Monthly Archives: July 2008

Back in the saddle


Wow, I didn’t realize it’d been so long since I last posted! I’ve been super busy at work, organizing and attending a field trip from Fairbanks to Deadhorse, Alaska, for the Ninth International Conference on Permafrost. I went on a dry run with the field trip leaders during the second week in June, and then on the field trip during the last week of June. Beforehand, and in between the two trips, I helped put together the guidebook for the trip, gather up coolers, whistles, books, spotting scopes and binoculars, soil probes, sleeping bags for 30 people, pack bags with brochures and tee shirts, and a myriad of other duties as necessary. The trip went off almost without a hitch, and everyone had a great time.


About 45 permafrost scientists assembled on Monday, June 23, for the trip north, and we loaded onto a very comfortable Holland America bus for the trip north. We stopped along the way to look at the Trans Alaska Pipeline, the boreal forest, various experimental sites; we looked at soil cores from, and soil pits dug into, the permafrost and marveled at the ice-rich soil that emerged. I have a new collection of plant photos for my own use (and maybe my work website too). We learned about aufeis and frost boils and pingos and other permafrost features; the geologic history of the north slope; plant communities and how they indicate what kind of soil and history lie beneath them. The last day of the field trip was spent in the Prudhoe Bay oil field, where we got to see how research is conducted in the oil field, as well as how oil spills and abandoned pads are rehabilitated. I think the highlight of the oil field tour was the view of Prudhoe Bay, with it’s coating of receding ice.

In spite of all the work getting ready for the field trip, and finishing up loose ends afterwards, I had a fantastic time on this trip. There were scientists from all over the world – Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Holland, China, Japan, Italy, Great Britain, and even New Zealand. We got to hike through and explore some of the most beautiful parts of Alaska’s interior and north slope. I rarely get up there, so I was thrilled to get to spend two weeks up north. This is the perfect time of year too; everything was blooming and green.


It’s hard to decide what was the best part of the trip; the aufeis field at Galbraith Lake was certainly one, but the rainstorm at Imnavait Creek was pretty awesome, and the pingo we explored on the Chandalar Shelf was home to a beautiful collection of wildflowers. The low rolling hills we saw as we drove towards Deadhorse reminded me of summers in Colorado; I kept expecting to see combines and trucks full of wheat! Getting off the bus and exploring the vegetation and soils of those hills put those memories back where they belonged. Seeing my first wild musk oxen (and being embarrassed later at the way I screamed when I saw them!), as well as a lynx, a wolf, and an arctic fox with a goose egg in his mouth; how can you not be thrilled?

Now that I’m back home, the excitement has pretty much worn off, I’m almost finished returning borrowed items, disbursing cash for trip expenses, and tidying up the lab. I need to organize the 900 and some (!) photos that I took on the trip, make PDFs of the handouts and add them to the website. And I’ve started yet another blog, so we can share memories and photographs, and stay in touch with the friends we’ve all made. I think the best thing that I’ll take away from this trip (besides the caribou antler I was gifted with), is a reminder of how much I love science. Collecting information and learning, and then sharing what I’ve learned. I came away with a renewed and deeper appreciation of the fanastic place that I live in, a renewed energy for my job, and a host of memories to remind me that scientists are pretty darned interesting people to hang out with.