5 May, 2002
Welcome to Toolik Lake
In the very first 24 hours, Toolik Lake has been both amazing and miserable. We arrived to single digit temperatures and a very strong arctic wind. I don't have a wind chill table handy but if we use the 40 F temperature from lab trailer thermometer and figure an average wind speed of 30 miles per hour with gusts to 45mph, maybe someone can tell me what the wind chill was last night. Having been in the truck all day we were not dressed for these types of severe conditions. The frigid wind seemed to just cut right through the body. After checking in with the camp manager and meeting the small staff here, we were given the grand tour of the Toolik camp. As it turns out we arrived at Toolik at the very beginning of the season for the camp. This means that many of the functions of the camp that we would have later in the season currently are not available. The list of things we do not have seems to be endless. The list includes things like no running water. Toolik Lake itself is the source of the source of the water for the camp and the lake is currently frozen over. To get fresh water, the camp staff drills a hole through the three to four feet of ice of the every morning and fills several barrels in the camp. The communications in the camp are no yet hooked up. A new camp kitchen and dining hall is under construction so all meals are being cooked and served There is currently a single phone line which is being worked on and is only available between about 5:30pm and 7am. This last is the greatest concern for me because I do not yet have a way to get my journals out.
By the time our tour was over, I was very cold and very tired. I thought that my sleeping bag in the dorm trailer would be a welcome respite, but the heat failed in the dorm about midnight. Even though it was still bright out, it was becoming even more frigid. By morning the temperature in my room was down to about 350 F. I found myself being very grateful to the VECO Corporation for providing me with a VERY warm sleeping bag. Needless to say, I had a very hard time getting out of my sleeping bag and getting ready for the new day. In addition to the discomfort of the cold, the wind blowing through the camp made it sound as if the trailers would blow away at any minute. The good news is that I was able to change rooms for this evening. I am in a trailer that has been getting complaints of being too warm. After last night, I'm ready for an oven of a room.
Once my room was changed, my misery was quelled somewhat by a really good breakfast. Barbara, the head cook here has taken very good care of us so far. One thing can be said for Toolik Lake is that there is plenty of food. After breakfast we set out for our first collecting trip here on the North Slope. Last September, the research team set out
a number of small habitats for arctic Click Beetles and temperature loggers to record the conditions in the soil for the beetles (really, the habitat is an aluminum can filled with soil and placed under a rock). Our job today is to collect the beetles planted under the rocks and to download all of the information from the data loggers. One interesting result of the days work has been that we found that soil temperature rarely got much below freezing and didn't go below - 10 F all winter. Once frozen, the soil temperature remained fairly constant even when air temperatures fell as low as-40 F. This means that while the beetles still must survive freezing conditions in the winter, the beetles do not require adaptations to face the worst of arctic winter conditions. It seems that the combination of the soil and the snow pack provide a very nice insulation for the soil fauna.
One of the amazing events of the last 24 hours was the result of our collecting and recovery trip this morning. The site where our beetles were located is right on the edge of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). So today I got a first hand glimpse of the magnificent landscape of ANWR. To make the trip even better, our drive took us right past one of ANWR's herds of Musk Ox. We stopped to watch as the herd stripped the bark from a stand of willow bushes. As we watched, we were able to see that the herd had increased by the addition of three new calves in the last few days. Musk Ox were hunted into extinction in Alaska and were reintroduced only about 50 years ago.
With my first day at Toolik Lake providing such overwhelming extremes, I cannot begin to imagine what the rest of the week will be like.
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