Field Notes: The Polar Field Services Newsletter

Where in Alaska is Matt Irinaga?

Alaska staffer Matt Irinaga has spent much of this spring out of the Fairbanks office helping NSF-funded researchers mount field efforts all over Alaska.

In late March, Matt headed to Nome and Shishmaref to help put in a field camp at nearby Cape Espenberg on the northern Seward Peninsula for (U Alaska) Katey Walter’s methane study. The entire field plan was slowed by the untimely eruption of Mt. Redoubt to the southeast on the Kenai Peninsula. One volcanic volley on March 26 forced the cancellation of cargo flights packed with camp and science gear.

An aerial view of Alaska's Mt. Redoubt eruption, which began on March 22, 2009.

An aerial view of Alaska's Mt. Redoubt eruption, which began on March 22, 2009.

Still, after a short delay, and with the volcano still rumbling, Matt, Tim Tannenbaum (CPS field camp manager) and the advance team arrived at the field site and got the camp established.

The full Walter research team arrived a few days later and began daily excursions from the camp for lake sediment coring, GPS and landscape feature surveys, sediment and biogeochemical sampling, and more. The team extracted lake sediments and permafrost samples, which are being shipped to the University in Fairbanks, the Alfred Wegner Institute in Germany and the LacCore facility in Minnesota for storage and later analysis.  For an on-the-ground view of Walter’s research, read and watch a Los Angeles Times Story written by a journalist who visited the researcher in the field last fall.

 

Guido Grosse (left) and Ben Jones take a break from extracting sediment cores as part of the Walter research project.

Guido Grosse (left) and Ben Jones take a break from extracting sediment cores as part of the Walter research project.

After establishing the Walter camp, Matt Irinaga met University of Alaska permafrost outreach troubadour Kenji Yoshikawa in Kotzebue. The two then flew to Point Hope to install permafrost monitoring instruments near village schools.

 

Welome to Point Hope,one of the remote villages where Kenji Yoshikawa installed permafrost monitoring instruments this spring.

Welome to Point Hope,one of the remote villages where Kenji Yoshikawa installed permafrost monitoring instruments this spring.

Yoshikawa draws children and their teachers into his work by showing them how to maintain and store data collected from the stations—and by appealing to their love of superheroes with his Tunnel Man alter ego.

Kenji Yoshikawa reviews with a student how to interpret data from the permafrost monitoring station.

Kenji Yoshikawa reviews with a student how to interpret data from the permafrost monitoring station.

One may sense his legendary, indefatigable spirit by viewing the Tunnel Man videos, available via Yoshikawa’s permafrost outreach Web site.

From Kotzebue, Matt traveled with seasonal CPS staffer Erik Lund to Deadhorse. There, the two established a laboratory for polar bear researcher, U of Wyoming’s Hank Harlow. Harlow’s team is working with the United States Geological Survey this spring and summer to monitor polar bears living on the sea-ice offshore from Prudhoe. Harlow leads an effort to understand how loss of sea ice might be impacting polar bears that use the ice as a hunting platform. His group is in Deadhorse locating, capturing, tagging, examining and taking samples from polar bears; they will return this summer and in the fall to recapture some of the bears, repeating the examinations and measurements for comparison with the earlier data. Harlow hypothesizes that bears having difficulty finding food due to loss of access to prey as a result of sea-ice loss may enter a state of “walking hibernation.”

To round out the spring, Matt traveled to Bethel and met up with Mandy Van Dellen and her assistants working with U of Nevada’s Jim Sedinger on his long-term study of reproductive strategies in Black Brant Geese.  

Mandy Van Dellen digs out camp.

Mandy Van Dellen digs out camp.

The group staged at Chevak for their snowmachine put-in to a site along the Tutakoke River on the Bering Sea coast.

Kids in Chevak greet Matt and crew.

Kids in Chevak greet Matt and crew.

Sedinger’s long-term study tracks how reproduction impacts the overall health and survivability of the parent—and how that, in turn, impacts productivity and survival in subsequent years. The team will be in the field until late July closely monitoring a population of banded birds, from nest building through fledging processes.

Dan Honne, Howie Singer, Mandy Van Dellen, Matt Irinaga, and Adam Stewart in the field.

Dan Honne, Howie Singer, Mandy Van Dellen, Matt Irinaga, and Adam Stewart in the field.