Arctic Alaska, 2013

I just returned from Alaskahhhhh. What a place. It makes me a little sentimental now to think about how great it is. This was my fourth time going to Toolik Lake, in AK’s north slope, but there were many firsts.

It was the first time I drove the Dalton Highway alone. I was pretty nervous beforehand about the road, the need for two spare tires and a cb radio, and the lack of gas stations and mcdonalds, but the trip was perfect. The only real danger was being too distracted by the awesome scenery of the Brooks Range. The first view of the marble Succotash Mountain (informal name?) and the view from the top of Atigun Pass rival each other for their breathtakingness.

It was also the first time I saw a wolverine. While hiking to sample a lake, we (Jason Dobkowski, Dan White and I) came upon a large, wounded caribou and noticed a smaller creature harassing/attacking it. After dropping our packs and grabbing the bear spray, we moved a bit closer for a view and realized what the attacker was. The caribou was doing its best with antlers to keep the wolverine away but it was evidently in much pain. We can’t be sure if the wolverine inflicted the initial wound to the caribou or if it was just taking advantage of an old or otherwise injured animal. The wolverine was mostly blond-haired, with a reddish rump and a distinct black face. Once it noticed us, it did a half-circle around us, sniffing the downwind air, deciding what we were and if it wanted to fight. Luckily it did not. While I stupidly didn’t have my camera, Dobkowski got great photos shown below.

Another first this summer was that I sampled plants and soils. Typically I try to stay all wet, re: lake sampling. But, collecting leaves, roots, etc. is pleasant enough and I see the appeal. Maybe.  Or maybe its because I really just wanted to get at the water components within each of these terrestrial compartments. I want to give a shout out to Alice Carter, LTER summer nutrient RA, who gave me a big help with this work, as well as getting sediment cores from several lakes.

And of course we spent some time playing in thermokarst slumps (see previous blog posts for a full description of a thermokarst.) Jason Dobkowski, in his sixth summer at Toolik, is tackling all kinds of awesome projects on behalf of the LTER and Dr. George Kling’s research group. One of these projects is characterizing a new thermokarst failure and the impact it has on the adjacent lake. I was able to join Jason on a trip to the site and we collected sediment cores from within the thermokarst fan and at distances away from the colluvium.

All in all, it was a great 2.5 weeks spent at the Toolik Lake camp. I even managed to squeeze in some canoeing and sailing. My labmate, Caitlin and I sailed the Wallace out to “no Gerlz islnd”, where we became stranded when the wind died. Of course this was just after we teased some canoeists about having to paddle into the wind so I felt like a dope. Luckily we had a paddle with us and we made it back just an hour or so after the canoes. But man, being stranded in the middle of Toolik Lake, with a view of Gates mountain and the Three Sisters is not so bad on a warm night.