Wrapping Up the Season

5/14/2013 2:16:25 AM

Wrapping Up the Season

By BJ Kirschhoffer, Director of Field Operations

Today is our second day up north, and the sun greeted us just after 4:00 a.m. We did not take our cue from the sun and instead got up when our alarms when off at a more reasonable hour. After a full breakfast, we headed outside to retrieve the second camera system. It was warm again today so I worked outside wearing minimal layers and without gloves for much of the time.

Today the snow machine ride of nine miles to the east was a breeze. The snow had a soft, powdery quality similar to the way it was yesterday, but very unlike the snow we encountered in February. I can begin to understand why northern people have so many terms for snow. In this part of the world snow can differ by huge magnitudes depending on the time of year and temperature.

Upon arriving at Cottle Island, Jay Olson and I inspected the snowdrift for evidence of a polar bear den. Again, we did not see anything that gave us any clues that bears had been there, but, again, that does not mean anything. Snow here moves continually until it melts and any imperfections on the hillside would quickly be erased and smoothed by the winds and drifting snow.

We made notes on the camera and equipment inside the case including the temperatures that were recorded by the thermometer. This will help us later in diagnosing any issues with equipment.

After a brief period of high activity, Jay and I had the entire camera system packaged up and put away for the off season. With the exception of our tracks, no evidence was left behind that we had ever been out on the sea ice.

Jay and I took a small detour on the way home today and motored north past Cottle Island onto the open sea ice. Typically side trips like this are not taken as the cold does not permit any unnecessary travel, so this was a treat for us. We pointed our snow machines to the largest block of ice in sight. These big chunks are forced skyward by pressure in the ice and provide a great vantage point. The view was beautiful with snow and ice in every direction and the industrial activity of Prudhoe Bay obscured by the island to our south.

Both Jay and I posed on top of an adjacent block of ice for a quick picture. It was great fun to take a moment and look around at our surroundings and take in the beauty of the ice. It is still amazing to me that a polar bear has found a way to make a living and thrive in this seemingly uninhabitable place.

On the way home we passed some four-legged locals of northern Alaska. As we came over a small rise we found a heard of muskoxen that formed a circle for protection as we approached. These animals are fascinating and a very special thing to see.

Over the next few days we will be cleaning up our winter gear, charging all of the batteries, and winterizing our snow machines. We have also been asked to give some presentations on polar bears so Jay and I will be talking about the work we do. I want to thank Dr. Tom Smith for again inviting me to be a part of the maternal den project and Jay for another great season up north.

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