Going out to the field in the Yukon River delta is always an experience, and after two years of being office bound during the pandemic it was a welcome sight to fly over and see the beautiful landscape. I think we saw over 50 moose flying below the clouds at 500 ft from Bethel. It can also be a challenging place to get to, and the trip out required 30 hours of Anne Kellerman and I waiting in Bethel to be cleared to fly with our equipment on a charter to Alakanuk. When we got in, Alyssa Burns and Peter Hernes had already been hard at work sampling the northern region of the delta. No time can be wasted when we only have 5 working days to try and get a widespread snapshot of the carbon system in this remote and dynamic region.
We were able to get three full days of sampling with all the NASA optical equipment and water chemistry. Jacqueline Alstrom, the director of the Indian Government Assistance Program, was so helpful and accommodating to us. Without her help and others in the IGAP office we could not have done any of the work we set out to. Our lab space was about as good as possible and we had everything we needed to be comfortable, efficient, and content. The Alakanuk Tribal Council and Augusta Edmund were very accommodating to us throughout our stay and provided us with cooking stuff, a fridge to store food, and a warm shower and rooms to crash in. Being able to come back to a cozy home base after our long days on the water alleviated some of the stress and strain that working in this remote region can bring. Science-wise, we did about as well as possible, visiting more stations and collecting more samples than any trip to the delta yet. We had some difficulty finding a mesohaline (5-15) salinity sample but with all the recent rain and abnormally high river flow this wasn’t such a surprise. The plume front can be confined to such a small region making it hard to locate, especially with all the sand bars! Within the delta we were able to cover all major branches, some locations of lateral inputs we had been to previously, and even got about 100 miles upriver at Ten Mile Island. The ocean sampling day proved to be a navigational challenge because of how dynamic the seabed is and the always changing channels. The vast majority of the coast is comprised of shallow mud flats, some of which we found with the hull of the boat and the lower unit of the outboard. The weather out on the ocean was spectacular, and I am hoping some of the water surface optical measurements will be among the best we have collected in the region. Our boat captains Robert Alstrom and John Strongheart were exceptional and took us where we wanted to go in sometimes poor weather. Anne and I were lucky (you could say) to miss the first rainy day and besides the wind and cold that occurred at the change from summer to fall we couldn’t complain. Working in and visiting Alakanuk is such a unique and rich experience. There are always the struggles with weather, travel, and logistics but working in western Alaska is all about flexibility and having a positive attitude. I know the next crew coming in September will be in good hands in Alakanuk with Anne and Alyssa leading the way.