Four kilometers may not seem like a significant distance if you think about walking it around town or on a hiking trail. Four kilometers is approximately, 2.38 miles. An average hiker could walk this in about 45 minutes. However, in the Alaskan tundra, 4 kilometers could take about 3 hours to hike.
Here, the terrain is riddled with lumps of grass (tussocks) that have 12-inch-deep troughs surrounding them. These troughs are often filled with squishy moss (usually sphagnum), that makes them feel even deeper. Between the tussocks and troughs, walking through the tundra can be treacherous and slow. On our second day sampling moss in Cape Krusenstern National Monument, it took us about 45 minutes to hike 1 kilometer through this terrain to get to a plot. When you are trying to complete vegetation surveys on 6 plots in one day (which can take between 1.5 and 3 hours each), hiking time becomes a real concern.
Enter the helicopter.
We are using a helicopter to access our more remote study plots and reference sites (areas are likely not impacted at all from the Red Dog Mine). These remote sites are amazing for two reasons: 1) we do not return from work covered in fine dust that had flown off of the haul road, and 2) lichens are abundant. Between the scavenger hunt for new lichens, the fun helicopter rides, and superb cookies from the mine, these days of fieldwork have been amazing.
Today wraps up our fifth day using the helicopter, and we should have completed all of our remote plots in two more days. After almost a full week of working with the helicopter, we now have the hang of it. We often “hot load” (load and unload the helicopter while the rotter is still on) in order to save time. And even though we no longer gasp with excitement with each new view and swooping turn, we still thoroughly enjoy it!
Stay tuned for Kali’s story about why she loves helicopters!
Over and out,
P.S. Kali says that helicopters are “rad”.