My work team includes an outreach educator from the University of Colorado, a kindergarten teacher from Falmouth, MA, and about a dozen graduate students from Norte Dame and the University of California – San Luis Obispo. We had a camp orientation the night before to learn the in and outs of camp life. I am impressed with the organization and creature comforts. The food is fantastic. I wasn’t expecting 8 flavors of homemade ice cream in a remote tundra camp.
Our day started with a walking tour and overview of the history of Toolik Lake Field Station. There is an impressive board walk that connects the research plots across the tundra. Our first stop was one of the first projects to build artificial warming chambers to study the affect of warmer temperatures on arctic vegetation and soil ecosystems. The first chambers where established in 1986. You can see a dramatic difference in height and composition of plants inside the greenhouses. There are enclosures that test a variety of variables including increased nitrogen and phosphorous production that occurs when bacteria increase their growth in warmer soils and longer growing seasons.
Our first project is called a PLUK study. We will be sorting plant samples from an area burned in a tundra fire in 2008. Researchers are studying how composition and speed in which the plants grow back after such a disturbance. The fire was started by a lightening strike. Thunderstorms are uncommon in the arctic, but their frequency is increasing as the average temperature increases.
We spent time reviewing how the samples where collected. It was a hot day. 70 degrees in the tundra seems like 90 elsewhere. It was a relief to escape the heat and mosquitos to help with samples collected before we arrived. Fifteen of us squeezed into a lab tent to learn how to sort and label samples, working in groups of three. We started at 11 am and finished our sample at 8 pm. There was a break for a wonderful dinner of seafood scampi and more ice cream. I may brave the mosquitos to take some evening photos.