Friday, July 29, 2011

The first few days at Toolik~

I would like start with a little background on the origin of the trip to Alaska.  For my graduate research, I am interested in brominated flame retardants.  These compounds are included as components of many common household goods including fabrics, foam, and electronic components.  These compounds are very important in preventing and slowing the spread of fires.  However, as with any compounds we use on a daily basis - their entry into the environment is inevitable.  The most toxic forms of brominated flame retardants have recently been banned, yet some remain in use.  My question is: what happens to these compounds when they enter the environment (eg. what is their environmental fate).

So, your likely question right now is: "Then why go to the arctic?"  It turns out that brominated flame retardants are ubiquitous in the environment and are even transported to the poles in the air.  Therefore, I headed to the arctic to see how these compounds break down once they enter the aqueous environment.  Since this field season is pretty short (we will be at Toolik for 11 days), our focus is to collect water and preserve it for experiments back at OSU.  I am interested in the dissolved organic matter in the water.  When dissolved organic matter is exposed to light, it releases molecules that can interact with other compounds to break them down into smaller components.  This may be benificial in many cases.  However, with brominated flame retardants, the degraded form of the compound (ie. the daughter products) may be more toxic than the initial compound!  In this study I hope to identify these daughter products as well as determine how they form.  Over the course of the next 11 day, Allison and I will be collecting and filtering over 200 L of water.  We will ship 160 L of the filtered water back to OSU for processing, while dissolved organic matter will be extracted from the remaining water.

Okay, I know you are probably thinking: "enough already, get to the pictures!"  So here is the story for the past few days.

My labmate, Allison, and I arrived in Fairbanks at 1am on Monday morning.  We hopped a taxi to University of Alaska, Fairbanks and dragged ourselves up to the dorm for the night.  We had one day overlap in Fairbanks, during which we picked up some last minute supplies and took a several showers (to make sure we are squeaky clean before our venture up to the North Slope).  On Wednesday we woke up at 5am to a gorgeous and bright morning.  At this point Fairbanks does have darkness for part of the night, but I can attest to the fact that the sunrise definitely occurs well before 5am :-).

While on the Dalton, we passed over the Arctic Circle and (of course) had to stop to take a photo!

We had gorgeous weather when we first arrived.  Since it is late season, the evening turns dusky and the Brooks Range appears pink in the light.

The Brooks Range cast in a rosy glow :-)

Tent city as seen from the far side of Toolik Lake.  Allison and my tent are the two to the furthest right in the photo
We have hopped right in with filtering and collected 100L of water from Toolik Lake our first morning at camp.  Now to get it all filtered...

The filtration set-up with our trusty little parastaltic pump!
We pass the water through a coarse pre-filter and a 0.45um
A close-up of our work horse pump and the pre-filter for the water.


  1. Looks pretty gorgeous up there! Happy filtering ;)

  2. I didn't know your research was on finding the effect of toxic elements in the environment. Apparently I work on detecting such compounds using a Bio sensor. We clone the receptor into a special vector which translates the binding of such chemicals to a growth phenotype. Sounds cool, we should talk!

    Btw good job with photo documenting. I love to see places :)