Notes from the Field

Sampling the 2017 Burn Scar Near Batamay

August 17th, 2019 by Dave van Wees

DBH (diameter at breast height)… 3.7 cm, killed by fire, severity 2, … adventitious roots at 7 cm (adventitious roots are small additional roots that larch trees have that help determine the depth of burning in the organic soil layer). Those are the words that would repeatedly disturb the forests’ eternal silence, besides the occasional call of a black woodpecker. This routine is part of making an inventory of the many trees (varying from roughly 50 to more than 300) that cover the 30 meter by 2 meter transect that is laid out in the field plot of interest. Such a transect is selected based on homogeneity in fire effects and assumed to represent a larger area of 30 by 30 meters, the size of a Landsat satellite pixel. This enables the direct comparison of ground s and satellite observations, which is in turn essential for upscaling to regional or continental scale estimates of available biomass and combustion.

A typical house in the village Batamay (Photo credit: Dave van Wees)

Our science team is in Batamay now, a small village about 170 km North of the capital of Yakutia and the coldest city on Earth, Yakutsk. Compared to our previous location, Ert, this is farther away from the main cluster of large fires that plague Siberia right now. However, fires are also active here, as I witnessed during my flight from Amsterdam to Yakutsk.

Fires approximately 100 km West of Yakutsk seen from airplane (Photo credit: Dave van Wees).

In order to get to Batamay, we had to drive for multiple hours and cross the Lena river by boat. The boat trip was not exactly like the luxury Lena river cruise that can be booked to visit the well-known ‘Lena pillars’, but it brought us to our study destination. After reaching Batamay, we continued our travels using one of these typical sturdy Russian vans to the designated camp site for a week of camping inside the burn scar that we wanted to measure. This burn scar is the result of a particularly high severity fire from 2017. The current science indicates that fires in Siberia are mostly low severity surface fires compared to the high severity crown fires in boreal North America. The high severity core of the Batamay burn scar may be out of the ordinary and attracted our interest. Could Siberian fires locally be more severe than thought and do we underestimate their emissions? Furthermore, what does this potential of high severity fire in Siberia mean for the future fire regime in a changing climate?

Crossing the Lena river by boat (Photo credit: Dave van Wees).

Having lunch in a high severity burn plot (Photo credit: Dave van Wees).

On the way from Yakutsk to the burn scar we have had some fine demonstrations of the Yakutian approach to problem solving. Little time is spent on overthinking possible issues beforehand, and instead problems are solved on the spot. Surprisingly, this method has been successful in every occasion we experienced an obstacle. For example, when a stretch of water is too shallow for a boat to float or a road too muddy for a car to cross, the consequences are faced instead of avoided, but always solved afterwards. This radiates a certain simplicity and relaxed approach to life that is almost fully opposed to the scientific approach and might be hard to relate to as westerners. What do the locals actually think of our complicated scientific instruments and methodologies? Sadly this is hard to say, because of the locals’ Yakutian language which is closer to Turkish than Russian (as if Russian wasn’t hard enough already) and introduces multiple new letters to the Cyrillic alphabet. And also because the locals are not men of many words anyway. However, like everyone else, these people also notice the effects of climate change, such as warmer winters and more heavy rain spells, such as the recent floods near Irkutsk

On the fly bridge fixing on our way to the camping site (Photo credit: Dave van Wees).

At the camp site, we were accompanied by five locals from Batamay: a guard, a driver, two cooks, and a guard dog. It was comforting to have this company and it is safe to say that this made all of us sleep better at night. In a matter of minutes a patch of tall grass was transformed into a cosy camp site including a fire place, picnic table and food warehouse, all made from the branches and logs available in the forest, and some old containers used previously by road constructors. Another great example of what you can construct from logs: a trailer able to withstand all bumps we faced on the road.

Our guard dog and trusty companion (Photo credit: Dave van Wees).

Filtering water at the camp site (Photo credit: Dave van Wees).

Improvised trailer constructed from logs (Photo credit: Brian Izbicki)

During our camping stay in the Batamay burn scar we have collected data from 24 field plots with varying degrees of fire severity. The coming week we will stay in a house in village and we will venture out in the fire scar again. Now we will focus more on unburned ‘control’ plots. This allows the comparison of the situation before and after the fire, which gives invaluable insight in quantifying the greenhouse gas emissions from the fire.

This field campaign is part of the ‘Fires pushing trees North’ project funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) and affiliated with NASA ABoVE. This blog post was written by Dave van Wees, PhD student at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, studying global fire emissions using satellite data and biogeochemical modeling.

Sampling a Recent Burn Scar in Yakutia

August 9th, 2019 by Clement Delcourt

After the Tomsk campaign, we traveled to Yakutsk for the next leg of the campaign that came with new scientific objectives. Our team now included three members from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, two members from Woods Hole Research Center and one collaborator from the Institute of Biological Problems of the Cryolithic Zone from the Russian Academy of Sciences. Our destination was a burn scar from last year’s fire season near the small village of Yert, approximately 200 km West of Yakutsk and surrounded by larch forests, sometimes mixed with pine forests, growing on permafrost terrain. Approximately 20% of the boreal biome are dominated by deciduous larch forests, yet we do not really know how wildfires influence carbon stocks of these ecosystems. We aimed to fill parts of these knowledge and data gaps by collecting ground measurements to quantify the amount of carbon released during these fire events. This is also a formidable opportunity to see on site what these forests look like before studying it at larger scales from satellite data.

Our first task was to reach our camping site located within the burn scar of approximately 900 km2. On our way to the field site our local collaborator and driver showed us how the forests are honored in Yakutian culture. We made several stops along the road to worship the Bayanay spirit, the spirit of hunting, taiga, and its animals and birds, by leaving several presents on trees. Our local collaborators told us that these offers would bring good luck to our field campaign. Thus, of course we were very generous.

Bayanay offering site along the road from Yakutsk to Yert. According to Yakutian tradition, this spirit of hunting and taiga, in the form of a squirrel or a chipmunk tastes the treats and blesses hunters and foresters(Photo credit: Clement Delcourt).

We had been told that locals from Yert were quite excited that an international team would visit their village. Indeed, when our team arrived at the village after a five-hour drive from Yakutsk we were kindly welcomed by the chief of the village with a cup of kumiz, local drink of fermented horse milk, and several local dishes. While having tea we talked more about the scientific goals of our campaign, and the local surroundings. They were also intrigued about the fact that our ‘Dutch’ team consisted of team members of French, German, Belgian, American and Russian nationalities. When we selected this little village as our access point to access the burn scar several months ago several thousand kilometres from here, in Amsterdam, using road maps and satellite images, we had no idea that this local community would be so welcoming and honored by our visit.

Our team welcomed by the chief of Yert.

The first five days we sampled burned plots with gradients in fire severity, soil characteristics and vegetation composition. In each plot, we performed a wide range of measurement including soil sampling for carbon analysis, aboveground biomass and combustion estimates, active layer thickness measurements, tree cores for stand age estimates and post-fire tree seedling counts. Getting into these plots in such a remote area was quite challenging as we had to hike in dense bushes or waterlogged grasslands carrying all the equipment and freshly collected samples, and some days were unfortunately rainy. With these wet and cold conditions, the camp fire became an important place after the working days to dry clothes, but also to keep positive minds sharing tea and snacks together. It was worth facing these tough conditions as we made some interesting and unexpected observations. For example, we did not expect to find relatively young, approximately 50 to 60 years old stands, that were very dense and burned with high severity.

Our field crew conducting measurements within a larch stand that burned with high severity during the 2018 fire season. Left: excavation of a soil sample for carbon analysis. Right: a tree height measurement.

Waking up with rain showers in the morning of the fifth day of the campaign, we decided in a hurry to return to the village one day earlier than originally planned. More than working under rainy conditions, we were worried about the road that could become too muddy, even for our sturdy all-terrain van. We got indeed stuck multiple times on the muddy road back to the village, but thanks to a collective ‘pushing’ effort of the team and particularly to the amazing skills of our driver and ‘hero’ Dima, we safely made it out through 15 kilometres to the village after four hours on a muddy forest road. And this was supposed to be our rest day!

Stuck on a muddy road back to the village; everyone helped push the van to get out of the mud (Photo credit: Clement Delcourt).

The work in the second week around this burn scar aimed at finding and sampling unburned sites along a forest road. These unburned plots were selected as ‘best’ matches of our burned plots by having similar forest compositions and landscape positions. The measurements in these ’control’ plots will allow us to estimate pre-fire carbon stocks, and thus act as a reference for comparison with our burned sites. While the comfort of staying in the village and sampling along the road may sound easier than our earlier camping experience, we ran into several unexpected mishaps. Our van suddenly broke down on a seemingly ‘easy’ part of forest road, and one team member had to recover from a muscle strain for two days. We quickly learned making a plan B… or even plan C. Luckily, we could rely on our local collaborator and driver, which were of a tremendous help throughout the campaign in addition to taking care of most of the logistics. They were very helpful in sharing knowledge on the ecosystems, but also cooked delicious meals. The jury is still out whether Dima’s soup or Roman’s pasta was the best meal.

Our field crew hiking through mixed pine and larch forests on a sunny morning, looking for unburned stands (Photo credit: Clement Delcourt)

We collected data in 24 sites which will enable us to better understand carbon emissions from fires in these larch ecosystems. This dataset will be completed with similar measurements that we will make in another burn scar on the opposite side of the Lena river North of Yakutsk in the upcoming ten days.

This field campaign is part of the ‘Fires pushing trees North’ project funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) and affiliated with NASA ABoVE. 

This blog post was written by Clement Delcourt, PhD student at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, researching carbon emissions from boreal fires.

Kick-off of Fire Expedition Siberia 2019

July 29th, 2019 by Rebecca Scholten/Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

2019 is bound to become one of the largest fire years on record in the Arctic Circle, and especially in Siberia. How much carbon these fires release remains a challenging question. Very little ground data on fire emissions is available for Siberia and estimations are difficult since the main part of the emissions originates from organic soils, which is harder to retrieve from satellite imagery than emissions from aboveground biomass. Our research team from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (the Netherlands), Woods Hole Research Center, Northern Arizona University (USA), Pyrenean Institute of Ecology (Spain), and the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences and Tomsk State University (Russia) are joining forces to better understand fire dynamics in Siberia.

Tired, but very happy: our field crew for the Tomsk campaign at Kajbasovo Research Station.(Left to right, top to bottom: Rebecca Scholten, Clement Delcourt (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam), Tatiana Shestakova (Woods Hole Research Center), Alexander Blokhin, Valerii Susliaev (Tomsk State University), Jesus Julio Camarero (Pyrenean Institute of Ecology)). Natalia Gorina,(TSU) was part of the team but not in the picture.

After an adventurous three-hour drive, our field crew gathered with the local collaborators at Kajbasovo Research Station near Tomsk, in Russia. We aimed at finding old pine trees in burned and unburned sites, which we then core with tree borers to build tree-ring chronologies. Wildfires in this western part of the Siberian boreal forest usually don’t burn with high intensity allowing some resilient trees to survive multiple fire cycles. Thus, we aimed at using the chronologies to reconstruct the fire history of the area and to assess the response and recovery times of the ecosystem after fire events and other disturbances.

Smokey sun over Scots pines of a bog site near the village of Krasnyy Yar (Photo credit: Rebecca Scholten).

Little did we know that we would ourselves witness the severity of this year’s fire season. Except for the first day, we did not see a clear sky. From then on, the sun would only appear as a bright orange or blood red ball behind lots of smoke originating from wildfires in the Krasnoyarsk region hundreds of kilometers away. One good thing about this is that it dampened the heat, since we were already quite warmly dressed in our tick- and mosquito-proof clothing.

Fire scar in a cross section of a burned pine tree visible in the bottom part of the image. (Photo credit: Rebecca Scholten).

Mosquitoes and heat, however, were only small obstacles, as we set out with our borers to find trees older than 100 years. We really wanted trees from that age so that we can build sufficiently long chronologies. Even at the most remote places we were surprised to often see signs of human activity such as past logging, resin extraction or littering. One day we even saved a duckling out of a fisher net set up a good 4 hours bumpy drive away from the next village. Or sometimes we would simply not find old trees because of natural disturbances or growth restrictions. Eventually, we did manage to sample 12 sites with old trees with different fire severities and hydrologic characteristics. These will now be analysed further in the lab to extract and crossdate the tree rings.

Well protected against blood suckers: our field crew sampling a tree with a fire scar. (Photo credit: Alexander Blokhin)

Being in the field and having only very little time to sample can be an intense working experience, but there were many special little moments too. Our driver overcame every obstacle on the way to bring us to very remote places, and our cook took great care of us with plenty of delicious borscht, buckwheat and blinis (type of pancakes) and provided large amounts of water and kompot (sweet fruit beverage). And our evenings were spent at camp fires diving into local culture and connecting the people.

Bird rescue at lunch break: even at this beautiful lake in the middle of nowhere, we found human activity as this little duckling got caught in a fishing net. (Photo credit: Rebecca Scholten)

After ten exciting days in Tomsk we are now resting and recovering in Yakutsk for the weekend. We are using the time for some team building activities, and we are enjoying some solid hours of sleep. We went shopping for supplies for the second part of our field campaign, which will lead us to even more remote areas around the little villages of Ert and Batamay in the next four weeks. There, we will visit recently burned forests and measure the carbon losses due to fire events. In addition, we will take more tree chronologies to estimate the stand age, and count seedlings to see how forests recover after fires of different severities. 

This field campaign is part of the ‘Fires pushing trees North’ project funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) and affiliated with NASA ABoVE. The Tomsk part of the campaign was funded by INTERACT.

This blog post was written by Rebecca Scholten, PhD student at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, researching arctic-boreal fire dynamics.

Wrangell Mountain Expedition

March 30th, 2018 by Laura Prugh/University of Washington

On March 14, four members of the NASA ABoVE Dall sheep project (lead PI Laura Prugh and PhD students Chris Cosgrove, Ryan Crumley, and Molly Tedesche) headed into the Wrangell Mountains for a week-long field expedition to conduct snow surveys. These snow surveys are critical to the project’s goal of understanding how snow conditions are changing and affecting Dall sheep in northern alpine regions. Riding snowmobiles for more than 20 miles into the wilderness, breaking trail and clearing brush for the last 5 miles (and sometimes getting stuck), the crew set up base camp in an open meadow. It turned out this meadow was home to a resident bull moose, who kept a respectful distance and was often seen browsing nearby. Snow levels were unusually high this year, making for a useful contrast to last year’s surveys and giving team members a good snowshoeing workout. Navigating through deep snow, thick brush, and over steep terrain, the team recorded snow depth using a Magnaprobe, dug snow pits to examine the snowpack stratigraphy (layering over the season), and measured snow track sink depths of Dall sheep and one of their main predators, coyotes. The team was able to reach 17 of the 22 sites that had been established in September to record snow depth every hour using game cameras and snow stakes; the remaining 5 sites were in terrain that was unsafe to reach due to avalanche danger.

The team’s luck with clear, warm weather broke on the last day of fieldwork. Amid a snowstorm that was picking up momentum, Prugh spotted an area with a maze of coyote tracks and what appeared to be the faint traces of white fur on the snow. Investigation confirmed the site was a sheep kill, and Prugh quickly dug a pit to record the snow characteristics that may have contributed to the sheep’s demise. Perhaps the snow was dense enough for the coyotes to run on top of the snowpack, whereas the sheep, with a heavier body mass and small hooves, floundered in the deep snow?

Fortunately, the snowstorm ended overnight, and the crew awoke to blue skies overhead and 8 inches of fresh powder blanketing the spectacular landscape. Analysis of the field data over the coming year will improve efforts to model and map snow characteristics across the mountainous region, and reveal how snow properties affect the vulnerability of Dall sheep to predation.


PhD student Chris Cosgrove (Oregon State University) measures snow density adjacent to Dall sheep snow tracks.

PI Laura Prugh (University of Washington) using a Magnaprobe to measure snow depth.

Winter camp in Wrangell St. Elias National Park. Snowmobiles, Arctic Oven tent, and winter camping gear was provided by the ABoVE Fairbanks Logistics office.

Snowmobiling expedition in the Wrangell mountains to conduct snow surveys.

Tracking Changing Soil Temperature, Moisture, and Carbon in the Arctic

September 6th, 2017 by Stephen Shirley/University of Montana

Arctic landscapes (shown above) hold our planet’s largest pool of soil carbon, which has been stored for thousands of years in frozen ground known as permafrost. This large store of carbon is now susceptible to release into the atmosphere as greenhouse gases, as the once frozen ground begins to warm. Scientists with the NASA Arctic Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE) are currently working to find out how the Arctic carbon pool is responding to climate change and whether the Arctic is acting as a carbon sink or carbon source. Photo by Jennifer Watts.

To improve our understanding of how large stores of soil carbon and Arctic vegetation are responding to climate change, a team of scientists participating in the NASA Arctic Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE) recently gathered in Alaska to take part in a remote field campaign. Team members were Jennifer Watts (University of Montana; Woods Hole Research Center), Kyle Arndt and Andrea Fenner (San Diego State University), and Stephen Shirley (University of Montana). The objective of this campaign was to install a network of soil moisture and temperature sensors within the footprint of an eddy covariance flux (EC) tower located in Ivotuk, Alaska (Ivo-US, N 68.49 W -155.75). The EC tower measures carbon flux, or the direction and magnitude of carbon dioxide (CO) and methane (CH4) gasses carried in turbulent surface winds, rolling across a roughly 1-km swath of land.  These data are used to characterize and model ecological processes such as vegetation productivity, soil decomposition and respiration, and the net land-atmosphere carbon flux over Arctic/boreal regions.

This story documents our journey above the Arctic Circle and provides a description of our daily life while working in the Alaskan tundra.

Tuesday July 18, 2017 (Day 1)

Waking up early for a busy day of planning and packing, we departed our dorm rooms at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks and headed for the ABoVE Logistics Office to meet Logistics Coordinator Sarah Sackett. Sarah assisted us with gathering camping equipment and gave us a detailed tour of the field kitchen, shelter, and bear safety supplies. The day was spent packing equipment into drybags and Action Packers, and ensuring that we had all of the tools necessary to perform our work in Ivotuk.

Jennifer Watts and Kyle Arndt plan the installation of the soil moisture sensors. Photo by Stephen Shirley.

That afternoon, we went to the store to buy our camp food: Thai noodles, taco and grilled cheese supplies, pancake mix… the list goes on but needless to say we were going to eat well. We arrived back to the office late in the evening, just in time for dinner. All of the NASA ABoVE project members currently in Fairbanks had come to meet at the Logistics Office for a barbeque, and we didn’t want to miss out on the food and company. After enjoying a great evening, and focusing on final packing, we went to our dorms to get some rest and prepare for our early morning expedition to Ivotuk.

NASA ABoVE science team members gather for a photo at a 2017 Field Campaign cookout in Fairbanks. Photo by Charles Miller/NASA.

Wednesday July 19, 2017 (Day 2)

A map of our path from Fairbanks to Ivotuk. Photo by Stephen Shirley.

With a truck full of equipment, we departed the ABoVE Logistics Office for Wright Air Service in Fairbanks. Our dual engine Piper Chieftain could accommodate a maximum cargo weight of 1,400 lbs, including personnel and equipment. First we weighed ourselves and then our gear, which amounted to 200 lbs. over the weight limit. After dumping out all of our water, a spare GPS mapping unit, and some EC tower calibration equipment, we were able to board the plane.

Weighing our field and camping equipment to ensure that the plane wasn’t too heavy to take off. Photo by Stephen Shirley/NTSG.

Kyle Arndt, Stephen Shirley and Andrea Fenner, ready to fly to Ivotuk. Photo by Jennifer Watts.

We arrived in Ivotuk just before 10:00 and were greeted by swarms of mosquitos and scattered clouds. Our first priorities were setting up the bear fence surrounding our field camp, followed by the kitchen and personal tents, and finally filtering our first batch of water (since we had dumped our drinking water earlier that day). We then unpacked field equipment and headed across the tundra to the tower.

Unpacking gear upon landing in Ivotuk as our plane prepares to leave. Photo by Jennifer Watts.

Jennifer Watts sets up a GPS base station at the corner of the landing strip (far left), under a rainbow, next to our Ivotuk campsite. Notice the flying object, one of many mosquitoes, in the foreground. Photo by Stephen Shirley.

Kyle Arndt (right) makes room on the EC tower to hang the new datalogger box while Stephen Shirley and Andrea Fenner take in the scenery. Photo by Jennifer Watts.

Jennifer Watts and Andrea Fenner lay out soil moisture and temperature sensors. Photo by Stephen Shirley.

By late afternoon we had attached the datalogger box to the EC tower and were laying out the 18 soil moisture sensors of various lengths. Unravelling and walking out the 10 to 90 m cables was more challenging than anticipated.  With the equipment box attached to the tower and sensors ready for installation we made our way to the power shed to charge our tools and equipment. Hungry and ready for bed, we made the rainy walk (the first of many) back to camp and tucked into our sleeping bags for the night.

Thursday July 20, 2017 (Day 3)

The majority of our Thursday was spent installing soil moisture sensors, three per site at 0-5 cm, 20 cm and 40 cm depths. Soil samples were collected for each site. We also measured the depth of the seasonally thawed soil layer overlying permafrost and the amount of water in the surface soils. Digging through frozen soil (in the rain) proved challenging.  Sites with shallow thaw depths were even more work. First, we removed the thawed soil. Then we shoved out the frozen soil layer in little chunks, similar to scooping ice cream. Digging through the frozen soil for 10 cm or more took a lot of time and energy. After a late dinner, with our installation complete, we took an evening trip to the power shed to finalize the datalogger programming.

Jennifer Watts digs through frozen soil and muddy water to install soil moisture and temperature sensors. Photo by Stephen Shirley.

Stephen Shirley measures the active layer depth, the zone of thawed soil, above the permafrost. Photo by Jennifer Watts.

Andrea Fenner, Stephen Shirley, and Kyle Arndt run sensor cables into the datalogger box. Photo by Jennifer Watts.

Friday July 21, 2017 (Day 4)

After breakfast, we split up into groups for an independent science day. Kyle and Andrea took advantage of the sunny morning (the first since our arrival in Ivotuk) to take spectral measurements of the vegetation within the EC tower footprint. The spectral measurements are used to calculate various vegetation indices. Kyle and Andrea also collected samples of vegetation biomass to form a relationship between indices and above ground biomass. The biomass samples and spectral data may shed some light on the relationship between the plant biomass and methane fluxes emitted from the tundra.

Kyle Arndt collects vegetation biomass samples to accompany the spectral measurements. Photo by Andrea Fenner.

Jennifer and I spent our day collecting water samples from the braided tundra streams and small ponds located near the tower site. Water and gas samples were obtained at multiple locations for each water body. These samples will be analyzed for methane concentrations and isotopes to determine the amount and age of methane in the water bodies, which can be a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. The process took quite some time and we didn’t get done with the first two streams until late afternoon.

Jennifer Watts gathers water and gas samples from streams to determine methane concentrations. Photo by Stephen Shirley.

Late in the afternoon while Jennifer and I were finishing our second set of stream samples, Kyle and Andrea radioed that the cooking tent was about to fly away. Stormy weather was moving in. When I arrived at camp I saw Kyle and Andrea doing their best to hold down the tent. Our campsite was a mess. Everything had been blown around, inside and out, by the wind. We lost some time reorganizing our equipment and supplies, and securing the other tents. The rest of the evening was spent tying up loose ends on the independent projects, finishing stream samples and taking GPS points for Kyle’s measurements. After a late dinner, we made our daily trip to the power box to send emails and confirm that our flight out had been scheduled for the next day.

Kyle Arndt holds down the main tent after it was almost blown away by the wind; what a mess. Photo by Stephen Shirley.

Saturday July 22, 2017 (Day 4)

Sunday morning, we woke up to a wet and windy Ivotuk. To make things worse, the Ivotuk Hills and surrounding landscape were obscured by fog. After packing up science equipment, the kitchen and personal gear, we trekked across the misty tundra to the power shed to check emails and wait for updates on weather and the status of our chartered flight back to Fairbanks. We called Wright Air Service around 13:00 to report the best weather conditions that we had seen all day.

Jennifer Watts, Kyle Arndt, Andrea Fenner, and Stephen Shirley enjoying quality time in the power shed, possibly the driest place in Ivotuk. Photo by Stephen Shirley.

Our fingers were crossed that the sky would remain clear and that we wouldn’t have to spend another night in the wind and rain. Just about the time we had finished packing up our campsite, the plane arrived to take us home.  The plane ride back was quiet. Everyone was tired and focused on the many tasks still ahead of us.

Stephen Shirley Jennifer Watts, Kyle Arndt and Andrea Fenner celebrating the end of the Ivotuk sensor install and the arrival of the plane to Fairbanks. Photo by Wright Air Service Pilot.

The next day would be spent downloading GPS information and preparing soil samples, taken for the calibration of our soil probes, for processing at the University of Montana. After replenishing supplies Jennifer, Kyle, and Andrea prepared to travel north to Barrow. Andrea would remain in Barrow while Jennifer and Kyle continued to Atqasuk for the next soil moisture sensor installation.

Over the course of my two weeks with the NASA ABoVE 2017 Field Campaign, I traversed the mucky tundra, dug holes through permafrost for the installation of soil moisture sensors, measured permafrost active layer and water table depths, and collected stream water samples around the Ivotuk airfield. This experience has improved my understanding of the Arctic tundra’s high spatial variability and the challenges faced when modeling its ecosystem processes at larger scales. The new measurements from the soil moisture sensor arrays installed in Ivotuk and Atqasuk this summer will help ecological modelers to quantify these small-scale differences for use in future biophysical land models.

Stephen Shirley is a senior undergraduate of Physical Geography and Research Technician at the University of Montana.