Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Today the rain fell hard and steady. Taking measurements of trees is tough work under any conditions, but rain adds challenges. It’s tiring to walk through heavy, wet underbrush. Rocky footing turns dangerous. Instruments try to slip out of your hand. And the reduced visibility makes it harder to read numbers.
Rainy weather has another, more critical, impact. To stay in touch with the outside world, the scientists rely on satellite phones and a small laptop computer. These need frequent recharging, so the team brought along two portable solar panels. There is sunlight twenty hours a day above the Arctic Circle, but to work well the panels require bright daylight. Cloudy days won’t work. The dimmer light of the polar night doesn’t do so well, either.
The computer has been offline since day two—recharging simply takes too long. The phones charge quickly, but several rainy days could sever the last link to civilization.
From Jon Ranson
The rain started last night. I woke up to this odd, irregular beating on my tent roof. It sounded like bugs at first, like the mosquitoes were getting really desperate. But soon it was clearly a steady downpour. Rain doesn’t stop us, but it does slow us down.
Today has been a very long day. We took measurements of six GLAS sites. The terrain here is gently rolling slopes, not mountains. The trees are far apart, but fairly tall. We have measured some at about 12 meters. That’s large for a larch but to put it in perspective, the average maple tree is usually 30 meters tall.
Some of the lowland sites were pretty boggy. To walk in a bog you need to stay on the dry grass clumps and mossy spots. If you misstep you get to pull your boot out of sticky mud. The sucking noise is amusing, but it will eventually tire you out.
In one boggy area we observed a striking stand of larch. They were fairly young trees and all of a uniform, small size. My best estimate of the age, without measurements, is about 30 years. A couple of larger trees stood among them. Those bigger trees had already been here when the stand started to grow.
A large number of same-age trees indicates that something happened at that time to encourage tree growth. The two best theories we came up with are either the warming trend in this area, or the bog itself may have changed from a very wet area to a drier one, permitting tree growth.
Oh yes—I caught my first fish today! It was the only fish caught today. I cooked it like they do out near Lake Baikal. They put a stick through the mouth and slowly roast it over the fire. Those fish turn a beautiful golden color. This wasn’t so pretty, but it really tasted good.
It’s been another great day. This area above the Arctic Circle is unique and utterly amazing. Sure, I wish the rain would stop. Sure, I wish the mosquitoes would give us a break. I’d really love to have a pizza. But I am thrilled to be here—every soggy, buggy, fishy minute.