Arctic Dreams

Hanging out in camp after a day of work. I swear we didn’t quit early, its just always light up there in the summer! This was probably 10 pm.

This last hitch out was a month of on and off time in the Arctic. It’s a harsh place. Definitely not where humans are meant to thrive. This is understood by some quick Googling to figure out that, while the Arctic is about 10% of the Earth’s landmass, only 0.005 percent of humans live there, or about 4,000,000 people. I have a deep respect for anyone who lives there after experiencing firsthand how ruthless it is. Mosquitoes, wet ground, snow on August 6. No trees for shelter. Tough.

It was great to spend time up there, however. Jacob DeKraii, a former CLM intern in Alaska who currently works for the BLM through a contract, and myself spent a few days searching for non-native plants north of the Brooks Range. Very few invasives have proved hardy enough to make a reproductive living up here, but last year someone spotted some Hawksbeard (Crepis tectorum) in a BLM owned gravel pit up here. A team had gone out a treat it, and we were back to see if any remained. We found one lonely plant, along with two stems of non-native Timothy Grass (Phleum prantense). That’s about the best case scenario for a multiple day non-native plant search! However, it did make for some rather mundane and anti-climactic walking about.

Atigun Pass in the Brooks Range. Out of the mountains on the other side is the North Slope, a barren, flat expanse of tundra that stretches all the way to the Arctic Ocean

A boardwalk at Toolik Field Station. They have installed boardwalks like this all around the area so that researchers don’t unknowingly affect the ecology of this place.

We took a trip up to the Toolik Field Station, which is the primary Arctic research facility in the U.S. Scientists from across the globe use this place to further P.h.D.’s, monitor permafrost, and measure climate change. The Arctic is warming 2-3x faster than the rest of the world.¬†Huge amounts of methane are frozen in permafrost, but this permafrost is melting. The methane-permafrost feedback loop is among the least understood and most daunting of climate challenges. So that’s why Toolik is popular. We hung out in the sauna while it was snowing outside (again, August 6) and jumped in the bitter cold Toolik Lake. I’ve never heard such academic language in a sauna full of naked people. It was quite entertaining.

The view near our campsite in the Brooks Range

Just another awesome Alaskan expanse.

For the next few weeks we collected seeds with the University of Alaska Anchorage botanist, Justin Fulkerson, and his herbarium assistant.

I found that I could get deep into the zen of seed picking. Hours would go by and I wouldn’t notice. Just fill the pillowcase. Fill the pillowcase. For the most part the weather was good. That’s huge!

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