Sunday, October 31, 2010

Mr. Toad's wild ride

The inevitable happened. Field days 2, 3, and 4 came and went without much time in between for a post. So, here is a recap as best as I can remember.

Sunrise on the way to Sukok lake, 27 October.

Second field day was out to Sukok lake with our full field team of six people on 4 snow machines, plus our guide and 2 sleds. The lake is about 20 miles away, but with a max speed of about 20 mph and very bumpy topography, the trip took about an hour and a half. It was quite a challenging ride for my second day driving a snow machine. I learned to trust the beast a bit more and the value of punching the accelerator. Once in awhile, the skis would follow a track despite my attempts at steering, giving the distinct feeling of Mr. Toad's wild ride. Finally, we reached the edge of the lake, and I thought the challenge had passed. The boss rode out towards our coordinates and stopped about 20 feet shy of a large, open, methane seep that was not iced over. The rest of the group joined him and only once we were sampling did we discover that the seep was not in a single location, but extended in a line across the sub-basin, with very thin, loosely aggregated ice cover. Just a few feet away, the ice was back to 25 cm depth, but we had to be very careful. The next site was in the center of the lake, and we managed to cross over the thin ice without incident.

Thicker ice adjacent to an open methane seep, Sukok lake.

Sampling at the center site was a bit more challenging, with mud that suctioned core tubes and a sampling hole that was hiding under the tent, laying in wait to trick me. Yes, I stepped into the sampling hole. The lake depth is only about 2 meters, and luckily I only went in up to my knee or thigh, depending on who is telling the story. Felt very much like post holing, but I was lucky not to have broken a leg. The rest of the week my boss was very kind to constantly point out all open holes in the vicinity. (For the record, it was impossible to get away with anything this week!) It truly takes talent to step in the only hole in the ice for a mile in every direction. A dry pair of socks on one foot, the replacement of frozen Carhartt overalls with dry Carhartt coveralls, and several foot warmers later, we were on our way to face the challenging ride home again. Managed to stay relatively warm thanks to a "dancing" break with the boss on the way back and boots firmly hooked into the snow machine near the exhaust. No frostbite!

The next day, we discovered the Thai restaurant in Barrow. Sonny affirmed that the best Thai food I've ever had has been in Alaska. This stuff was amazing, especially the soup and the green curry. We even ate there again last night because we enjoyed it so much.

The third field day at a lake north of Walakpa bay was far less eventful than the second day out, although the snow machine ride was nearly as rough. Only one site made for a shorter day and I was able to process everything before dinner. However, issues with a chilling water bath and needing to get more water for an experiment back in the lower 48 necessitated a fourth day out, this time with a much smaller team.

Last sampling site of the trip, center of Sukok lake, 30 October.

If you want to travel fast, pack 1 sled to be pulled by your experienced guide and hop on the back of a snow machine driven by an even more experienced Antarctic ecologist. Just be sure to hold on tight. The trip back out to Sukok yesterday was still nearly an hour and a half, but was far faster than Wednesday. The wind and worsening weather made for a rough day, but our field tent managed to hang in there one more time and give some much needed shelter while sampling. The ice screws disappeared shortly after I stepped in the hole on Wednesday and we lost another pole on Friday, but it still functioned. The real excitement came when we were back at the seep site and had to warn a couple of caribou hunters about the thin ice just a few feet away. One of them backed up so fast, he ran right over the sled he was pulling!

After we got back and took care of business, we headed into town. Caught the local band warming up at the roller rink before the big Halloween party, but the scientists just couldn't cut it. After one of our own hopped up on stage to join the band with his harmonica, we headed home "early" around 11 pm and I passed out shortly after. I am certainly glad to have a week or so for a break before heading back out into the field, on the other side of the world. Two days for inventory, packing, and ending experiments. It's warmer in McMurdo than Barrow today, a trend I hope will continue!

Happy halloween!

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