted no time getting Wendy calibrated: we plunged right into a video interview with Thomas Rulland, one of the original settlers of AKP. Last night there was a major event: school graduation. Wendy didn’t go owing to her falling asleep on her feet, but Lollie and Chris did and presumably it was a fun time.
And yes, “Anaktuvuk” does mean place of caribou droppings, but Thomas said there aren’t as many caribou around so the impact isn’t as pronounced.
Here’s a video of Wendy’s view around the Numamuit Hotel.
Wendy spent 6.5 hours in the Houghton Airport, waiting while some sort of emergency (smoke in the air traffic control tower?) took place in Chicago. She finally got to O'Hare, in plenty of time to catch her plane since it was 3 hours late. Despite the kind flight attendants who put her in the front of the plane so that she was able to sprint through the Seattle airport to her Fairbanks flight, she missed the connection by 5 minutes! But Alaska airlines found a later connection to Anchorage, and now she's waiting for her Fairbanks flight, which should get her there in plenty of time to catch the plane to Anaktuvuk Pass, where Chris and Lollie await her. Now, will her luggage show up in Fairbanks?
As this type of scenario becomes more common practice in the airline industry it has paved the way for niche companies to provide comfort and relief...
Ah, the vagaries of weather and travel! Here in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan it has been stormy and cold (35 degrees!) all day, and Wendy’s flight to Chicago was cancelled! So, it’s back to the cottage for a quiet evening with a beer and a roaring fire (not too shabby). Chris and Lollie will be in Fairbanks soon and will have the privilege of buying our food and going to AKP tomorrow afternoon. Wendy will (hopefully) get out of Houghton/Hancock airport tomorrow and arrive in AKP on Wednesday.
So, even though this isn’t Alaskan information; a little about Keweenaw Bay in the U.P.: the bay was ice covered until Tuesday, and then the wind changed and the temps went up into the 60’s. But today, all the broken ice flows have been blown back in from the lake and it is a wintery scene that could rival northern Alaska! That’s Wendy below with the ice-choked bay behind her.
Anaktuvuk Pass, Alaska
One goal of the CALON project is to explore the intersection of native knowledge and landscape-process research in arctic Alaska. We do this by interviewing the people of the villages on the North Slope, and so far on this project we’ve talked to Elders and hunters from Barrow and Atqasuk. This year, we’re going a little further afield to a village we’ve never been to before: Anaktuvuk Pass.
This village holds a special significance: it is where the last of the Nunamuit people—the People of the Land—reside. The Inupiat are basically divided into the inland people, who hunt the caribou, and the sea people, who mainly hunt whales and walrus. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, many Numamuit people had to leave their inland hunting grounds due to disease, famine, and the dwindling of the caribou herds. Today, most of them have intermarried and live in other areas, but in 1949 some families returned inland and founded Anaktuvuk Pass. Today, it is the only Numamuit settlement remaining, with a population of 320 people.
On Monday, Wendy Eisner from the University of Cincinnati will be traveling from the beautiful Upper Peninsula of Michigan to Fairbanks on the first leg of our trip to Anaktuvuk Pass in the Brooks Range of Alaska. In Fairbanks, she’ll meet the rest of the team: Chris Cuomo from the University of Georgia and Lollie Hopson, our liaison and translator, from Barrow, Alaska.
We will spend the night in Fairbanks, buy food, and then travel by small plane to Anaktuvuk Pass, which we think means “place of caribou droppings” but we’re going to corroborate that with the local folks and field verification when we get there!
Welcome to the second annual Toolik Lake Ice Classic. This year, with the help of Toolik Field Station staff, we have increased the number of wireless web cameras capturing photos of Toolik Lake. Click this link to navigate to the Toolik Ice Classic webpage and log your ice-off date guess!
Field Data Collection Summary: Lake Responses to Year-to-Year Climate Variability
Yesterday we made our last set of observations on a lake in route from Umiat to Toolik LTER. A very hot sunny day and we noticed the impacts of an unusually warm winter and early spring. Snowmelt is in progress, we found open flowing water on the Itkillik River, and ptarmigan were increasingly active and starting their mating calls. One cool note is that the ptarmigan really key in on all the freshly exposed patches of vegetation (hummocks or individual shrubs) and probably enhance melt in these areas via their foraging or just curiosity. A lone black wolf was spotted as well and numerous bear tracks of bruins just emerging from Arctic (bear) hibernation.
This last lake we visited is set in Yedoma (silty ice-rich) permafrost and is relatively deep (20 feet) and this year had a nice homogeneous snowpack and pretty thin ice 129 centimeter or about 4 feet. It was still stratified by temperature (0 F near bed of ice and 2 F near lake bed), dissolved oxygen, and dissolved solids (conductivity). This was the last of 33 lakes we visited on the eastern CALON transect spanning about 3 degrees of latitude and 2000 ft of elevation from the Brooks Range to the Beaufort Sea Coast. At each lake we record snow depth, ice thickness, and water chemistry. Additionally we also collected 60 feet of permafrost cores from drained lakes and upland peat to document longer term patterns in lake change and landscape processes. We also installed 6 new remote, wireless webcams. A real-time temperature data logger suspended 20 feet down into frozen ground. And helped a few colleagues out by collecting sandstone from the Colville River bluff and also checking batteries and connections at remote data collection stations.
Probably the most interesting trend this year is deeper snow (Figure A) and thinner ice (Figure B) towards the coast, which generally runs counter to the past 2 years of data collected for this project and the conceptual framework of how lakes respond to regional patterns of Arctic climate. Once we return to our respective institutions in Fairbanks, Anchorage, and Potsdam, we’ll be working to analyze the conditions leading to these observations and bringing historic observations from remote sensing and models to place this year’s findings into a longer term perspective. Stay tuned for more results!
We had a great ride from Umiat to Toolik yesterday. We did the 110 mile run in about 8 hours, stopping to do our thing at our last lake of the expedition this year. We had a great trip with really nice weather compared to years past. The snow machine issues early on set us back a bit but is definitely a reality of doing trips like this as we have had to tackle and troubleshoot similar issues during our trips over the last 7 yrs. This year marked more than 10,000 miles on snow machine-based research trips for Jones. Conducting such self-sufficient science (sort-of…) is very very rewarding but it's always nice to get back to a safe harbor here in the foothills of the Brooks Range. Here's some photos from the return trip!
Highlighting the rehab of an old arctic research cabin and the birth of the Teshekpuk Lake Observatory!!!
Click here to read the column on Alaska Dispatch.
Two of our inspirations for getting us out on these long distance science traverses emerged from the Great White Yonder a few days ago. Thanks to Matthew Sturm and Glen Liston for inspiring us to get out on the tundra to do snow-machine based research in order to get a handle on regional variability across this vast and diverse Arctic landscape!
We had a nice ride from Inigok to Umiat today engulfed most of the time in the great white yonder. It made travel a bit slow at times but we did not have any major problems getting here. When we arrived we lucked into a steak and salmon dinner prepared by Chef Tony at the UIC camp! It was really nice to not have to cook and clean anything. Crawford Patkotak from Barrow is also in camp with his family. He stopped over and shared some amazing stories of him traveling the tundra when he was a teenager, including an adventure he once had at Teshekpuk Lake when he was 13.
Here's a few photos from the tundra today. We'll get a good nights sleep and then wake up, gas up, and head for Toolik Field Station in the morning, stopping about 30 miles from Umiat to do our surveys on our last lake!!!!
Bouncing across northern Alaska on a snowmachine, visually it is often hard to tell that 20-40% of the ground we traverse is actually frozen lake surfaces.
As you can imagine in the Arctic, ice can grow very thick and historically lakes greater than 7 feet deep freeze solid by the end of winter. In some areas such as the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area (TLSA) and the Barrow Peninsula, most lakes (and about half of total lake area)used to freeze solid by the end of the winter. This limits the utility of these lakes for fish in the winter and for supplying water for people. Slightly deeper lakes that always have some liquid water impact below lake permafrost significantly causing long-term thaw 25 to 400 feet below them and can liberate greenhouse gases held deep in the ground. On the other hand, grounded-ice lakes (ones that freeze solid to the bottom) keep the frozen ground (permafrost) below them frozen.
Air temperature and winter precipitation play a large role in how thick the winter lake ice grows from year to year and across the Arctic. We make measurements of snow depth and density on lakes and have also installed weather stations at each of our measurement nodes. This data is used to understand lake ice thickness patterns from lake to lake within and among years. Knowing how thick snow is (along with air temperature) tells us why ice is only 4 feet in some years (like 2014) and can be as thick as 8 feet as was documented in the 1970s on Teshekpuk Lake.
These field expedition surveys allow us to build models of ice growth based on long-term climate station data which can be verified by data collected from satellites. We recently used these tools to look at ice growth patterns from 1975 to 2011 (see our 2012 paper in Geophysical Research Letters). We found that lake ice has become thinner by almost a foot per decade since the 1970s and consequently satellite data shows that fewer lakes freeze solid than in past decades. This, plus our field surveys since 2012, all point towards Arctic lakes being on thin ice. This creates more overwintering fish habitat, important water resources for the oil industry, and also sub-lake permafrost thaw.
The region-wide snapshot that we have captured so far on our expedition has also raised several questions. As we move from Toolik Lake in the south to Teshekpuk Lake in the north, we typically find that ice gets thicker. However, this year we have documented the reverse pattern. The snow is thicker and ice thinner in the north compared to the south. Is this due to later open-water of the Beaufort Sea this year and the moisture and heat it provides? If so, we’d expect that as sea ice continues to decline, snowfall will increase and lake ice will become thinner and more lakes will experience a surprising regime shift along this latitudinal gradient.
Does 4 feet versus 8 feet of lake ice really make a difference? On the surface, it is hard to tell as we traverse across vast lakes on our snowmachine based expedition. But wondering whether we are experiencing the emergence of a new state of this Arctic ecosystem as lake ice, similar to sea ice, continues to thin, making each years measurements more and more important as we build our Circum-Arctic Lakes Observation Network.
Rugged research in Alaska's Big White Empty tests scientists' resolve. Click here to read Ned's third column about the CALON snowmachine-based research expedition on the North Slope of Alaska.
The CALON Crew A Team will be basing out of the Teshekpuk Lake Observatory (TLO) for the next 4 to 5 days while we conduct our surveys on lakes within 20 miles of the northwestern shore of Teshekpuk Lake. Teshekpuk Lake is the largest lake in the Alaskan Arctic and the third largest lake in the state. The Teshekpuk Lake region provides important habitat to a wide variety of wildlife - including the Teshekpuk Caribou Herd, muskox, brown bear, polar bear, wolverine, wolves, arctic fox, red fox, shrews, lemmings, more than a dozen fish species, shorebirds in unusually high densities, snowy owls, jaegers, falcons, ravens, and migratory waterfowl. The TLO has been established in order to gain a better understanding of this internationally recognized ecosystem during a period of rapid environmental change in the Arctic. It represents a collaborative effort between the U.S. Geological Survey - Alaska Science Center, the Bureau of Land Management - Arctic Field Office, the National Science Foundation, the North Slope Borough Department of Wildlife, and several other partners. Several projects are underway that are aimed at learning about the present as well as the past state of Teshekpuk Lake and the surrounding area. This in turn will provide much needed information on the potential future status of this unique Arctic ecosystem.
To learn more about the TLO visit: www.teshekpuklake.com
A few photos from the TLO photo gallery are provided below along with a brief history of the research station...
The vision for the TLO actually began in 1963... Max Brewer, then director of the Naval Arctic Research Lab in Barrow, had a vision for a distributed network of research cabins across the northern slope of Alaska. Nine of them were built by Harry Brower Sr. in his shop in Barrow and Dr. Kenneth Toovak and his crew positioned them strategically across this vast country in the early 1960s. The TLO cabin was set in place in May 1964 and is the last remaining outpost of Max's vision. In 2007, Ben Jones and colleagues started the process of bringing this research station back online.
See letter below for a bit more history from Max before his passing:
The CALON Crew had a great trip from Umiat to the Fish Creek Camp and then endured doing our work in above freezing temperatures much of the last 3 days. One day we measured temperatures of 40+F in the shade and 91F in the direct sun! We also got to see a bit of the lunar eclipse from camp and had a curious visitor from time to time.
Unfortunately, the Arctic Hound died about 1 mile from our campsite while traveling from Umiat....We tried to diagnose the issue with the skidoo shop in Delta Junction and the prognosis was not good...likely a burned out cylinder. It seems odd that this same machine also suffered a broken weld on what is supposedly a bomber piece of the machine. Perhaps someone road this machine really hard and didn't bother to let us know...
Many, many, many thanks to Michael Donovan and crew from Barrow for bringing us one of the B Team machines and for hauling the hound back to Barrow. And thanks for CPS and Umiaq for orchestrating the delivery and pickup!
We'll make some more notes tomorrow!
Cheers from the Teshekpuk Lake Observatory!
The A Team has wrapped up the research around the Umiat node. We arrived here after a long one four days ago in a bit of disrepair but thanks to Richard Kemnitz, Greg Hayden, and Bodey we are leaving feeling really good about our situation. Bodey made an indestructible weld and brace for the part called the Ass'y module S2. He also replaced the bent tie rod, outboard ball joint, and both front pogo shocks (all spare parts that we carry in our skidoo parts kit!). We will be traveling about 90 miles today enroute to our next node located north of Umiat along Fish Creek in the NPR-A. We will not have internet access at this location. So we'll send short updates about the work using the Delorme inReach. These will get posted as messages on the live tracking map server. The work at Fish Creek should take 3 to 4 days and then we'll head up near Teshekpuk Lake and the Beaufort Sea Coast. We'll send photos and updates to the blog from there!
One of the key measurements performed during the expedition are surveys of lake ice thickness, ice surface elevation, and lake depth at all lakes in our network. Why do we do this? Because maximum ice thickness, in addition to lake depth, is the main variable determining whether lakes freeze to the bottom in winter or remain floating ice lakes – a critical issue for land surface energy balance, persistence or loss of permafrost under these lakes, the fish and other critters in the lakes, and water needs for humans and industry up here in the Arctic.
This cartoon drawn by Chris shows why ice thickness is an important environmental parameter up here. As ice thickens over the winter, shallow lakes freeze to the bottom, leaving no liquid water for fish to overwinter. In spring, these bedfast ice lakes pool water on the surface while the ice remains frozen to the lake bed, and the warmer, darker water on the surface rapidly melts through the ice. Bedfast ice lakes melt out faster than floating ice lakes. The fish that picked the floating ice lake has a nice spot for overwintering. The floating ice on these lakes maintains a high albedo, or surface reflectance, over the melt period, and thus usually become ice-free much later than bedfast ice lakes.
We measure ice thickness and lake depth with a probe and measurement tape or with geophysical methods such as ground penetrating radar that can trace the boundary between ice and water as well as water and bottom sediment due to the different speeds radar waves travel through these mediums and how reflective the boundaries are between them.
As lake depth can change over the seasons or over several years we also log relative water levels with pressure data loggers at the lake bottom and seasonally survey absolute lake water and ice level elevations in April and August using a differential global positioning system (DGPS). Winter ice elevations and summer water levels tell us more about the water balance of Arctic lakes and whether water levels are on the rise or are falling due to drier conditions or drainage events related to permafrost thaw.