One of the stranger complaints I hear from climate deniers is that the alarm about global warming is manufactured by scientists so that they can get fat grants and make money.  (A recent study found that people who tend to believe in conspiracies have the highest tendency to reject solid scientific evidence, regardless of their political or religious background. For instance, there is tremendous evidence that childhood vaccines do not play a role in the increasing number of autism cases, but conspiracy theorists cling to the one thoroughly discredited semi-study on the topic.)

If only the deniers had the opportunity I’ve had for the last week-plus to live at the Toolik Field Station, about 120 miles south of Alaska’s northernmost outpost, and follow scientists around on their field research. Long hikes over mucky tundra to reach research posts; even longer hours spent hunched in a boat, lowering measuring instruments into the frigid lake while chilly rain falls. Tightly restricted showers and laundry, elevated outhouses, and sleep hours spent in musty glorified tents.

The 370-mile, mostly dirt “highway” from Fairbanks to Toolik is an unlikely road to fortune and glory.

For the full post:



Karin Klein

Editorial Writer

Los Angeles Times

Toolik Fellow 2014




Finding myself with a relatively open schedule yesterday, I spent my breakfast asking around the dining hall for any projects I could help with or observe. As luck would have it, the stream researches had a job for me: rock scrubbing. There are times when scientific research procedures require the use of advanced instruments and techniques. Then there are times when the procedures are mind-numbingly simple.

Rock scrubbing, which is exactly what it sounds like, belongs in the latter category. We arrived at the Kuparuk River armed with plastic tubs and wire grill brushes. Filling the tubs with a sampling of the dark, smooth stones that form the riverbed, we plunked ourselves down on the bank and proceeded to scrub the rocks clean with the grill brushes. The scrubbing roughs up a slimy brown film of what looks like mud, which we rinsed into a separate plastic tub. Then we scrubbed again, and rinsed again. Scrub. Rinse. Scrub. Rinse. Eventually, the scrubbing produced no layer of slime and the rock surface felt rough. At this point, we released the rock back into the river with a casual toss and the process began again with the next rock. After all the rocks had been scrubbed, we poured the resulting muddy water into carefully labeled bottles and stored them in a black garbage bag for later analysis in the lab.

Continue reading at Circle of Blue.

–Codi Kozacek, Circle of Blue 


The growing season in Arctic Alaska is short, very short. One month, the ice and snow are barely showing signs of melting. The next month, migratory birds arrive to build nests in the greening tundra. Their time for mating, laying eggs and sending fledglings off on their own is short; think of it as avian speed dating.

There’s a certain frantic energy to the science in the Arctic as well. Come May, researchers from around the country start arriving at Toolik Field Station, a motley collection of modular units and tents on a gravel pad about 120 miles south of the Beaufort Sea. They bring their own version of their young: graduate students, post-docs, research associates who will probe the permafrost, count the bird nests, measure the plants for clues to what climate change might bring us.

The researchers feel lucky to have a berth here. I do too, as an editorial writer for the Los Angeles Times, visiting for a week thanks to a fellowship from the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole. The Arctic is ground zero for climate change research because the effects of warming were seen first this far north, and continue to be experienced here most dramatically.

The irony of Toolik, which is seldom lost on those who work here, is that their work— indeed the camp’s very existence — has been made possible by the world’s thirst for oil, one of the fossil fuels feeding global warming. The road put in place for the trucks serving the trans-Alaska pipeline is the only way to get from Fairbanks to here. The pipeline itself is a constant, very visible presence between the research station and the snow-covered peaks of the Brooks Range.

For the full post on the Los Angeles Times’ Opinion L.A. blog:


Karin Klein

Los Angeles Times editorial writer

Toolik 2014




Living at Toolik Field Station—even as a non-scientist—it is easy to get caught up in the minutiae of scientific studies. The Arctic landscape is, in and of itself, attention grabbing; the puzzle of figuring out how it works is even more so. Together, they can keep mind and body happily occupied for days, years, even decades, as they have for more than a few scientists here. At some point, however, journalistic habits kick in and I wonder: why? Why, beyond the quest for knowledge, spend so much time in a place that is so far away from the vast majority of human civilization and so different from the rest of the world?

Continue reading at Circle of Blue.

–Codi Kozacek, Circle of Blue.


In late June, more than 250 kilometers above the Arctic Circle, the sun refuses to set. Through the thick fog, it casts the landscape in perpetual twilight and informs my internal clock that it is not, in fact, time to sleep. Even after 10 hours of traveling north from Fairbanks on the infamous Dalton Highway, I am inclined to agree.

There is simply too much to take in at the Toolik Field Station, a remote outpost on Alaska’s North Slope where I will be spending the next week. Scientists here are studying the mechanisms and effects of climate change, which is transforming the Arctic faster than almost any other place in the world.

Continue reading at Circle of Blue.

–Codi Kozacek, Circle of Blue.

photo by Julia Kumari Drapkin

Ode to Eriophorum Vaginatum
By Benjamin Shaw

Walking over Eriophorum,
Watch your step or you’ll fall off ’em.

Hiking through the Arctic tundra,
Tussocks make me stop to wonder.

How does this sedge survive the snow,
The fire too and yet still grow?

The puff-ball stalks sway in the breeze
And look like real-life Truffula Trees.

Now, should I step upon the mound
Or simply try to go around?

The tundra’s boggy, low and wet
So that dry tuft could help me yet.

But one wrong move could cause a sprain
And aggravate my ankle pain.

A sedge encounter yesterday
Already has me in dismay.

Now if the Arctic grows too warm
The vegetation will transform.

No longer would these tussocks thrive.
Willows and birches would arrive.

And though I curse the path today
And know flat ground would ease my way,

I’d miss that plant if it did stray.
I hope E. Vag is here to stay.

Safe from the Kuparuk River mosquitoes.

I’ve been blogging for ScientificAmerican.com’s Expeditions blog from Toolik. Here are the posts that are up so far:

Science, pipelines and bears: A reporter goes to Alaska’s Toolik Field Station

It just dawned on me that in two days I’ll be on my way to one of the most remote places on Earth: Toolik Field Station, an environmental research station on the North Slope of Alaska. To get there, I have to fly almost 17 hours from Vienna to Fairbanks (and that doesn’t include layover times), and then travel by van some 12 hours north on rough roads. Once there, I will have to endure swarms of mosquitoes and infrequent bathing opportunities. A box of crucial items (sleeping bag, fleece, rain pants) that I sent ahead of me may have gotten lost in the mail—a nearly unthinkable eventuality.

Alaskan science on the solstice: Doing research where the sun never sets

I packed my flashlight. That’s really stupid. I’m above the Arctic Circle near summer solstice. The sun never sets. Never. It’s like when my friend packed her umbrella to go to the Sahara.

Adventures in Alaskan science: How I escaped from a thermokarst

I was nearly eaten by a thermokarst. I just stepped in and, before I knew it, I was sucked in up to the top of my big rubber boot.

There are also more posts on the way.

— Chelsea Wald


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