Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Down in the Hole!

Woods Hole craziness has taken over my life the past few months, my apologies for the failure to continue blogging! I have been working as a TA for the Semester in Environmental Science (SES) course for undergraduates at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass since this past September. The course is a rigors program designed to provide hands on experience for undergraduates in Ecosystem Science. The course starts with 10-weeks of course work and labs which covers a variety of topics in Environmental science of both both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Two weeks ago, the students completed the classwork component of the semester and they began their independent projects. With only 3 weeks to go before their final presentations, they have been working hard in both the lab and the field to complete projects of their own invention. My co-worker Will and I have been running around like chickens with our heads cut off trying to manage the 16 students, each working on a different project. Imagine fish in a bowl all jiving for attention to be fed...

We have some pretty interesting work going on around here however. Pam's project involves the effect of detritavore diversity on the degradation of detritus. She has created 48 microcosms composed of different combinations of detritavores, detritus, and nutrient concentrations. She is examining the changes in detritus biomass, CHN composition, and grain size distribution (aka communition) before and after her incubation period. More importantly: her critters are really cute. To the right is a pic of a pair of amphipods:

Friday, September 11, 2009

Muskox and Caribou, oh my!

Sorry for the delay, I have been busy making my move from Alaska to Woods Hole, MA (With a brief stop in Oklahoma to visit my family!). Although late, these are the last of my Alaskan pictures...a little sad, yes. However, I suppose I am on to my next adventure! The drive down from Toolik was beautiful. We actually got to watch fall in reverse as we went from Toolik... where there was a litte snow on the ground, to the mountains, where the ground was fire red, to the lower elevations where the ground was still green!

As we were driving through the mountains, we actually passed by a whole group of mountain sheep!

Once in Fairbanks, Dan and I had one day before leaving for home, so we headed to the Large Animal Research Station (affectionately referred to as LARS). We learned all about the muskox, Caribou, and Reindeer!

This is a female muskox who is actually nearly full grown. Her short legs and broad body is designed for optimal heat containment so that she may weather the rough Alaskan winters. The muskox was believed to be hunted to near extinction in the late 1800's. However, during the 1930's, it was decided that the muskox should be re-introduced to this area. Animals were shipped by boat and train all the way from Greenland to Alaska. So, the Alaskan muskox actually all descended from this small group of animals!

This is a picture of our awesome tour guide with two muskox skulls. She was explaining how the thickness of the horns and the top of the muskox skull prevents brain damage from the muskox ramming one another during rut.

We also ooh-ed and awe-ed a bit over the adults and baby caribou and reindeer. The pic below is of a male (right) and a female (left) caribou.

Below is a baby and a mama reindeer ...

So, after looking at cute animals, Dan and I both flew out that night (or rather morning) at 2 am. I am currently settling into my next temporary home in Woods Hole, MA. I am working as a TA for the Semester in Environmental Science course, run by the Marine Biological Laboratory. This course is an intensive overview of many topics in environmental science for college students. Although extremely different from Alaska, it promises to be an interesting semester.

Although I am crazy busy these days, I hope to give you a few updates about this area. The Cape is definitely beautiful and picture-worthy. So, stay tuned for more!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The great Alaskan adventure comes to a close

Sadly, every great adventure must end at some point and although I was having fun, I was also ready to get home by the end of the summer. On August 22nd, I left my new home at mile number 284.5 of the Dalton Highway to head down to Fairbanks.

However, my last few days at Toolik were pretty hectic! While at Toolik I had several goals, the first of which was to see the aurora. Two days before I left Toolik, we were all standing around the bonfire and all of a sudden Jason called, "Maya, Look!" Thin green ribbons of light stretched across the sky. They were so beautiful. Although not particularly bright since in late august, it still did not get particularly dark at night. However, my second trip up North, I finally got to see the aurora!!!

As I mentioned, my last few days at Toolik were quite busy. I acid washed more dishes than I ever hope to in a while, cleaned the benches, shut down the fluorometer, packed up the spec, shut down the computers, emptied the acid baths .... Oy!

Bottles to acid wash ... oh acid washing, my favorite
(hope you didn't miss the sarchasm)

Since the bugs were gone, the last few weeks at Toolike we started to play T-Ball in the evenings. Although I am a horrible catcher, I can run pretty fast! Dan and I decided to take a break from all of our packing and cleaning to play in one last Toolik Ball game. I scored three runs!

The game and my last night at Toolik ended with a beautiful sunset...

Friday, August 21, 2009


Here are some critter pics that I kept meaning to post...

The sik sik is the common ground squirrel here. They make these funny little calls that sound like they are actually saying sik sik really quickly. The first pic is of a sik sik that was very unhappy with me. I had set up my filtering station on the I-series on a rocky area, under which I think he had made his home. He kept poking up his head between different rocks and making his warning call. I think he was pretty angry... The second sik sik picture is of one I saw behind Lab 3, rummaging for things to make a nest out of.

Below is a couple of pictures of Wooly Bear Caterpillars. They are so fuzzy! I love em! The wooley bears are out in force right now. Even when it snowed, they could be seen crawling all around across the surface of the snow. I walked up the boardwalk the other day and spent my whole time up moving the Wooly Bears off of the walkway... They were in serious danger of getting smushed!

Lots of caterpillars are actually out right now oddly enough. Another common one I have seen are these neon green caterpillars. This is one I caught crawling over my backpack the other day.

I-Series hike and Jesus Rock

Tuesday evening, the group took a trip out to Jesus rock. We had a lot of fun with pictures!

I found out this pose is really hard to do in Carharts!!

Alea and myself in dancer pose

Back bends with Kate

The Toolik gals. From the left: Elissa, Tracey, Kate, Alea, Me, Jen, and Amy

So if you haven't already figured out why it is called Jesus Rock, it is a small shoal out in the middle of Toolik where the rocks are so shallow, you can get out of the boat and look like you are walking on water!

Jen saved me from the lab yesterday and asked me to go with two of the lab 4 RAs (Jason and Jeff) to hike the Inlet Series lakes and collect HOBO temperature/pressure probes and other "science gear." We had a lot of fun. None of us were in a huge hurry to get back to camp so we took our time exploring the inlet lakes. When we are in sampling mode, we never really get to explore the area, so it was fun to wander around a bit. It is truly fall here and crow berries are all turning red, painting the ground red!

The caribou are out right now and we spotted a ton of them throughout the day! However, the hunters are out as well and we passed several hunter trucks on our way out to the field.

While we were out, Jason pointed out a tent circle that is supposedly a remnant from natives. When they used to build their tents that they lived in, the Native Alaskans would supposedly position rocks in a circle around the area. Below is a pic of Jason and Jeff sleeping inside the tent circle!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Hike to the Itkillik River

Sunday was my last day off here at Toolik. There was a pretty large party Friday night celebrating Julia and Colin's last night at camp. Everyone was up pretty late, so not many people were up for hiking first thing Sunday morning. However, Jason and Jeremy were up for a full day! Elissa, Garret, and Jeff went with us for the first portion of the hike and then left us at about noon to head home and we continued on. The plan was to complete a totally carbon emission free hike -- minus our own breathing! -- (I know, we are all dorks). We took a canoe across the lake to the base of Jade mountain. The group headed up jade and paused at the top for lunch. Then Jeremy, Jason, and I all headed on toward the Itkillik River. It was a bit of a tundra slog. We were hoping to follow up a tributary to its confluence with the river. We were planning on finding a good place to rock hop across and then climb up a few small mountains beyond the tributary before heading back toward our canoe.

We had a good day. None of us were in a rush, we just wanted to enjoy the good weather and each others company! We definitely had some time for silliness. We detoured to check out any caribou horns we could find. Jason actually spotted a pair of horns! The pic to the left is of him and Jeremy pretending to be a caribou...

Later in the day, we wandered into a particularly dense blueberry patch and decided to pause to pick blueberries! They are so tastey and there are sooo many right now
My other favorite berry is the cloudberry. They are very unusual, but actually pretty tastey...sort of like sweet tarts. However, they have a rather odd texture which is a little hard to get used to at first; they are kind of slimey but have seeds inside. They are all finally starting to ripen! I love picking berries while we are out in the field.

We spent some time exploring the area, seeing what we could find. We also picked up a lot of random trash including a pair of old ski goggles, a front wheel of a small plane (?), and an apparently abandoned wooden marker stake. At one point, we stumbled upon a pond with crazy green algae. It was such a seemingly unnatural color!

The river crossings were pretty tough. The water is just above freezing and we couldn't find any place narrow enough or rocky enough to cross via rock jumping. We really didn't want to just walk across since we still had quite a hike after the first river crossing, so we decided to ditch the boots and socks and cross barefoot....pain. lots of pain. Within a few seconds of putting our feet in, it felt like pins and needles were poking them all over and the rocks on the bottom of the river were like daggers! The second our feet came out of the water, we went through the painful process of our feet warming back up again. Who would have thought it would have been that bad. Unfortunately we crossed were the tributary was split into three branches so we had 3 painful barefoot crossings to totally get across the river. The final crossing was the longest, so Jeremy decided we needed to sing while crossing to take our mind off of the pain. We sang "Glory, Glory, Hallelujah" at the top of our lungs. I think we were pretty much shouting the words, but we made it across. We scrambled up the steep banks barefoot and just collapsed in the sun for a short while to warm up our toes before putting the socks back on. During our return trip over the river after our summit, we decided to aquaboot it across (aka. hike across in our hiking boots and get wet). Although cold, the hiking boots significantly reduced the painfulness of the crossing experience!

We saw a bunch of caribou with rather large racks at the top of the small mountain -- or large hill -- that we climbed. Initially we thought they were sheep, but realized quickly that they were caribou. After we climbed over the peak, we ended up just a few yards away from some of them. I don't think I have been quite that close before! It was pretty awesome. I have to see if I can get pics from Jason to post. I ran out of space in my camera memory by this point in the day!

We arrived back to camp a little after 11 pm and boated back across the lake. We were tired, but quite pleased with our adventures.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Where did the time go???

It has been quite a while since I posted anything ... my apologies! As we near our departure date from Toolik on the 22nd, things have gotten really busy. I am going to try to write a few posts just to catch you all up a bit on the Toolik happenings! So last I wrote, I mentioned the first big snow.... It was so cool to see the Brooks Range completely blanketed by snow.

I also had quite a few nice icicles hanging off of my tent in the morning!

Aleah posing with our frozen mop! Makes mopping the floor slightly more difficult ...

We had to go out to sample the East Lakes as well as pull in some of the science gear that was deployed out in the lake the first snowy day. We add nutrients (phosphorus and ammonium) to the E-lakes in low quantities to study the effects of nutrification of these waters. In the center of both of the two lakes is a solar powered nutrient "dripper" that adds the nutrients at a steady rate. So in addition to sampling, our goal was to pull in these fairly large floats that housed the two drippers. Although chilly, we had fun with the snow.

Shilo standing next to the mini snowman in our boat we made before heading out on the water.

After we got the second dripper in to shore and were about to head home, a snowball was thrown and then the snowball fight commenced! That evening, we had some unfair snowball throwing post-sauna even! I was all warm and aleah sneaked up behind me and stuffed a snowball down my shirt! Revenge .... I must get revenge ....

That night, the moon was so bright and beautiful! We are actually getting a fair amount of darkness these days... Walking across the pad late night is starting to get a little creepy. Time to pull out the head lamp!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Talent Show!

So, I meant to write this post a while ago, but just realized that I didn't get around to it. Last week was the annual Toolik Talent Show! It was really great to see what everyone put together. Acts ranged from a sword fighting routine and a belly dance to instrumental numbers.

Tyler, our EMT, performed a song he wrote himself. He dedicated to wondering souls, of which there are quite a few at Toolik. I actually took a video of his performance because I really liked the song and think that it is actually quite suited for my situation these days (except in the song I would be the guy). I thought you all might appreciate it.

Another amusing act was Colin and Peter, who performed the magic carpet ride song from the Disney classic, Aladdin. I was actually laughing so hard throughout this whole act that I couldn't video it, but the picture says it all.

Aleah then stole the show with her saw performance. She actually brought up her own personal saw and bow to play in camp. This is a short video of her performing the end of "Blue Skies." I love how the saw sounds. It's an earie sort of sound...

Last but by far not the least was the "Thermokarst Dynamics" group, who performed the Toolik rendition of "We didn't start the fire" or rather "We didn't start the sauna." It was such a great act! They included just about every running joke we have had this summer (and some original lyrics as well as current events including Sarah Palin's resignation) paired with pictures in a powerpoint and performed to the rhythem, rhyming scheme, and tune of "We didn't start the fire." This group took home the coveted first prize ... a 1,000 piece puzzle!

Monday, August 10, 2009

First Snow and Deadhorse

This past month has been fairly dry, but the skies opened up last night and it poured! As the night wore on, the downpour turned to snow...We woke this morning to almost 3 in of snow on the ground! (picture left, snowy Toolik Field Station from afar)

Since it was my day off of work, I decided to head with a group up to Deadhorse and Prudoe Bay to explore a bit and drop Breck, one of the PI's off at the airport. It was about a 3 hour drive north to ... well, not much.

Deadhorse is about as cheerful as its name sounds. The "town" is basically an industrial wasteland. The buildings are all metal sided boxes. We dropped Breck off at the airport and then headed to the one general store located above the sigle hardware store...and that was about it. There were a couple hotels which housed the only resteraunts ... so we decided to go home to Toolik.

Kate and I posing infront of the sign posted at the general store

There were Environmental Protection signs all over the place ... a little ironic in such an industrial place ...

We did sucessfully see some wildlife on our trip however. On the ride up, we saw a bunch of muskox hanging out right by the road! On the way back we saw several caribou.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Epic Gate's Hike

This weekend I went with a group that climbed to the top of Gates mountain, the tallest mountain in the Northern Brook's range! Gates Mountain peaks at a whopping 7775 ft. We started at about 2000 ft. elevation, mostly slogging through tundra the first day. We intended to leave around noon or 1 pm on Saturday, however science comes first and our departure was delayed till almost 5 pm. (image left, pre-trip packing in the dining overflow tent). After a short drive out to our departure point, we hit the tundra running (well, not exactly) and excited for our big adventure. The fires raging in Alaska have socked the mountains in with smoke this past week, however we woke Saturday morning to a beautiful day. Yet, within an hour of hiking dark clouds rolled in and it began to rain. We kept reassuring ourselves that once we get to the mountain, the clouds will blow over, but as the evening wore on, the clouds became darker and the little blue sky left when the shower initially began, was just a memory.

The goal for the first night was to hike to a large flat region in the ridge we were following to the top of the mountain. There were a few difficult scurries up talus slopes in the lower part of the ridge which increased elevation stepwise. One of the RA's here, Sarah B., keeps what she calls "toolik minutes" where she films a short clip of life at toolik in the lab or the field. We decided to do a series of toolik minutes to document our journey up Gates. The following video was taken after climbing up the first "lump" or rather slope in the ridge.

My apologies for sounding a bit loopey in this video, I think the cold and exhaustion was getting to me!

We made it to our campsite at around 1 AM. Tired and cold, we decided not to summit that night. The hope was to set up camp and then summit, watching the sunset from the top of Gates. However, the late start and the cloudiness/rain dampened our spirits to continue that night. After we set up camp, the clouds began to clear up, and we were greeted with a beautiful sun set/rise (it doesn't actually get dark yet, but it looks dusky for a while).

It was freezing that night and we were a bit concerned that the water we lugged up with us in large containers would freeze overnight. Although we had enough tents, 5 of us decided to squish into a 4 person tent to huddle for warmth. After changing into mostly dry clothes and snuggling down into my super warm sleeping bag, I was almost immediately asleep.

We woke the next morning to another beautiful day and a layer of ice over our tents. We were a bit slow to get going, but after a breakfast of bagels and peanut butter, finally got camp packed up and were ready to go to the top!

The hike to the summit was difficult. We were on a fairly narrow ridge with a fair amount of scrambling and climbing up and over large rock formations. It was fairly technical and there were parts that I was a bit worried about losing footing and careening down the steep slopes on either side of the ridge.

Me posing infront of the glacier before our acent to the top!

Looking down at the glacier! I love the tracks you can see in the ice surface resulting from the debris and the flow of glacial ice.

We had some problems going up and unfortunately part of the group split away before we got to the top, but we still made it! Needless to say, the view was spectacular and we couldn't have asked for a better day. The brooks range makes me think of the title of one of Tracey Kidder's books, Mountains Beyond Mountains. Because it is really just that here, mountains, mountains, and more mountains!

Gates from afar as we hiked out on the second day. We followed the ridge in the right of the photograph up to the top.