Team Shrub has arrived on Qikiqtaruk – Herschel Island in the Canadian Arctic. Our Greening Arctic expedition has begun. We’re here to capture how the tundra plants of this permafrost-underlain landscape are responding as the Arctic warms.
The first sight of Qikiqtaruk from our Twin Otter flight to the island. Mud cliffs eroding into turquoise waters – a relic of the last ice age and an island under constant change with belugas swimming by. Photos by Gergana Daskalova.
The start of an expedition is that moment when you step off of the plane and your boots hit the ground. It is a lot of work to prepare for a field season and it is only once you arrive that the excitement really sinks in. As my “city” running shoes hit the ground on the sandy beach strip of Qikiqtaruk, it hits me. We’re finally here.
The plane has landed on the beach strip. We have finally arrived and are about set foot on the ground at our Arctic field site Qikiqtaruk – home for the next 40 days. Photo by Gergana Daskalova.
Qikiqtaruk has changed since I was last here a year ago. The air strip is closer to the beach, the buildings are closer to the waves, the permafrost thaw slumps in the distance have transformed their shapes. And yet in other ways this place is unchanged, timeless. After the hours and days it takes to adjust, it starts to feel like I have never left. We are back to the routines of living on the island. The running shoes and jeans are packed and our insulated rubber boots and down jackets are on. We’re ready to get to work.
Setting off across the tundra with backpacks full of equipment to survey tundra greenness across the landscape as it changes over the season. Photo by Gergana Daskalova.
Drones in the air
After four days, plant and permafrost data collection is under way, drones are in the air and the NASA plane has already surveyed the island as a part of the NASA Arctic Boreal Vulnerability Experiment Project. The task has begun to capture island-scale greenness and uncover the drivers of vegetation change across these tundra landscapes and over time. So far our fieldwork has gone according to plan, but Arctic fieldwork can always have surprises in store. What will tomorrow bring?
The launch. Fixed-wing drones take to the skies to capture the greenness of these greening tundra landscapes. These data will be compared with data from satellites and the NASA plane as a part of the ABoVE project to figure out what information is missing in coarse-resolution data. Photo by Gergana Daskalova.
Winds of change
As I write this, the winds outside our building are shifting from the East winds of the past few days to the North. From mirror still seas to a chop on the water – feels like a change of weather might be on the way. Will we keep plan with our field schedule or will the Arctic weather will dictate where and when we next go out to collect data? If the weather turns, there is plenty of planning and preparation to do for the field season ahead. But, we’ll be impatiently waiting for the weather to clear again.
Still waters before the storm on the 9th of July on Qikiqtaruk – Herschel Island in the Canadian Arctic – the location of the Greening Arctic Expedition. Photo by Isla Myers-Smith.
I will sign off here under the midnight sun as the blue skies shift towards a steely grey. Time to call an end to my day here in anticipation of what tomorrow will bring.
Words by Isla Myers-Smith