Saturday, August 27, 2011

Field Work 2011

I have just recently returned from a two week field trip to Fort McPherson NWT. So I think it is appropriate to share with you a few of the field highlights and where we were working this year. Therefore, this post will be less sciencey and more about cool travel photos.

Our travels started in Whitehorse, Yukon where we picked up some of our field gear, went grocery shopping and did other necessary running around to get ready for the long car trip north and sampling along the way.

The map above shows the route we took from Whitehorse to Fort McPherson, a total distance of 1,044km. The route we took (the only route) is up the Klondike Hwy to Dawson City. From Dawson we got on the Dempster Highway, which in my opinion is one of the most beautiful but challenging roads in the world. We drove to Eagle Plains, where we spent a very wet night before heading the rest of the way to Fort McPherson. 

The sign marking the beginning of the Dempster Hwy.
Driving the Dempster is a wild ride. As I said I believe it is one of the most beautiful roads in the world, however, it could also be considered one of the most treacherous. It is a long winding, gravel road with lots of changes in elevation. Furthermore, it is greatly affected by changes in weather. On our drive up the Dempster the Eagle Plains area had experienced about a week of rain making the road into a slippery, rutted mud-pit. I think our top speed on that section was about 20 km/hr and it was a nail-biter. The bar at the Eagle Plains hotel (which had no vacancy) was a very welcome sight that evening!!

The Millen Bar at the Eagle Plains Hotel
Once past Eagle Plains the weather cleared and we made good time the rest of the way to McPherson where the actual field work was about to start....

Our field work this year was a bit of a whirlwind. We had lots of work to do and not a lot of time in which to accomplish it. Our site was in a retrogressive thaw slump in the Peel Plateau on the west side of the Peel River. Our plan was to sample ice, soil, peat moss, permafrost and water. For my project I was most interested in the peat and the permafrost samples, but I also assisted with others work as well. To get a feel for the site we were working in here are a few photos of the slump. It is pretty impressive!!

The headwall of the slump is approximately 30m high and is composed mostly of ice interbedded with thin layers of clay (we are working on a hypothesis to explain this). The ice is around 10,000 years old and remains from the time of the last glaciation during the Pleistocene. There is a thin layer of till and peat above the ice, which as the slump grows falls into the basin and down the river valley nearby in the form of a large and destructive mudflow where it eventually empties into the Peel River.

Our work in the slumps investigates why they form and how they stop, the impact they have on the local watershed and the environment. We also do some opportunistic sampling for other projects. For example, I am looking at 129-Iodine in the frozen peat section overlying the ice and others are looking at the impact the slumps have on local fish populations in streams that are affected by the mudflow.

Drilling into frozen peat and till above the headwall of the slumps to collect core. (I am in the checked sweater).
In the future I'll do a post explaining some of more scientific and geological aspects of the slump. Thanks for reading and please feel free to post any questions or comments. Here are a few scenic photos I took on our way back down the Dempster.

On the Dempster driving through the Richardson Mountains close the Yukon/NWT border.
A view of the Ogilvie Mountains

The Tombstone Mountain Range. The top of Tombstone Mountain is obscured by fog.

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