With quite a bit more work to do on Julia’s project in Vulgaris Valley, and Lauren’s project in the ponds, we decided to divide and conquer. Though our interdisciplinary index took a hit as we split up, having engineers ride with Lauren, the entomologist, and snow scientists dig soil pits with Julia kept things in an acceptable range. Before we split up, Prof. Matt Ayres decided to show us some of the terrestrial insects that interest him. After a quick lesson in how to use a sweep net we all became experts. Basically you just swing it into the bushes as hard as you can, turn and repeat the other way… lots of fun and a good way to let out any pent up anger or frustration. In the bottom of the net accumulates an incredible array of various macroinvertebrates, which we collect from the nets using a device called an aspirator. The aspirator is basically just a glass jar with two rubber tubes going into it. You suck air through one of the tubes, and this creates a little vacuum cleaner at the end of the other tube which you can use to suck up insects into the jar. Thankfully whoever designed them was smart enough to put a fine mesh screen over the outlet to the tube that you suck through, so the bugs go into the jar, but not down your throat. The particular area we sweep netted was chock full of spiders. The spiders were of a type that does not spin webs, but rather stalks its prey (typically caterpillars and aphids). The tremendous numbers of them present, with few prey specimens caught was a bit confusing, but Matt suggested that perhaps the caterpillar prey had just turned into moths, leaving behind the spiders, who may now have even been cannibalizing each other. These were all just conjectures though – this was just a quick demonstration of another technique rather than a specific project.
Demonstration complete I hopped into one of the Hi-Lux’s with Lauren, Kaitlin, and Matt to go to the ponds. We deployed 4 new dataloggers, and took 4 sets of water samples to characterize the abiotic conditions in some more ponds. One of the ponds had fish in it. What a completely different system! Thousands of sticklebacks (one of only two freshwater fish species in Greenland) lined the shores, and there was hardly any macro-invertebrate life to be seen. A complete change from the ponds in Vulgaris Valley. We stopped for lunch between ponds down at the harbor. The harbor was a very interesting sight. A cruise boat was moored offshore and the enclosed fast boats were ferrying passengers, mostly elderly, back and forth for there day excursions in the big converted Mercedes trucks to the ice edge. A truck showed up hauling all of the tourist’s luggage for them as they waited in line to get back out to the cruise ship. We all decided that we weren’t interested in seeing the Arctic that way, even if it were offered free. Traveling with lots of people would totally ruin the power of the experience.
Actually this led to a bit of a deeper discussion later about how the Arctic is one of those things that, if we took everyone to see it, would be destroyed. The Arctic is not the iconic American wilderness; a hypothetical place absent of human influence. It is, however, a place characterized by a sparse population, living off the rich but limited resources of the land. The impact of great hoards of visitors in such a place would remove a core part of the landscape’s identity. This leads to a catch 22 because the less people who have a chance to see and understand the beauty of the Arctic system, the fewer who will be concerned about the negative impacts they might have on it based on their far away decisions. It seems that this places a significant burden on those of us lucky enough to study this place. We need to return home and try to convey what we saw to as many people as possible. To preserve the character of the Arctic, many people will need to be content just knowing that such a place exists, and that there is value in that alone. This is an odd set of thoughts for me. I cannot imagine appreciating the Arctic without traveling there.
Back at camp, as the sun set, and the half moon was in the sky, another attempt at lake coring was underway. The results to be seen in the morning.