It is our 10th day on Qikiqtaruk-Herschel Island and our 38th day in the Yukon, or so Joe was telling us today. I have completely lost track of time myself: the date, day of the week and time of the day. In fact, now we are living on Herschel time, which is a flexible time zone about an hour or so later than Alaska time, two hours or so later than Pacific Summer Time and about three hours later than Mountain Summer Time (the time in Inuvik).
Since the sun never sets and the long evenings of midnight sun are so beautiful, it feels quite natural to get up as the sun is getting higher in the sky (10:30am Inuvik Time) and go to sleep as it crosses over the horizon behind the hills of Herschel Island to the north of Pauline Cove (3am Inuvik Time).
We have left our first Herschel home of the Signals House and are now installed in the Team Shrub room in the Hunter’s and Trappers cabin. Our new room is decorated with a Welsh Flag, our science and cooking schedules, our library of books and of course all our science gear, including the drone laboratory.
Herschel is not an uninhabited Arctic Island at the moment. This evening there was a potluck BBQ with the assembled masses on the island of rangers, Yukon Government Archeologists, Heritage preservation experts, Parks staff and researchers from the Alfred Wegener Institute and elsewhere. In fact, I have never seen Herschel Island as busy and filled with people as it is right now with around 30 visitors and residents.
Tomorrow Sandra will be leaving us. Sigh! The first departure from our tight Team Shrub Crew. She managed to collect all of her dendro samples after over a week of long days of measuring, mapping and digging. Thankfully, the recent weather has been beautiful and sunny, but windy enough that the bugs haven’t been bad at all, meaning great conditions for doing fieldwork.
The excitement of the past few days has been the inaugural flight of the Shrubcopter north of the Arctic Circle. Shrubcopter’s very first tundra flights were a series of post-transfer maintenance checks (a.k.a. test flights). Then today the Shrubcopter collected its first real data in a series of NDVI mapping transect flights using the autopilot.
Initially, there was a bit of fear in the pit of my stomach as our intrepid pilot Jakob switched on the autopilot and the drone headed off on it’s own to the pre-programmed GPS points. Now after eight flights my fears are starting to wear off and I am beginning to believe in our trusty drone, its flight control system and, of course, the pilot who always has things under complete control!
We now have awesome photos (NDVI and true colour) and videos of regions of the island to test which vegetation type is most green and have undergone the most greening over the past two decades. We are using our drone data to ground truth the greening signal that satellites are observing all around the Arctic biome.
The Root Collar Crew has been having so much fun that a series of botanically-themed songs have been written including an aria about Stellaria (Stellaria longipes), The Tundra King (about Betula nana), Beautiful Willow (about Salix pulchra), Old Man Willow Blues (about Salix richardsonii) and Ledum (about Rhododendron groenlandicum – formerly Ledum groenlandicum). We gather that Haydn is going to be putting together an entire album of tundra-themed melodies.
Our time on Herschel Island has been punctuated by amazing Arctic moments such as seeing icebergs floating down the coast on the north winds, and the pod of around 100 beluga whales that swam past the island this evening as we ran over to greet them on the outer beach of the spit at Pauline Cove. We have seen caribous, a rough-legged hawk nest with chicks, peregrine falcons, a short-eared owl, a family of foxes including six kits, voles, lemmings – including our favourite Ernest Lemmingway – and more.
Tomorrow has now arrived and the Twin Otter is on it’s way, so I better sign off here, so that this blog post can make it’s way back to civilization and internet connection.
Peace out from Team Shrub!