Sunday, August 7, 2011

Jade and YOY!

Allison and I tore through the filtering a lot faster than than we predicted.  We collected and filtered a total of 14 carboys of water (~280 L of water) and extracted organic matter from 5 of those carboys (100 L water).  The past couple of days we worked on packing up and shipping the remaining 9 carboys (55 to 60 lbs each) back to Ohio State University!

We had a few extractions remaining to do and we still needed to collect some soils from around Toolik for Allison, who is examining plant uptake and soil sorption of several hormones.  She will be using the organic-rich tundra soil as a comparison to some of the agricultural soils she has been using for her experiments.  We decided to tackle the soil collection first, combining the trip with a hike up Jade mountain, located on the opposite shore of Toolik Lake from the field station.  We took a canoe across the lake and collected soils just off shore, to prevent any contamination from the field station from influencing the samples.  After a bit of digging, we realized that it is surprisingly difficult to cut through the tough root system of the moss and grass that dominate the tundra!  However, after a bit of work (and a lot of jumping on the shovels) we successfully collected enough soil.  We tucked the shovels and soil samples underneath our overturned canoe on shore, and headed up Jade.  It was a gorgeous day, yet clouds loomed over the horizon threatening rain, so we didn't dawdle in the hike -- which means that I sadly didn't take too many pictures.

A friendly Sik Sik (arctic ground squirrel)!

Toolik and the Dalton Highway from the top of Jade Mountain!
We made it down Jade as the winds started to pick up.  The trip back across the lake was directly into the strong gusting winds and we made only slow, halting progress across the lake as we headed back toward Toolik.
There were quite strong winds, which resulted in some interesting clouds.  From what I have read, the choppy/grated - looking clouds are an indicator of turbulent winds.
During our venture back, we spotted a family of loons!  The two parents were diving into the water to collect food to bring back to the babies.  Loons primarily eat fish, but will eat other small fauna if necessary.
The whole Loon family!
One of the loon parents, just before it dove to catch its prey.
Loons are about the size of a duck or a small geese, yet their markings and call is extremely distinct.  They are difficult to take pictures of in the water since their bellies are submerged as they swim.  The wind and waves also didn't help in photo documenting the loons, yet I managed to get a couple of pics that you can really see their gorgeous markings!!

The loon showing off his gorgeous markings!
The loon parent and chick as they swam away
Since we only have a little work left, we seized the opportunity on Friday to go out with Elissa and her assistant Andrew to go catch young graylings known as YOY, which stands for Young of the Year.  Elissa works for the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) and one of her many projects is to track the yearly growth and development of the graylings.  They have 5 sites on the Oksrukuyik Creek, where they have been collecting for multiple years.  We hunted the YOY with small fish nets (like those you use in an aquarium).  The YOY are quick and blend easily into rocks, which makes catching them actually quite a challenge! We learned how to corral the YOY into a corner to catch or move a mass of YOY toward other people standing waiting with the nets.  By the end of the day, we were a YOY catching machine!

Elissa putting our YOY in fresh water for their trip back to the lab

The YOY are still tiny, but I am told that they are significantly larger right now than at the beginning of the season.  Apparently when they were first collecting the YOY, they were just tiny little eyeballs with fins!
Some of our successfully caught YOY
YOY closeup.  They are quite pretty fish, with tiny little spots all over them.

While out YOY hunting, we actually spotted a Caribou prancing through the tundra!

 In the afternoon, we took the truck back out to Imnavait since we had caught wind of a fox family living out near the river.  We spotted them immediately upon driving up the access road to the creek.  There are supposedly 3 or 4 baby foxes, but some of them are a tad skittish.  However, 1 of the fox babies was quite brave and seemed unafraid as we watched him sleep.

"what are you looking at?"
Nap time!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Solid Phase Extractions

It has been a while since I have written a science post -- so I want to share with everyone how we are actually processing some of the water while we are in Alaska.  I will end with some wildlife pics, I promise!

We are using a common method to isolate dissolved organic matter from water called solid phase extraction (SPE) cartridges.  Each of these cartridges is a plastic collumn with a small amount of porous material at the bottom that bonds to organic material (ours contain 5g of solid phase, but they come in all different sizes). 

Our extraction set-up!
We have developed a system of tubes that allow us to pass water from the 20L carboy into the top of the cartridge.  As the water drips through the solid phase, the organic matter bonds to the material and is removed from the water (a process called "loading" the collumn).  Since no solid phase material completely removes 100% of the organic material from the water, we are using 2 types of solid phase material: C18 and DVB.  These two types of solid phase bond to slightly different types of organic matter, which will hopefully give us a representative picture of organic matter composition.

As the organic matter is loaded onto the collumn, a dark band appears at the top of the solid phase.  Throughout the process we monitor the water that comes out of the collumn to determine when a significant amount of the organic matter is no longer bonding to the collumn and is actually just flowing through the solid phase (this is known as "break through").  At this point, we stop dripping water through the collumn and it is time to get our organic matter out!

Two completed C18 Cartridges after 15L of water were passed through each collumn

In order to remove the organic matter from the solid phase material in the collumn, we need to pass some liquid through that the organic matter will be more soluble in than water - which will allow the organic matter to dissolve in the liquid and be released from the solid material.  In our case, we use methanol to flush out the organic matter.  It is actually quite fun to watch the band of material moving down the collumn as we pull the methanol through!

The beginning of the extraction

The band of organic matter is moving down!!

... almost to the syringe...

Here it comes!  Look at that golden color :-)

... and out comes the organic matter!

At the end of this long process, we have a gorgeous amber brown material that will later be dried down to a powder for all of my experiments at OSU!!

The syringe at the end of the extraction full of our precious organic matter

Okay, so now for the promised animal pictures :-).  Allison and I headed out a couple of days ago to the Oksrukuyik Creek (pronounced Oxy-curic) to collect more water.  As we were driving, we spotted a muskox, which looked like a mass of fur moving along the river!

Unfortunately the muskox is a little out of focus, but he looked like a walking long haired wig!
While scoping out field sites we also spotted an Alaskan Lake Trout!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Imnavait Sampling and Galbrith Hike

Allison and I spent our first morning at Toolik Field Station collecting samples from the gorgeous (and easily accessible) Toolik Lake.  We wanted to start on an easy site since we still haven't fully figured out how we are processing everything.  Filtering started out slowly (we filtered our first 2 L of water in about 4 hours).  However, with a few creative changes to our set-up we have been chugging along ever since.  We finished filtering and extracting water from the nearby Toolik Lake on Friday evening (I will discuss the extraction process in more detail later on).  So on Saturday, we ventured out to the field to collect more water.  Since we are hoping to isolate dissolved organic matter, we were looking for lakes or streams with extremely high organic content (the higher the dissolved organic carbon or DOC content of the water, the smaller the volume of we need to collect!).  We headed to Imnavait river.  At this location, there are small ponds of nearly standing water that contains tons of carbon just few hundred meters off of the road(ie. lots of decaying plant and animal matter/waste)!!  The water was nearly yellow  -- which is a great sign when you are hunting for DOC.

 Our sampling location at Imnavait

Allison and I trucked out there with our beer pitchers (it was the only thing that I could find that was large enough to scoop water out of the lake!!) and our 4 carboys that can hold 20 L each to collect water.  The carboys weight 55lbs each when full, so it was a bit of a haul back to the truck :-).  

On Sunday, we decided we were far enough in filtering that we could take a break and head out for a hike.  Sunday is generally when most people in camp take the day off and hike or sleep etc.  Since this was our only Sunday in camp, we had to make the most of it and explore!  We joined a little group that was headed south to Galbrith Lake to check out the peaks around that area.  Once you get up on the ridges it is fairly easy to tromp from peak to peak along the ridge.

On the way to Galbrith Lake, we stopped by a thermokarst site to see the ice wedge that recently broke off.  Thermokarst are characterized on the landscape surface by humocky landscape or long ditches which form as the result of melting permafrost.  In the particular site we visited, the tundra overlies solid ice and as it begins to melt, wedges often will break off (see image above).

At one point during the hike, we spotted some movement on one of the far ridges.  It turns out it was another group from Toolik out for a hike :-)

When we got to Galbrith, we did a bit of scouting to determine where to go.  I was bound and determined to get out of slogging through the tundra up to the ridges - so we picked a few that looked like good hiking and headed up and away!

This picture is of Allison and Kiki as they hiked up over our first summit of the day!

After the first summit, we realized that since we were already so high, we should continue along the ridge to reach a slightly higher peak.

This is the view I wanted!!