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 productive  day. Tomorrow we will be back out the Kougarok Road collecting more data.