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July 19, 2005

Green Valley 2

Tuesday was a big field day, and started for me with drilling a hole in a rock. We needed to get a base marker in and a receiver running on it before taking a helicopter upvalley to do some surveying there. The night before, I had asked Ron when I should do the drilling. He smiled. “How about 6:45?”

I really wanted to get up in time to start drilling right at 6:45 to wake up the camp, but two things happened: 1) Ron started waking up the camp early, and 2) I just didn’t have the equipment together in time. I did start drilling soon after 6:45, though. RrrrrrrRrrrRRR!

The helicopter came for the first trip around 8, and ferried people and gear up towards the top of the valley. Like in Thule, we had split into groups. Lucas and Darren were on the GPS crew with me. Our GPS gear was dropped partway up the valley, near some solifluction lobes (to be described later), but we were dropped at the top of the valley with everyone else. Ron wanted us to be able to do the whole hike, to not miss out on seeing the upper valley. We started out with the soils crew (marketed originally as dirt, but changed to soils due to low interest). While they dug a soil pit to observe and sample the soil for carbon, Lucas, Darren, and I hiked farther up the ridge to check out the dovekeys. Dovekeys. Dovekeys should have been mentioned earlier, due to their significance, but now is a fine time. Dovekeys, I had been told, look something like flying penguins. It’s true. Dovekeys are medium-sized, somewhat bulbous, white-bellied and otherwise black birds that move awkwardly on land on webbed feet, like penguins. They waddle, and they hop from rock to rock. But, unlike penguins, they fly. It is because of the dovekeys (we think) that we were in Green Valley, and in Bird Valley, the valley next door. The birds fly to the ocean and hang out on and in the water, eating plankton, and then come back into the valley to nest on it’s steep walls. While nesting, and while flying to and fro (which the do a LOT of), they poop. Their poop adds nutrients to the valley floor, resulting in a much lusher vegetation than that around Thule. Pretty cool. The lusher vegetation also accommodates more wildlife, like musk oxen. Very cool.

[Photo: Lucas]

[Photo: Lucas]

The dovekeys were everywhere. They were constantly flying about in big packs, often disturbed from their roosts by gulls or ravens. They didn’t seem to mind us so much. “I want one!” exclaimed Darren, and almost immediately one flew within about four feet of Darren’s face, surprising him. “What would you do with one if you actually caught it?” I asked. “I don’t know,” he said. “Probably freak out.”

Eventually, the dirt/soil group was ready to head lower. We headed with them, to a lush spot of spongy green mosses.

[The soil team at work.]

[The physicists, Lucas and Erik, stand by.]

Darren jumped from a rock onto the mossy mat. “What are you doing?” I asked him. “Testing,” he said. He then stepped back up onto the rock, and with no warning and no build-up did a handless cartwheel off it onto the mat. The surprise factor through us. That, and the fact that he only made it about 270 degrees out of the 360, and landed with his knees against the ground. We were so impressed (read: we were dying laughing) that he agreed to try it again, for the camera.

[Note dovekeys on horizon.]

We eventually ventured down the valley on our own.

Ironically, or not, if we’d had a hand-held GPS, things would have been much easier. But the batteries in the ones I’d brought were dead and the BX, where I figured I’d be able to buy some if that were the case, was all out of AAs. So we went by instinct. Which wasn’t very good. We did stay in pretty good spirits, taking our time mostly to check out wildlife.

[Can’t argue with that. Musk oxen. Note 1) the hair flowing in the wind, and 2) the baby on the left. Cute! Wooly. I wanted to just stick my fists in it's fur.]

We finally came upon the equipment by what felt like chance, with Darren spotting it first. You’d think two yellow boxes and two red boxes would stand out in a place like that.

Our goal was to drill as many holes in rocks as possible. Sounds like a simple goal, but it turned out to be a little trickier than anticipated. We drilled one. Well, two, but one turned out to be unusable.

Why were we drilling holes out there, anyway? Solifluction lobes. What the heck are solifluction lobes? Allow me to (try to) explain. Solifluction is the slow downslope creep/flow of saturated soils. I think that is as technical as I am going to get. Nobody really knows how fast or slow they flow, so Ron decided to use GPS to get some good constraint on the problem. We were hoping to install and measure a small army of markers on two solifluction lobes in the vicinity. Then, when Ron returns next summer, he (or a UNAVCO engineer) can measure their locations again and determine how fast they’re moving. Unlike tectonic studies (earthquakes, volcanoes), where we try to install markers in bedrock, we were installing markers in small boulders “floating” in the soil. The trick was to find a boulder big enough to be somewhat stable and to not shatter when drilling into it. Luckily, we had two days to complete the task, because the first day wasn’t especially fruitful.

We hiked back as the second-to-last group to arrive. Got the base station, which had died, working. Ate dinner. Drank a few Danish beers. Called it a night. There had been word all along that a storm was going to move in on Wednesday, but if it didn't, we had another big day ahead.

Posted by beth at July 19, 2005 4:25 AM