Things I Didn't Expect To Find In The Arctic

I’m still up at Toolik Field Station, NSF's long-term research site in northern Alaska, and wanted to make a few comments about life at the station. Here are just a few things I didn’t expect I’d see this far north in the world:

1. A musical interlude.

There was a serious jam session/sing-a-long last night in the overflow dining tent. I hear it’s a standing gig, and if you don’t know how to play an instrument, you’re encouraged to pick one up and learn. There were some usual suspects—guitar, banjo, harmonica, violin—and some less expected additions—a full drum kit, mandolin, and a saw. Earlier in the day, I had noticed some mysterious markings on the floor of the tent. Turns out, they are song chords. Crowd favorites? Dylan (“Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”), Talking Heads (“Psycho Killer”), and Beatles (“Hide Your Love Away”).

2. Mosquitos.

Before I left for Alaska, I told friends I needed to track down Deet and a mosquito net. Many were perplexed: there are mosquitos in the arctic? Sure are. Each person has their own personal swarm. It reminds me of the dirt cloud perpetually surrounding Pigpen. Breck Bowden, a scientist who has been coming up here for two decades, commented at breakfast yesterday that the mosquitos this summer are the worst he’s seen since 1997. Constant itching isn’t the only problem; the pests can get into instrumentation in the field and seriously throw off measurements. We witnessed their meddling ways when we went out to measure carbon exchange in a particularly mosquito-rich area of heath. For a small taste of what it’s like, another reporter on the trip posted video of what happens when you put nine journalists in a bug-filled van.

3. Guacamole.

The food here is amazing. This isn’t your typical cafeteria food. I’m told because it costs so much to get food up here (we’re a 12-hour drive from Fairbanks) that it doesn’t make that much of a difference to get the good stuff. So far we’ve had Mexican, Indian, fresh fish, and many other tasty treats. From the looks of the menu, there’s a Thanksgiving dinner coming our way on Sunday. It's strictly BYOB (for some crazy reason, NSF won't pay for Alaskan IPA), and researchers clearly have carefully planned their summer drinking plan.

4. Five kinds of paella.

As part of that really amazing food, the kitchen staff works overtime to accommodate everyone’s dietary needs or choices. On paella night, there was regular paella (meat and fish), vegetarian paella (fish and veggie sausage), vegan paella (veggie sausage only), no-seafood paella, and Cody’s paella (a special treat for the one gluten-free researcher on camp).

5. A mini laundromat.

Because it is 75 cents a gallon to pump water out and haul it to Prudhoe Bay, laundry ends up costing the camp $22.50 per load. Understandably, each visitor is only allowed one washing every two weeks, and sharing loads is encouraged. For a New Yorker that doesn’t even have a washer and dryer at home, I certainly didn’t expect that the first time I did my own laundry (like most lazy New Yorkers, I send mine out to a Laundromat) in nearly a year would be in the arctic.

Author: Lisa Jarvis

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  1. so fun! what instrument did you choose?

  2. Regarding the mosquitoes – is there some global warming equation that would link each portion of a degree of warming to some unit of mosquito population increase? I mean, if you want to convince people to do something about climate change – being eaten alive by bugs might be a strong argument.

  3. How well does DEET work against the mosquitos up there? I remember reading that different types of mosquitos have different sensitivities to it.

  4. DEET does seem to work–sort of. they’ll still land on you, but won’t bite. even with nearly 100% DEET on, we all still wear mosquito nets (by all, I mean journalists, not researchers, who seem to be more hard core). interestingly, their bites are much milder than the mosquitos back east, which give me big welts. these seem to be less itchy and disappear in a day or even a few hours…

  5. You’re lucky then- I got huge welts from the mosquitoes up there!


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