Tuesday, October 26, 2010

First fall field day

Yesterday was our first sampling trip of the week. Waking up to pitch black skies is a bit difficult when you've become accustomed to field work in arctic springs and summers when there is nearly or a full 24 hours of daylight. Took us a little bit of time in the morning to get our gear in order, as it usually does the first time out. Guess who finally got to drive a snow machine (i.e. snow mobile)? If you guessed the person who had a cast for a broken wrist last trip, you would be correct. I definitely understand why people insisted on driving last trip and why most of them nearly lost me off the back several times. There is much more control when driving (and when not wearing a cast!) and the ability to hook your feet under the front makes it far more secure. I think I need to pay back a certain astrophysicist for several bumpy rides on our trip out tomorrow.

First lake yesterday was Ikroavik. One of our baseline lakes, sampling proceeded without many issues, albeit slower than I would have liked. Luckily we took the time to pop up the ice fishing tent, which cut down the wind considerably and eased taking samples. Our guide shared some of his lunch with us, which included maktaaq, dried caribou, and whale meat. He claimed that all three together is like the McDonald's of Barrow, but I stuck to the maktaaq along with the rest of the lunch we brought. For those of you who missed my description of tasting maktaaq last April, it's blubber and skin from a bowhead whale. It's very oily, with a nutty flavor vaguely reminiscent of seaweed. Soy sauce and wasabi are popular additions. The Inupiat have an annual quota that allows them to continue their traditions of whale hunting which is very much a part of the culture here. Basically, it's impractical to ship in all food from external sources, and whaling (and hunting) is an integral local food source. Our last trip in April was an exciting time here in town in part due to everyone getting ready for the beginning of whaling season.

After lunch, we finished sampling and despite having taken far too long, we moved on to the next lake, Emaiksoun. It was nearby and we did a relatively quick sampling, but the sun set while we were still working. Every day is about 4 minutes shorter than the one before, mercifully with an extended dusk. Driving the snow machines back to the station was still quite a challenge, with drizzle freezing on the windshield, requiring either driving blind, standing up, or craning one's neck out to the side to follow the trail. All things considered, it actually wasn't a bad day. The weather wasn't horrible, we accomplished what we set out to do, and I was able to meet my boss's challenge of the number of push-ups to match our ages (yes, mine were girly...). Wasn't sure the wrist would comply, but it held! Just don't ask me to do it again today, hauling gear and driving the snow machine made me reach for the pain relievers last night and again this morning.

No rest for the wicked though, we were all up early again today for a lab day of processing samples (and recovering). Tonight our NASA team members are arriving and we will head to our farthest site tomorrow. At least we'll be able to see some sun again, I blinked and missed it while working inside today.

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