Field Notes: The Polar Field Services Newsletter

Setting up Camp

Staff Make it Happen Near Tutakoke, Alaska

Each spring for as long as we can remember, we’ve installed a field camp for Jim Sedinger near Tutakoke, in southwestern Alaska. Sedinger’s field team works there all season to continue a long-term, NSF-funded study of Black Brant geese. Since 2014, we’ve also built a camp nearby for Karen Beard’s NSF-funded ecology experiment.

Spring 2014: Clearly conditions in Chevak do not favor using snowmobiles for put-in. Photo: Matt Irinaga

Spring 2014: Conditions do not favor using snowmobiles for transport. Photo: Matt Irinaga

But unusual spring weather in the last few years has challenged our plan to haul the field camp gear behind snowmobiles from the storage van where they have wintered in the village of Chevak, to the field site 20 miles away.

We’ve had to devise alternatives to work around early spring thaw, poor snow conditions, and flooding rain, resorting to boat rentals or small plane charters to reach the field site, Never a dull moment,

But this season, conditions cooperated, and we completed the put-in with snowmachines.  Larry Gullingsrud sent pictures to prove it.

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Pausing for a break during an early morning trip from Chevak to Tutakoke. A group of Chevak locals provide invaluable assistance to PFS/CPS staff. Photo: Larry Gullingsrud

The research sites are within ~100 yards of each other on the coast; both flood during fall/winter when Bering Sea weather creates storm surges that crest the beach. Though we anchor and strap gear down at the close of each season to keep it from floating away, when we return in the spring, we contend with gear enclosed in ice and snow, as shown in the pictures below.

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At PFS, strong excavation skills are both a universal talent and a point of pride. Photo: Larry Gullingsrud

Support includes skiffs and outboards for research activities and transportation. The boats are stored over winter on the Niglikfak River with the Chevak village boats. This winter, the river flooded, freezing the boats into a block of ice. At right, PFS staff uncover a skiff to allow the sun to melt the ice on the inside of the boat. We will then lift it clear. The boat will be towed on a sled the 20 miles to the Tutakoke field camp so the research groups can get back to Chevak after the river ice breaks up in late May. Or earlier.

The Beard camp (below, left) features a drainage ditch leading from the main WeatherPort tent to the river bank. This allows the meltwater to escape the depression that was created when we chipped out the ground below the floor panels, thus preventing flooding in the tents. Given these structures will be home to a group of scientists for the long summer, that’s an important step.