Early last week six BFA high school students and HS science teacher Mr. Lane returned from doing fieldwork in Alaska.

3 years ago six students and Mr. Lane had traveled to Alaska to complete the same study of tundra vegetation.  That trip was so successful a repeat of the field study with different students was planned for the following year. However, it was canceled due to Covid. It wasn’t till this spring that with vaccinations and boosters available and CDC guidelines relaxing masking mandates it was deemed safe to go.

Through a competitive application process, six high school students were selected for the trip.  Seniors: Maddie McQuillen-Slocome, Brendan Quinn and Halle Wimette.  Juniors: Anna Sargent, Ryan Thatcher and Csenga Hutkai with Mr. Lane made up the team.  

Arrival in Fairbanks at 1:30am local time.  Truly the “Land of the Midnight Sun”. Left to right, Maddie McQuillen-Slocombe, Csenga Hutkai, Anna Sargent, Ryan Thatcher, Brendan Quinn, Halle Wimette.

The fieldwork team left on May 30th for Fairbanks, Alaska.  There they traveled to the Northern Arizona University (NAU) field site at 8-mile Lake near Healy, Alaska.  

On the Stampede Trail near the NAU 8-mile Lake Field Site.  Left to right, Ryan Thatcher, Brendan Quinn, Halle Wimette, Csenga Hutkai, Maddie McQuillen-Slocombe, Anna Sargent, Thomas Lane.  Denali in the background (off Brendan’s left shoulder.
“Home Sweet Home” for 5 nights at the NAU field cabin near Healy, AK.

They spent 5 days at the field site living in tents and completing a survey of vegetation in the footprint of the Eddy Tower there.  The survey involved finding 16 transects in an area of the field site known as the gradient (has minimal, moderate and extensive permafrost thaw) then identifying the tundra vegetation in 4, 1 meter plots on each end of the transects (a total of 128 sample plots).  This information is integral in establishing a baseline for carbon flux measurements made by the Eddy Tower.

One of 16 transects on the gradient at the 8-mile Lake Field Site.  In the foreground, Maddie McQuillen-Slocombe records data, while Brendan Quinn and Ryan Thatcher identify tundra plants and amounts.  In the distance, the team of Csenga Hutkai and Halle Wimette identify plants while Anna Sargent records data.  Ryan and Anna also made thaw depth measurements along the tape measure.

In addition to the fieldwork, they also had the opportunity to visit the world-renown Permafrost Tunnel.  They also met researchers at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks Geophysical Institute Permafrost Lab. 

Amanda Barker, Director of the CRREL Permafrost Tunnel points out a mammoth bone sticking out of the permafrost soil in the tunnel to BFA-Field Team members, Halle Wimette (center), Anna Sargent, Maddie McQuiien-Slocombe.
UAF Geophysical Institute Permafrost Lab Technician, center, Colby Wright directs Ryan Thatcher and Anna Sargent on temperature sensor placement for installation in a shallow borehole as Maddie McQuillen-Slocombe and Halle Wimette look on.

There they were treated to an overview of various experiments and techniques associated with Permafrost research such as shallow borehole drilling and thermistor sensor placement, electrical tomography for underground imaging, deep borehole measurements and drone usage for vegetation analysis. 

UAF Geophysical Institute Permafrost Lab researchers, Nick Hasson and Sergei Yvakov explain how electrical tomography is used to map underground permafrost features as Maddie McQillen-Slocombe, Anna Sargent and Halle Wimette (back to camera) look on.

Aside from the deep dive into climate change permafrost research.  The Field Team spent a day in Denali National Park viewing wildlife and hiking, 

On the Alpine Trail, Denali National Park.  Savage River canyon in the background.  Left to right, Maddie McQuillen-Slocombe, Halle Wimette, Anna Sargent, Csenga Hutkai, Ryan Thatcher.

visited the Museum of the North on UAF campus and spent a relaxing night camping at Chena Hot Springs north of Fairbanks.  

Standing on the Alaska Pipeline north of Fairbanks, AK
Ryan and Brendan running down Mount Healy, near Bison Gulch, Healy, AK

After a busy fun filled trip the BFA Field Team was happy to return to Fairfax on the afternoon of June 7th.


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