Thursday, October 30, 2008

Part IV, Day 9: 080729

Today I helped Eric finish off the transect vegetation survey, fought off some mosquitoes, and went for a longish walk across the tundra to collect more critters. One of the habitats I decided to survey was the patches of wet between the tundra polygons.

Tundra polygons are structures formed on permafrost soils by large ice crystals forming in the soil. I don’t understand the physics of the situation, but they tend to produce these hexagonal bulges that grow a bit taller every year, leading to a series of rough polygons about a metre tall and separated by narrow strips of unraised soil. The lower parts accumulate water, and sometimes ponds form in the spaces between polygons. There was little animal life in these ponds, mainly some chironomid midge larvae.

Polygons and their pond.

The light today was a little odd, with the weather in the mid-atmosphere apparently very chaotic. We had pleasant enough conditions, but above us the clouds rushed across the sky, and the sunlight would change with the hour.

This is a shallow lake near the transect. This is a colour picture, honest! But the landscape was basically black-and-white for a time today.

A shot of the transect, taken from about 1/3 along it. A line of pink flags marching towards the sea.

I mostly stayed in the vicinity of the transect during my sampling today. This was partly for safety reasons – the weather was changing rapidly, we were all concerned that yesterday’s fog might return, and we were all aware that just because we had seen no bears here, it doesn’t mean they’re not around. Still, I managed to hit seven different ponds and collect lots of critters.

Just before dinner time, we were informed that a herd of musk-oxen had been spotted near the transect. We all grabbed our cameras and hurried down. Near Maxime’s study site at the polygons, perhaps 500 metres from the near end of the transect, we stopped and observed. I had my binoculars and my telephoto film camera with me; I’ll put those pictures up when I get the film developed.

The herd, taken through my little digital camera. There was one bull, visible here second from the left, facing me.

The herd moved off shortly after we showed up, probably in response to us. The bull stayed behind, and gradually approached us. Here he is again, closer and facing to the right.

As the herd disappeared over the raised beach crest, the bull faced us and continued to approach. He also started snuffling and grunting loudly, and brushed his nose with his front hooves a couple of times. We decided these were likely threatening or warning behaviours, and we returned to camp.

I took this photo today, even though I’ve been looking at this sign every day since I got here. Some of the bones below are from musk-oxen, some are from caribou, and some are from bowhead whales. I have been told there is a nearly-complete bowhead whale skeleton half-buried in one of the raised beach crests around here, apparently it washed ashore thousands of years ago.

There’s some odd leftover stuff in camp. Truelove was established as a research station in the 1960s, and I guess the people here used to use a variety of small tracked vehicles to get around when there was snow on the ground.

A tracked-trailer. I didn’t realize unpowered tracks could be useful on a towed vehicle. I don’t know why it’s parked on top of empty fuel barrels; possibly to keep it above the snow?

Possibly what was once used to tow the adjacent trailer. I don’t think it works anymore.

Just before bed-time, we spotted a bull musk-ox at the far end of the runway. We suspect this is the same individual as we saw a few hours earlier, and that he followed us back to camp to make sure we weren’t going to be a further threat to him and his herd. We watched him for a bit, then he ran off in the general direction of where we’d last seen the herd. I was quite impressed by his acceleration, and his ability to maintain speed over what I know from personal experience to be quite rough and varied terrain.

Tomorrow Eric and I will try to hike to the base of the glacier, which we think lies about 10 kilometres away up the river that forms the southern boundary of the Truelove lowland. There are likely ponds there that should be quite distinct in their conditions from those on the lowlands, and Eric wants to find out if there are additional species of plants present at higher altitudes that we don’t see down here.

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