Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Field work and Nalukataq

Today was a good day out in the field. Although I have not been getting much sleep lately, I was energized and managed the hike without a problem. I've been assigned to monitor water levels for the Biocomplexity experiment at the Barrow Environmental Observatory. It is much more complicated than it sounds, because we have to use a differential GPS system that has centimeter accuracy! So what the usual routine consists of is taking the GPS equipment and hiking a good...I would say between 3-4 miles around the site with it. With the battery, receiver, and controller on my back, the extra 25-30 pounds of weight start to wear me down towards the end. The hike wouldn't be so hard if it were on a hard surface, but the tundra is very mushy and sometimes the moss behaves like a sponge and sucks my boot in!
I went out at around 10 am today, and it's nice when you're the only person out there for miles. I love going out there by myself; it's a great feeling to have nothing but wilderness all around you. As soon as I arrived at the control shed, it was off to do water levels! I usually hit pond #12 first, since it's right next to the control shed. I put the GPS receiver on top of the pole that is in the pond, and I usually wait to get radio link, then GPS then records the elevation from the top of the pole. After that, I use a measuring tape to measure the distance from the top of the pole down to the water. I do this for ten ponds in or around the experiment site, and process the data here in the lab.
Anyways, back to being out there by's great! Today I saw a loon, geese, swans, lemmings, pharalopes, sandpipers, ducks, and the Alaska state bird, mosquitoes! Ah yes, I'm sure many of you have heard the horror stories, well, it's true...they're ginormous! Luckily though, they are not too bad up in Barrow because the wind usually takes care of them...but today was a gorgeous day and we had hardly a breeze, so I saw many of them hovering around me :\ But I love the wildlife here; I have also seen snowy owls, an arctic fox, and a weasel. Later on Craig said we would all get the chance to go to Ivotuk, and I'm counting down the days ._. He said that we would be able to see moose, caribou, and bears! I like to go out to the field with Craig, like many people that worked with him out there before me, I've also felt his intensity when it comes to field work, and it makes me nervous at times but its a big part of what makes him such a great leader. One time when we were hiking out to the BEO, he spotted bubbles of methane in one of the ponds. He's just so knowledgeable and passionate that I miss him being out there with us sometimes, he's great inspiration :D

Monday we went to a festival that the native people here call Nalukataq. I believe it celebrates the end of whaling season? When we arrived they were having a blanket toss; it was a bunch of people gathered around holding a blanket made out of seal skin. They use this to toss a person pretty high up in the air! When we arrived they had the blanket toss going, but only for the little kids. I don't think I'm going anywhere near this thing, I've been deathly afraid of anything that resembles a trampoline :\ Shortly after the blanket toss they distributed muktuk (whale meat) among some of the families that were there. Many of them were waring their traditional coats, and the little kids looked very cute in them. We will be attending the next nalukataq tomorrow, and I hope to see then what they have been practicing so much for: music and dancing! I'm also happy that tomorrow I get another day in the lab, although it gets very boring if there is nobody around, so we'll see. I think I'll probably make time for a nice walk down the beach! But for now, I'll end this blog with a picture of when we went to The Point :)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Change and the summer

It's been three weeks since I arrived in Barrow, and we've been extremely busy. Usually when Craig (Dr. Tweedie) is here, he has us work every day of the week.
But it is really awesome when I think back and realize the amount of work we got done . He took us flying in a small aircraft one day so we could get some good aerial photos of our Biocomplexity site. The flight was amazing; the sea ice look so beautiful from up there!

Craig left on the 14th of June, but the day before he decided to buy us all dinner, so h
e took us to a small restaurant called Arctic Pizza. Although Barrow is a very expensive place to live in, I didn't think that the pizza at this restaurant was too pricey. Sometimes at the grocery store you can see items priced as much as three time what they cost in El Paso! Anyways, this pizza place was very nice; they had our table reserved on the second floor where there is a great view of the Arctic ocean. There is still plenty of ice stuck to the shore, but you could see the open ocean not too far from the shore. There were two seals out on the ice, and Craig swears he saw a polar bear through his binoculars but I never got to see it :( After dinner we went out to a cliff by the coast and took a nice group picture of the UTEP crew, and also one with the Florida International University crew. Craig's departure meant we had a few days to take it

easy afterwards, and we did. There was one night when Bob Hollister, an old colleague of Craig's, decided to take some of his students out to "The Point", or Point Barrow, which is the northernmost point of Alaska. This trip was pretty fun because we are stationed technically in Brwowersville, (as Amorita pointed out, a LOT of people's last name around here is Brower), and so there is a road up there, but after you reach the 3 (on the map), it's pretty much off-roading...what a great excuse to use the four-wheelers! Since there were many of us going and not enough ATVs, we had to share, boo! J/k, at first I was a bit scared since those vehicles are only meant for one person, but after a while you get used to it. Paulo was a great driver! He took us over the ramps when everyone else was too chicken to do it :P We rode all the way to Plover point, and took some pictures and looked around at all the whale bones all over the place. We were able to find some sea shells and a couple of what seemed to be seal bones.

Before we drove back to Point Barrow, I had the pleasure of riding with a giant whale vertebra poking me on the side of my thigh! Amorita just HAD to pick up a giant vertebra and take it back to the lab, it was great fun. When we stopped at Point Barrow I finally got to see up close this plant that was growing right on the gravel! I had spotted it on the way in, it had these gorgeous white flowers and I just couldn't believe that it was growing there. This is also where Hiroki's study site is and it is a very beautiful place to do research at :D We saw some birds but luckily no polar bears. These areas are the ones where there is more of a chance of an encounter, and we always carry a shotgun with us when we're close to the coast, but nobody wants to be in a situation like that. It was a beautiful night, and let me note that these shots were taken at around 11:30pm, aahh yes, the Land of the Midnight Sun indeed! Well, I'll post this blog for now and I'm going to start on a new blog was just looking too pathetic! I'll end this with a nice macro shot (thank you awesome camera!), of the angiosperm I was talking about :) I was going to crop it, etc. but I'm too lazy!
Saxifraga caespitosa

Sunday, June 10, 2007

First days in Barrow, AK

Ok, so I've made this blog specifically for this trip because I'm usually too lazy to blog, but I have to do it while I'm here in Alaska! I'll probably also use it for Antarctica...I guess this is my travel blog, yeah, that's it!

I've been here a grand total of 12 days and I'm loving it. When Craig, Adrian and I first arrived on the evening of the 30th there was snow everywhere, it definitely seemed like I was in the Arctic! It's amazing how fast the snow has melted though, now there is just nothing but tundra and a few patches of snow here and there. That first week was kind of rough, we did field work for most part of the day and it was nothing but shoveling snow and picking through the permafrost to install a weir that we built. Ah, but you should see it now, it looks boo-ti-ful!

To get to our site we used snow machines and sleds, and they were so much fun. I think I liked riding on the sled more than I liked driving the snow machine! There was one day when I stayed behind to help Dave and Amorita with some snow depth measurements, while the rest of the group went back to the lab. They left us with two snow machines and Amorita and I were in one, Dave was in the other that had the sled attached. We were driving back and I noticed Dave's machine went over a good sized ramp. So since the machine we were on didn't have a back seat, I told Amortia, "Careful there!" Nope, she continued at decent speed and we got some awesome air time!

Now since almost all the snow has melted, the snow machines have been put away and it's hiking time. At first the hike was a pain because the snow was still there, and it was slushy so any step could have been a trap waiting to take you to the ground. I also had not noticed how weak my legs were until we started hiking to our site. The crutches really set me back, especially my left leg. It's getting better every day though, my ankle hardly bothers me but I'm still careful since it's still weak.

UUhhh, there's still so much more to say but I'm tired. Peeing in the tundra sucks. Doing water levels with the wireless Trimble GPS is great. Seeing wildlife is great. Doing water flow measurements is boring. Any type of snack or food is GREAT out in the field. The Mexican food here is not that bad. Muktuk (whale meat) wasn't too bad either. No beer sucks. My camera is great. Finally, experiencing a completely new culture is absolutely amazing!Ok I need to finish this blog because Amorita is yelling at me to send her a picture :(

Write more soon :D