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.
Wednesday, June 26, 2013
Out of Nome on the Kougarok Road...
Rich, Victoria, Jenny, and I arrived in Nome yesterday
after a short flight from Anchorage. We gathered up our luggage, flagged down a
taxi, and made our way several miles out of town to housing that Rich had
arranged for us at "Dredge No. 7". The name echoes back to the gold
mining days of the early 1990's when miners would use mechanized dredges to
search for gold in the streams and small rivers around this area of the Seward
Peninsula. That gold rush continues today in the Horton Sound (Bering Sea) where
floating "dredges" literally vacuum gold from the sea floor. The
influx of modern-day miners is making it difficult to find housing in Nome.
We had traveled to Nome to work with colleagues from the
Oak Ridge National Laboratory and University of Alaska Fairbanks. Our goal was
to conduct a series of surveys across thermokarst formations, thaw slumps, and
much like we did in Barrow, drained thaw lake basins. We met up with Dan,
Santonu, and Guido shortly after breakfast and made our way out of town on the
Koukarok Road. This is one of three roads leading out of Nome. The road is
dotted with summer cabins and used mostly by bird watchers who frequent this
area throughout the season. It is also a favorite road for scientists like us
who want quick access to the tundra for studies in both continuous and
discontinuous permafrost ecosystems
Our drive out the Kougarok Road was about two hours and ended
at mile marker 82. We quickly located the drained thaw lake basin that Dan and
Guido wanted to study and laid out a transect that went from surrounding
tundra, down what would have been the original lake bank, and then across the
basin itself. Dan and Guido identified this basin from remote sensing images
and we wanted to examine spectral images in the field and then relate those to
the remote imagery they had some satellites. The ultimate goal was to identify
properties on the ground like species composition and standing biomass that
might relate field-scale observations to those from satellite images, and use
that to inform ecosystem and climate models.
Once transects were laid out, Santonu and Jenny collected
spectral signatures of several plots of different sizes using a back-pack
mounted ASD spectroradiometer. This instrument collects data across a wide
range of wavelengths and allows researchers to compare ground-based
measurements to remote imagery of the type collected by NASA satellites. By the
end of the day, Jenny and Santonu had worked out a good routine for capturing
spectral information; I look forward to seeing the data, especially how it
varies across species composition.
While Jenny and Santonu collected spectral data with the
ASD system, the rest of us gathered other kinds of data. Victoria determined
species composition for the various plots; Rich measured thaw depth, soil
temperature, and water content; and Dan and I clipped plots for standing
biomass. Guido has a long history of conducting research in drained lake basins
and wanted to know something about permafrost characteristics and depth of
organic matter. He worked hard to obtain one soil core from an upland location
and one from the basin itself. He used a SIPRE coring device and a hand-held
motor. We were able to extract an intact core down to 1.8 meters for the basin
area. This core was rich in peat throughout the entire length of the sample.
It was a good first day and we accomplished a lot. Given
the long drive out the Kougarok Road we were also able to see a lot of scenery
and wildlife; several moose and their calves; a Peregrine falcon and its nest;
fish for various kinds (including Grayling) as we crossed numerous bridges along
the road; and then a diversity of wild flowers.
We should be back at the "Dredge No. 7" before
too long. It's been a long, but productiveday. Tomorrow we will be back out the Kougarok Road collecting more