Saturday, August 20, 2011
This was a wonderful trip from all aspects. Our team learned a great deal about the properties and processes of arctic soils, permafrost, hydrology, and vegetation dynamics, and also discovered the logistical challenges associated with working in such remote areas. The conditions were perfect to experience the Arctic at its best, which may disguise how truly difficult working in these areas can be. But, at this stage where we are trying to select sites that completely encompass the range of conditions and match the needs of all disciplines, it was certainly an optimum time to be there. We were lucky, but I believe the team was also ready to face the worst. It looked like everyone had assembled good quality gear to remain dry and warm under what can be tough working conditions. It will probably not be possible for me to accompany each team on their first trip back to the sites, but I think the team leaders have learned enough to be self-sufficient. I will try to accompany them, or send some of my people until we are confident all groups can operate safely. We will rely heavily upon our logistical providers to help us operate safely, but we have much training and many more discussions are needed before we reach that point.
We easily found sites that fit our needs in terms of a range of permafrost degradation. In Council, all of the permafrost is warm and degrading and we see vast evidence of thermokarst and shrub invasion. Along the transect between Council and Barrow, we discovered hundreds of sites of with evidence of degradation, and consequent impacts to the ecosystem. In Atqasuk, we discovered the best site for pristine low-centered polygons, see next image as an example.
We were surprised to see the extensive amounts of advanced permafrost degradation in terms of high centered polygons.
We can not say for certain what is causing this degradation, but I guess that is why we are doing the research. The process of the permafrost degradation is important to the ecosystem, to the hydrology and to the climate. We can understand its impacts, and we can predict the process... we just cannot explain where and why it will occur.
Much work remains to be done. We have a strong team, and we are committed to working with knowledgeable scientists who have conducted related research in the past or are actively conducting relevant research presently. Such complementary studies will help greatly in leveraging our measurements and extending our understanding.