Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Seasonal dynamics in the tundra...

Today is the last day of my field season. I've been based in Barrow since 15th June. Now, with all of the equipment listed, labeled and safely in winter storage, I have the leisure to reflect on my time at the top of the world. 

Lab 133 ready for winter
Staying up near the field site for a whole Arctic summer was a fantastic opportunity. I was able to make frequent measurements of key environmental parameters (e.g. thaw depth, soil moisture) in the four contrasting polygon types, but also had the joy of observing the plant communities throughout the short growing season. This was a very useful tool for species identification, but more importantly, gave me first-hand knowledge of the dynamics of these ecosystems. Now, we have the understanding we need to place measurements made in shorter field campaigns in context. 

Plants at their peak - Eriophorum angustifolium (cotton grass) 

Petasites frigidus (Arctic sweet coltsfoot) in abundance 

Vaccinium vitis-idaea (lingonberry) 
In summary, I spent 77 days in Barrow. I made some 65 trips to the BEO, many for a full field day, others to collect a sample or a colleague and head back to the lab. Alongside the rest of the 'Veggies', I helped collect over 1000 samples of plants and soil. I probed 2450 times with the permafrost pole. I also managed to notch up 103 sightings of lemmings, 7 snowy owls and one caribou.

The best number, though, is 41. The number of NGEE scientists I had the privilege to interact with during my stay in Barrow. I can't imagine any other situation in which I'd have had the chance to talk Arctic plant ecology with people from such a range of disciplines, and to learn so much about their objectives and techniques in return. I really did see the field site through new eyes each day.

A different kind of interaction - Jessie Cherry and crew fly overhead as we work on the BEO

With this is mind, it is nice to know that even though I have finally handed in my truck and apartment key, NGEE is still going strong in Barrow. As I joined the security line in the airport this morning, I just had time to wave at Bill Cable, Bob Busey and Vladimir Romanovsky as they disembarked from the plane to begin a campaign of sensor installations. 

I have plenty of samples awaiting my attention in Oak Ridge, and I'm happy to be going back, but I will miss Barrow. Especially the people who were so considerate in granting my wishes - everything from porcini mushrooms to artwork for the apartment - and who made my time there so enjoyable.

Stan Wullschleger searched high and low to find a replacement for a broken fastening on my pack

Alistair Rogers generously shared his tea every time I visited the Cake-Eater shed - a lifeline for a Brit in the field!

An unforgettable birthday party in August