Friday, August 18, 2006

Toolik, Take 2

Late August finds me up on the North Slope again, at Toolik Field Station. This trip is part of my institute’s annual graduate summer climate science workshop. The weather has been unseasonably cold here, but the students have kept a positive attitude and we’ve had some fun times. Since we are studying snow and ecology, it is nice that we could arrange for a snow event up here. It really illustrates some of the concepts we’ve been discussing. Still, with so many people in camp in the cold, we are at full power generating capacity and have to schedule electricity outages. The poor students have been wearing their gloves and hats during the lectures in the dark classroom tent. I don’t think anyone will be sad to say goodbye to the snow when we leave, but the wood-fired sauna has assuaged our suffering considerably.

A couple of days ago, we drove up to Prudhoe Bay to get a tour of the oilfields and swim in the Arctic Ocean. Brrr. I don’t need to do that again. Prudhoe Bay was an interesting place to see, given the current partial shutdown of the pumping there. The oil fields look like a sight from Mad Max; big, color-coded camps for each company, isolated by swampy tundra. BP, Exxon, ConocoPhillips, and Haliburton are all there. We saw a grizzly bear near the road, jumping on a squirrel burrow. The flat coastal plain looks a lot like the Nebraska prairie, and in fact we saw a flock of Sandhill cranes, making their way south. 10,000 year-old Athabaskan ruins have been found here, where hunters watched for herds of caribou. It’s a beautiful place where the landscape has changed both slowly and quickly. The caribou have wandered this slope for thousands of years, but now the pipeline snakes quietly through the river valley. More development is likely to come.

Yesterday we took a break from the classroom to head into the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for a great hike in the Brooks Range. This has been a perfect way to cap the summer season. Tomorrow we head back to Fairbanks and I fly off to a meeting in England. Bob is also out in the field, a couple hundred miles to the west from here in a place called Ivotuk. He’s uninstalling some meteorological towers with a Russian friend of ours who eats raw bacon. I hope you guys are staying warm! Thanks to modern technology, we’ve been able to keep in touch via wireless internet, even in these remote places. Thank you Al Gore.



Anonymous said...

Hey Jessie. Just wishing you fun in England. I hope Bob made it back from Ivatook in time to see you off. I like your assesment of crazy Fairbanksans; strong women and goofy men. Don't you know it. Hopefully we'll catch up with you when you return from global travels. Margaret

jc said...

heya, Margaret! cool, thanks for checking out the blog...I did get to catch Bob on Sat night, unbelievably...I look forward to hanging out more when I get back! Have a great month.

... said...

Tell us more about your trip home!