Characterized by vast amounts of carbon stored in permafrost and a rapidly evolving landscape, the Arctic is an important focal point for the study of climate change. These are sensitive systems, yet the mechanisms responsible for those sensitivities remain poorly understood and inadequately represented in Earth System Models. The NGEE Arctic project seeks to reduce uncertainty in climate prediction by better understanding critical land-atmosphere feedbacks in terrestrial ecosystems of Alaska.
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Down the Dalton Highway...
The mid-afternoon flight from Anchorage to Deadhorse was,
from my perspective, an outstanding flight. I was fortunate to have a window
seat. I learned several years ago that a good way to witness ecosystem
diversity in the Arctic is to first see it transition before your eyes. The
boreal black spruce forest that surrounds much of Anchorage and Fairbanks gave
way to open shrub lands. We went up and over the Brooks range, and then onto
the ice-rich tundra as we neared the town of Deadhorse. Much of the later stages
of the flight paralleled the Alaskan pipeline. Surprisingly, despite traversing
more than 600 miles of wild Alaska landscape, the flight took only 90 minutes.
Molly, from the Toolik Lake Field Research Station, picked
five of us up at the airport. Luggage was packed, snacks were distributed, and
we headed south on the Dalton Highway. The van bounced along the largely gravel
road for roughly 130 miles. Molly has worked at Toolik Lake for 3 years and knew
the road well. We passed various sign posts that I had read about; Franklin
Bluff, Happy Valley, Imnavait Creek, and finally after three hours, Toolik
Lake. In that time we saw several red foxes, a dozen muskox, and several
hundred Caribou. We also drove alongside the Alaska pipeline at several spots
along the way. It helped that Rich brought along his copy of a just published
"Land of Extremes" book that serves as a natural history of the North
Slope. It also helped that one of the co-authors, Alex Huryn, was in the back
seat of our van. John Hobbie, the other co-author is staying in the Weatherport
tent with Rich and I at Toolik Lake.
Among Arctic scientists the Toolik Lake Field Station is
legendary. This is where many, many scientists and their students have pursued
their careers. Toolik Lake is managed by the Institute of Arctic Biology at the
University of Alaska Fairbanks. The terrestrial ecosystems here are classified as
dry heath and wet sedge tundra with enough topography to have streams, larger
rivers, and lakes. All are studied in one way or another by hundreds of
scientists each year. We will learn more about the research conducted here over
the next few days.