Field Notes: The Polar Field Services Newsletter

Toolik Helicopter Season Commences

by Christie Haupert

CPS staff and scientists help load an Era helicopter A-Star. In the background, the Brooks Range. All photos Christie Haupert unless otherwise noted.

Greetings from Spring-delayed Toolik. A new summer season is nearly upon the remote field station tucked 350 miles north of Fairbanks, Alaska, just out of reach of the Brooks Mountain Range.

Here at Toolik Field Station, winter lingers. But change is in the air – both in seasonality and to the field station.

The rivers have yet to flow, but break-up is eminent. Researchers are on hold, staged to capture the moment when the rivers break open and release their power. They have discharge instruments, empty water bottles and insulated waders ready to go. Hurry up and wait is the name of the game around these parts.

While the slush piles melt, drying puddles freeze and thaw, and fog rolls through the camp, the new dining/kitchen/station office, open for its first summer season, fills each feeding hour with hungry souls, piling their plates with salad, juicy grilled salmon, fresh baked bread and warm cookies from the industrial-sized ovens.

The Toolik dining facility, built in 2010. For more on the construction of the building, click on the picture.

The four-season structure is shiny and new; not even the old clock has been hung on the wall. It gives Toolik a different feel from the days of old – some say a welcomed upgrade, others say a sign of more “institutionalized” and “regulated” ways to come. The old dining hall is now the new community center, the old community center, the new meeting trailer and the old meeting trailer has yet to be named. But to reconnect with the Toolik the old timers have come to know and love, all one needs to do is wander down to one of the lab buildings, spend a few hours socializing in a dingy ACTO trailer room, or have a sweat in the sauna.

Helicopter operations started up this week, when two Eurocopter A-Stars arrived for the summer. A few days ago, after a day of fog, members of Linda Deegan’s NSF-funded biology project prepared a sling load for Green Cabin Lake. There, at the headwaters of the Kupuruk River, Linda Deegan’s team will begin a down-water migration study of Arctic grayling fish. Their gear was slung and researchers spent the day at the lake and at the Oksrukuyik River. Later this week, a team will be left at Green Cabin Lake to camp at the field site for three weeks documenting spring thaw.

The Deegan team prepares a sling load (the green object at left) while the helicopter readies for flight. The shiny truck center-left carries aviation fuel.

The helicopter departs Toolik, the sling load towed below.

Meanwhile, other changes coming to Toolik Field Station include renewable energy. CPS’ Tracy Dahl and Joe Yarkin erected a 45-foot anemometer to measure wind speed that will be used to determine effectiveness of wind power at Toolik. Read Tracy’s recent report on his Toolik based activities here.

An A-Star flies off, with the new wind-measuring anemometer instrument shown in the foreground.

Tracy Dahl and Joe Yarkin also installed micro-wind generators (the black-topped pole at right of the person in this shot) at an existing solar photovoltaic-powered research project called International Tundra Experiment or 'ITEX' (Steve Oberbauer, PI), near Toolik Field Station. The Brooks Range and Arctic National Wildlife Refuge lie in the background. Photo: Tracy Dahl

From what was once a small tent camp, to now a year-round research station with lab space, onsite general use laboratory equipment, multiple helicopters, and a 24-hour salad bar, Toolik is a testament to change. With these changes come new routines, new faces, and in the world of science, chances for new discoveries and just possibly a better understanding of the world in which we live.

[Before joining Polar Field Services and CPS as a science project manager, Fairbanks-based Christie Haupert worked at Toolik Field Station as both a researcher and staff-member for five summer seasons and three winters.

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