133 miles south of Prudhoe Bay lies the Toolik Field Station (TFS) which is part of the Institute of Arctic Biology, run by the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. Scientists from around the globe travel here to study the tundra. Our crew is tasked with “The Pluck.” We are pluckers for the next 6-7 days, depending on how quickly we pluck. Work begins at 8:30am and ends roughly around 8:30pm with meal times included.
On day one, Gus and Laura take us on a hike atop boardwalks over the tundra to the study site where we take a look at fertilized and unfertilized plots. It is from these that samples of tundra will be taken each day, brought to an indoor lab where we will pluck them apart. We will separate and identify up to 12 species of plants, lichen and mosses. These will then be placed into paper envelopes to be dried and weighed within a few weeks time. This data will help to determine the effects of increased nitrogen on the tundra, one of the things that will increase as global climate change progresses.
Here at TFS scientists are studying everything from carbon dioxide release by plants, surveying fish species in the lake and river, to birds and the aquatic insects they eat. This area has been a part of the Long-Term Ecological Research network which houses nearly 30 sites around the world. Long-term research is critical in order to collect enough data to see patterns or trends, and also aids in complete and valid data. This is my fourth LTER site to visit this year. I am fortunate to have work that has taken me to the Shortgrass Steppe and Niwot Ridge sites in Colorado, as well as the Kellogg Biological Station in Michigan last fall.
So far the weather has been a refreshing 65 degrees each day and about 45 degrees at night. Clouds blanket the sky for much of the day and a couple of nights gave us rain dropping steadily on the weather ports as we drift off to sleep. Since there is 24 hours of daylight, we work until we can and spend the night hours walking the boardwalks, fishing, bird and wildlife-watching, running, biking, and enjoying an assortment of Alaskan brews with new friends.