Today was a big day for the three of us. In fact, it’s what we have been waiting for. We woke up to thick fog that almost ruined our plans – but with motivation we set toward the Port to start sampling. In our two groups, we sampled two plots and then Peter got the call – Patrik, the Swedish pilot, was on his way in the helicopter (aka “the ship”). A helicopter – in Alaska – in the Tundra. This is the day we have been waiting for. Elisa and Kali were sent off to one of the 4000 m plots with Beth and Peter close behind and set off to another 4000 m plot. Helicopter rides are where it’s at, especially with a fun but safe pilot. The doors are strangely light, the ride surprisingly smooth and the view is what one would expect – breathtaking. Each group encountered diverse plots today, rich with bryophytes and vascular plants. This pleased the lichen enthusiasts (let’s be honest—us nerds).
Although each day we may feel any combination of sore, sweaty, tired and itchy (mosquitoes seem to be starving here), I believe that I can safely say that we are humbled to be in such a great place studying such fascinating things with such a great team. Also, the group of folks that work at the construction camp, where we are staying, has been so extremely helpful and welcoming to us. We seem to stick out a bit – we get asked a lot where we are from. We are slowly getting the truck traffic lingo down, though—so from our muddy truck and from far away – some may even mistake us for miners!
We have now had two days to sample in the field along the haul road. Today we walked all the way out to 1 km for a plot, it took about half an hour to get there because of walking through the tussock tundra. It is extremely hard to walk through, with your choice being either a hole to step in or a grassy bunch which is not stable, good thing all the “ground” feels like a couch when you fall.
Thank god for our bug jackets, they have made the clouds of mosquitoes manageable. Today we also split into two teams, with Kali and Beth trading off between myself and Peter. I think we are finally getting into a groove figuring out the most efficient sampling methods.
Tomorrow we start our first day of helicopter sampling. We will be leap frogging the two teams as the pilot can only take two passengers at a time. Hopefully we will get many plots done and start to see more lichen diversity!
On Saturday the 8th, we took the smallest plane any of us had ever been in to get to Red Dog. It was about a 45 min flight that was breathtaking, we saw the Alaskan arctic from the sky! So many bodies of water everywhere. Now we’re here at Red Dog! Things are going well, today while getting trained on the vehicles we saw a female grizzly bear with two cubs! Fortunately this was from the car.
Yesterday, Beth, Kali and I departed OSU to begin field work in Kotzebue, Alaska. Kali and I were envious of Beth’s ability to fall asleep in both cars and airplanes. We were fortunate to have window seating on both of our flights, and saw the Alaska Range filled with countless cirque glaciers.
We were greeted by Peter Neitlich at the small airport in Kotzubue, aka “Kots”, where he showed us the uniqueness of the town. We took a stroll along the water and had a nice, hot dinner. We continued walking after dinner and went to the Kotzubue High School where we watched Qatnut. Qatnut is a trade fair and a gathering of Inupiat dancers from the surrounding Arctic villages. It was great to get to see some of the local culture! They were quite the dancers and drummers.
We were told about how the full 24 hours of sunlight would be difficult to adapt to—and how correct that was! We all woke up to the sled dogs across the street howling, and were surprised to find out that it was 2 in the morning, despite the sun shining through the cracks in our window. After a night of restless sleep, we woke up and got right to work, after coffee—of course. We began by going to the cache to gather the gear for the project. We packed and labeled the gear, and got to “play” with the equipment that we will be using in the field. We also got to pick up our helicopter flight equipment! This was definitely a high-point for some of us.
Midday, we realized that it was time for us to make sure that we were best prepared for bear protection. We selected a spot to practice using bear spray. Peter led the way in showing us how to be experts. After each of us got our turn to spray, we realized that each of us had some capsasin residue that got onto our persons! Kali started sneezing, and I jumped in the shower. We washed our clothing from that experience… hopefully we got it all, and won’t need to use our new-found bear spraying skills in the field. We just ate dinner and are finalizing the plans for tomorrow morning. We fly to the mine at 8 a.m.
Elisa (w/ Beth & Kali)
Red Dog is the largest zinc mine in the world. It is situated northeast of Nome Alaska, north of the Arctic Circle! The mine has been running year long since 1989, where raw ore is transported from 75 km inland to the port, with the last 32 km of the haul road passing through the Cape Krusenstern National Monument. Metal levels and impact to the surround area are of interest and have been previously measured twice by using moss tissue and lichen diversity. Elisa Di Meglio, Kali Melby, and Beth Rutila began the third round of sampling on July 7th, which will be detailed in this blog through photos and journal style entries. Enjoy!