Beneath the Alaskan Tundra
Arctic peat bogs have been absorbing carbon for thousands of years, but will this continue as the poles heat up? Warmer temperatures could cause bogs to decay, sending billions of tons of carbon back into the air. But a warmer climate might also improve growing conditions, allowing the bogs to take up more carbon than before. A team of scientists will travel to Alaska's remote North Slope to collect peat bog samples to understand how climate and carbon uptake have varied over the past 15,000 years and what this might mean for the future.
Location: Imnavait Creek, near Toolik Lake Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Station, Alaska
Team: Jonathan Nichols, John Karavias, Visiting Arctic Science Teacher (VAST) from Walt Whitman High
Purpose: Climate and Carbon Research
Start Date: July 1, 2012
After a day of coring on Tuesday, we decided to give our arms and backs a rest and collect water and plant samples. We take these samples so that we can characterize the chemical signatures of each plant type, and water from different parts of the system. Then, we can recognize those same signatures in the samples we take from our core. We can use the chemical signatures of the core samples to reconstruct how the vegetation and distribution of moisture has changed in the peatland through time.
While we were collecting our samples, we had a chance to meet some of the characteristic tundra wildlife.
Our first day in the field was a wild success! We visited Imnavait Creek Peatland, named for the small stream that drains out of it into the Kuparuk River. We chose this location because it has the potential to be much older than many other peatland sites. During the last ice age, the area of the creek escaped being scoured away by a glacier, so could have been accumulating sediment during that time. Unfortunately, previous attempts to recover cores that reached these old sediments were hindered by equipment failures. This time, we used an auger specially designed to core permafrost soils, and we were able to core more than two meters of sediment, about a half meter more than had previously been achieved. Hopefully the additional sediment will allow us to understand how peat accumulation differs during ice ages. We won’t know exactly how old the sediments are until we get our cores back to the lab and determine their ages using carbon-14 dating. Stay tuned! See a video of us using the permafrost auger below.
Hello from the land of the midnight sun! We have just arrived by way of the famous Dalton Highway at Toolik Field Station, a Long Term Ecological Research site of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. We pulled up to the station just in time for dinner, a quick trip to the field station’s wood-fired sauna, and a dunk in Toolik Lake to wash off the dust of the road. Now it’s time to try and block out enough sun to get some shut-eye before a long day of coring tomorrow. Check out some pictures from our 360-mile drive below.