Subtle Signs of Spring

Preparing to monitor fish movement patterns this season means tending antennas along our rivers prior to ice-out, when spring melt waters dramatically turn rivers from solid to liquid, ripping free chunks of anchor ice and rapidly carrying them northward toward the Arctic ocean.  For now, however, the rivers remain dormant with few signs of what’s soon to come.  As we flew from site to site on the Kuparuk River today checking antennas, we noticed areas along the river with surface water accumulation and even places with surface water flow.  Other areas, such as Kup6 near Imnavait Mountain, remained untouched by springtime with snow covered aufeis glinting in the chilly Arctic sunshine.  When ice-out will occur here on the North Slope remains anyone’s guess, but subtle signs are beginning to appear, including a white crowned sparrow sighting and male ground squirrels seeking their mates.  To our north, warm air over cold snow produced a heavy fog, posing problems for helicopter flight and forcing us to discard plans for sampling the Kuparuk lower aufeis springs.  Safe travel in the Arctic often requires flexible field planning.

 

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Ice fog sculptures adorn the surfaces of Toolik Field Station as we begin another day in the Arctic.

 

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Strikingly deteriorated snow conditions around the Dalton Highway as wind blown road dust darkens and quickly thaws the snow field on either side of the road.

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No road dust here, but signs of spring include surface flow upon the anchor ice of the Kuparuk River at our Kup5 antennas site.

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Still wrapped in winter’s embrace, my iButton temperature logger lies buried under snow and river ice at Kup6, but this little logger will indicate when water here froze last fall and when it turns liquid once more.

 

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More aufeis under a glittering crystaline crust at Kup6.  Given what we know lies under the ice at TOAS1, could there be fish under the ice here, as well?

 

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Moose tracks on the Kuparuk River at Kup6.

 

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A mysterious fog bank prevents entry to our lower Kuparuk River sites, KLAS1 and KLAS2, two aufeis springs that feed the Kuparuk Lower Aufeis (KLA).

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Aerial view up the Kuparuk from Kup6, with menthol blue aufeis at the foot of Imnavait Mountain.

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Barely recognizable as a river during winter and often bone dry in summer, the broad, boulder-filled bed of the Toolik outlet stream stretches north west toward its confluence with the Kuparuk River.

 

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Plenty of deep snow atop the ridge overlooking the Toolik outlet stream.

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