Saturday, June 27, 2009

Sampling Toolik Inlet Series!

Sorry for the delay of this post. This week has been so hectic, I haven't really had any time to catch up on my blog! This week we went out to sample the series of lakes that drain into lake Toolik. We used the helicopter to the furthest lake (since we have so much gear and an inflatable raft with us) and began sampling lake by lake, moving downstream. The helicopter was really fun to ride in and the views from that high up were just amazing! It was fun to see the little Toolik camp shrink as we rose up into the sky.

Me flying out in the helicopter!

Toolik camp (and Lake Toolik) as we flew out to our sampling sites ...

We had beautiful weather the first sampling day and there was not a single cloud in the sky. However, the mosquitoes really enjoy the weather as well and were out in swarms. I was really happy to have my bug shirt, which is basically a shirt made out of netting to keep the mosquitoes from biting. The parts of the shirt (like the back and front and sleeves) that lie directly on your skin are made out of this super tight knit material that the bugs cannot get their probiscus through. There is a hood that zips all the way over your head to protect your face from them as well. I have never seen mosquitoes in such swarms! Imagine standing in a bee hive, but all of the bees were mosquitoes... I learned how to towe for zooplankton and use the hydrolab (which is a really cool piece of equiptment that will tell you depth, temperature, chlorophyll counts, light penetration, etc at any given depth). We also used the Vann Dorn sampler to get water at various depths at each site.

This is a picture of some of the lakes we sampled of the Toolik inlet series.

The second day of sampling, I learned that the myth that the mosquitoes go away when it is raining is actually false. I took an early heli ride out to the lakes we would sample with another team since my whole group doesn't fit into one helicopter. It was pouring rain that morning so I sat with my headnet and my rain jacket on in the downpour, surrounded by mosquitoes. I am not going to lie, I was feeling a little sorry for myself. However, once my team finally arrived, the sun poked through the clouds and we ended up with another beautiful day of sampling!
Beautiful clouds after the rain subsided. All of the little black smudges in this picture are mosquitoes!

When we got back to camp each evening, I still had to attend to all of my lab duties, which made for a few really long days for all of us. However, the time in the field was definitely worth the work.

As a side note, last night I saw a fox right next to my tent! I was unzipping the rain fly on my tent when I spotted a dog-sized creature out of the corner of my eye. My snap reaction was to write it off as a dog, but then I stopped and did a double take and realized that it was actually a fox, standing just a few feet away! I was amazed that my presence didn't bother it more

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Hike up Slope Mountain

Yesterday was our day off. Although I had some work to get done in the morning, I decided to go for a hike up Slope Mountain in the afternoon. It was a beautiful day. The sun had finally made an appearance after several days straight of cloudy skies. However, unfortunately, that also means that the mosquitoes are back with vengeance. The mountain itself is really awesome since it is basically a section of the rocks that were uplifted and tilted. One side of the mountain is more gently sloping and vegetated, while the opposing side is basically a cliff, covered in talus (loose rock material). However, on the cliff side, you can see all of the different units, the transitions between which are marked by the differing resistance of the unit to weathering (picture left). We hiked up around the vegetated side to get to the top and then climbed down the steep side, sliding down on the talus slope. It was an interesting process, complete with a lot of slipping and sliding as we made our way down the steep mountain front.

Of course, the view from the top was amazing!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Solstice Party!

Today is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. Although the sun never sets here, it means that the sun is at the highest angle in the sky. Last night we had a solstice party and bonfire. Two of the people that work at Toolik built this awesome wood structure out of pieces of scrap wood (pallets, wooden spools, boards etc.) and then lit it on fire! It was a pretty impressive structure! The lighting of the bonfire was pretty amusing since the pallets that formed the base of the structure burn really fast. As it burned it began to tilt and the crowd all said, "oooh.." a few minutes later the structure faltered and down it went! Everyone jumped back a foot as the flaming structure went down!

Saturday, June 20, 2009


Hi All-

Sorry for the lack of correspondence, we had a gigantic thunderstorm the other day. It started pouring rain and then hailing. The thunder was so loud it shook the walls of the lab. It was really impressive and when on for at least an hour or so... long story short, it knocked out all of our communications (phone, internet, etc.) for a bit. The storm brought in a cold front. I'm not sure the exact temperature this morning, but if it says anything about the temperature, it was too cold for even the mosquitoes to come out!

Today was my first day that I actually got to go out in the field ... well at least on Lake Toolik. We took a boat out this morning to do temperature profiles, plankton towes, and water sampling at different depths. I learned how to use the Van Dorn water sampler. It is a pretty nifty device. It is essentially a tube with a door on either side that are both held open by a latch on the top of the collecting tube where the string is attached. To collect water, you lower the tube down to the depth of water you want to collect and then drop a metal guide down the line that hits the latch on the top of the tube and closes the doors. You then haul the tube full of water back up into the boat and put the water into sampling containers. That way you can collect water in even depths going down in the water column.

When I got back in the afternoon, I had a quick lunch and then went straight to standard and reagent preparation for the phosphate analyses. People are ramping up the number of samples they are collecting and today was a phosphate analysis day! Unfortunately, we are still having some glitches with the machine, although my standards aren't looking too shabby if I may say so myself! The R-sq of my standard curve today was 0.9990, but the base line for the curve was negative....I have no clue why. The machine has really been jumping around on readings with just deionized water, so something is going on. Hopefully the PI for the project will be able to help! She arrives tonight!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Cool Runnings

Today was a slow day in the chem lab ... and I still don't get to go out in the field. Cleaned bottles, mixed reagent ... Shook a 4-L bottle of reagent to try to mix it until my arms felt like they were going to fall off...

I did, however, escape a little during the afternoon to go for a short run away around Toolik lake. I realized if I ran fast enough the mosquitoes wouldn't bother me too much (although the nice breeze from the lake helped quite a lot as well!). It was kind of amusing to look behind while running at the swarm of mosquitoes following me. As I was running the clouds billowed in and the wind kicked up, bringing afternoon showers, which forced me back to the lab.

Other than that here are some random fun pictures of Toolik:

This is a picture of Toolik lake and the Brooks range taken a little after midnight. The sky was dusky -- painted with reds, yellows, and oranges -- which made the mountains appear red.

This morning there were 6 of these butterflies that landed in the mud to suck out water and nutrients. We could get really close to all of them.

This is a picture of my tent (the rounded one, not the pointy pyramid) and my view of Toolik I see every morning ...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Alaskan Showers

Yesterday (sunday) was our day off work, so we all had the option of going hiking. Although it was raining, I decided to go with the group hiking up the rouch montinee valley. We didn't increase altitude much, but hiking through the terrain was exhausting. I have never hiked on tundra is quite an experience. Imagine hiking through a hilly valley full of giant soggy cottonballs mixed with rocks and mud. The ground is so unstable. My "water resistant" boots were soaked through early in the trip and my ankles were not particularly happy on the unstable ground. I was happy to have the rain though, it chases off the mosquitoes. Every time the rain broke for a few minutes, out came the swarms of mosquitoes. I decided I'd take the rain! After much trudging we made it most of the way up valley and were met by blue ice! Apparently the color of the ice is related to how tightly the ice crystals are packed. When the ice is really tightly packed, it gives a beautiful blue color!

By the time we got back to camp we were all soaked and pretty cold. I had a bunch of little tasks to do before I finally got a chance to change into dry clothes...Which felt wonderful. Afterwards I stopped by the lab to chat with Dan a little about what I needed to get done on monday... I was still kind of cold, and Dan started weedling me about the sauna.

Down by the lake is a sauna, which we can go to on mon, wed, fri, sat, and sun! I finally broke down last night and joined everyone. It felt wonderful after being cold all day. There is a little window where you can sit and look out at the lake (which still has ice on it!). To clean up after sweating in the sauna, you have two options....use a jug of lake water that was heated in the sauna to rinse off, or you can jump in the lake. After a half hour in the sauna, I decided to go for it and my co-worker aleah (sp?) and I went for a very brief dip in the 4 deg C water! It actually felt amazing. Afterwards, we went running up the dock to jump back into the sauna. I curled up in my tent last night squeaky clean!

Off to a rocky start

Hi All-

Today was my first real day doing chem stuff. I've never really done much work in microliters before (for my non-science buddies, 1 mL = 1,000 microliters and we were working on scales ranging from 0.05-5.0 microliters). It took me all day to make the mixed reagent and a series of 7 standards (which was waaay too long). I finally got to do my first standard run before dinner, but the curve was no good. Dan (my supervisor) checked it and said, "it's not the worst I've seen, but it's not great." I was pretty defeated. I had meticulously worked all day to get my first standard curve and I only got an "okay." After dinner I returned to give it another go--making sure everything was mixed and there were no random miniscule droplets anywhere--while the principal investigators (PIs) sat and waited for me to finish. Once the reagents were added, the whole reaction requires at least a half hour to complete the reaction. The curve was much better, with only 4 rouge points. Once these were removed, it wasn't too shabby with an r-sq of 0.995 ... it only took me 12 hours to get it.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The adventure begins...

I arrived in Fairbanks at 2 in the morning on June 10th. It looked dusky outside and was apparently the darkest it is going to get for a few months. I had the next day to adjust a bit and explore Fairbanks before I was shipped into the middle of nowhere.... I arrived at Toolik the night of the 13th. Along the way up we saw a group of sheep with several babies that were so small, they must have just been born. I also saw a snowshoe hare, a teenage moose, and two grizzly bears! It was an amazingly scenic ride. We drove up the Dalton Highway following the Alaskan pipeline up through the rolling hills of the Southern Brooks Range and down the northern side of the mountains to mile 285.4, which is where I now reside...