All is going swimmingly in the Arctic

It is our 18th day on Qikiqtaruk-Herschel Island and all is going
swimmingly – sometimes literally as members of the team have been swimming
almost daily in the Arctic Ocean! Our data collection has been going very
smoothly thus far. The drone missions have been very successful, we are
half way through the ecological monitoring, the plant trait samples are
getting collected, and our common garden willows are rooting away (or we
hope they are) in their beer bottles.

The Herschel Island scientific discoveries to date include:
1. Salix pulchra – the diamond leaved or beautiful willow – grows mostly
clonally rather than having clear root collars in the Herschel vegetation
type that is dominant on the island. This could mean that those willows
could possibly be older and much more genetically homogeneous than the
willows from Kluane! – Sandra

Sampling root collars

Sampling root collars including Salix puchra – the diamond-leafed or beautiful willow.

2. The Komakuk vegetation type that has more cryoturbation – movement of
soil due to freeze thaw processes – also appears to have more green
vegetation than the Herschel vegetation type that is less disturbed.
Interesting… – Jakob

3. The grass species Alopecurus alpinus is a recent invader to the Komakuk
long-term monitoring plots. It first appeared in 2009 and its cover has
increased nearly exponentially in a couple of the plots over the last five
years. So, it isn’t just the shrubs that are increasing on Herschel Island!
– Haydn

4. This year was the earliest green up and flowering year for Dryas
integrifolia (Avens), Salix arctica (Arctic willow) and Eriophorum vaginatum
(cottongrass) on record and also a year with very early snow melt. The
creeks are all dry as a result, making it a much drier and more bug free
island that usual. – Qikiqtaruk-Herschel Island Rangers and Isla

Eriophorum

The Yukon – where the cottongrass blooms and blows.

There are more scientific discoveries to come including in relation to
herbivory (from Joe) and cottongrass tussocks (from Santeri).

So far the weather has been quite variable from sun, fog, rain, warm and
cold. When the weather has been good and the winds low, then the
researchers can take out the boats to explore other parts of the Island and
Yukon Coast. Yesterday was a rainy day, and Team Shrub stayed inside making
bread, doing data analysis and opening their data presents – revealing the
exciting patterns in their own data and making their scientific discoveries
(see above).

A foggy day.

A foggy day.

We have had a few more wildlife sightings including more caribou, some
distant muskox and a super cute baby seal on the beach.  We have also had a
visit from the Sir Wilfred Laurier Coastguard Icebreaker and a sailing boat
from London that is crossing the Northwest passage from west to east this
summer.  Today, there was a large tug boat with two barges that was seen in
the waters in front of Pauline Cove.  I guess Herschel isn’t so remote
after all!

The Sir Wilfred Laurier - the Canadian Coastguard Icebreaker.

The Sir Wilfred Laurier – the Canadian Coastguard Icebreaker.

As the icebergs come and go from the waters around Herschel Island, so to
do the members of team shrub.  Sandra is now far away on the other side of
the Canadian Arctic in Nunavik where she is collecting her root collar
samples from two sites on either side of a 1000km north-south latitudinal
gradient, just like she has been doing here in the Yukon. She is sadly
missed, sigh! And hopefully, later today or tomorrow once the fog clears,
Meagan will be joining us to conduct her internship on the ecological
monitoring programme here on Herschel. We can’t wait for her arrival!

As we have passed the midway point in our trip, it is time to start
celebrating our time together with the other research crews, rangers and
visitors. Tonight a community gathering is planned with games and hopefully
a musical jam session. And, if the forecast wind storm comes on Sunday
(winds of 30 knots), which is too windy for fieldwork, then that might be
the day of the annual Scottish feast in the style of a Robby Burn’s Day
dinner. Team Shrub needs to start planning our menu, speeches and put
together a list of Scots phrases for polite conversation during the meal.
We might even try to track down a caber-sized log on the beach for a bit of
caber tossing!

I will sign off here as the internet connection is slow and the bandwidth
very limited over the satellite phone.  Over and out from a rather foggy
Herschel Island in the Canadian Arctic…

View of Herschel from Meagan's plane today - almost made it! Will try again tomorrow.

View of Herschel from Meagan’s plane today – almost made it! Will try again tomorrow.

View of Meagan's plane from the ground taken by the Betula sampling crew (Jakob and Santeri) on the Yukon Coast near Herschel Island.

View of Meagan’s plane from the ground taken by the Betula sampling crew (Jakob and Santeri) on the Yukon Coast near Herschel Island.

Sent by #TeamShrub via satellite phone [via Meagan in Inuvik] from Herschel Island on 30 July 2015

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