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Diaries from the field

On Highway 10 from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk, Guislain, Édouard and Joannie drive on the newly opened road built on the permafrost. The ride is beautiful, spanning a vegetation gradient from the boreal forest to the arctic tundra. Closer to Tuktoyaktuk, we enter the Pingo National Landmark area, where 8 mounds of earth-covered ice are being protected. At the end of the road is the Arctic Ocean, right where oceanographers want to be!

I am a microbiologist studying the degradation of terrestrial dissolved organic matter (tDOM) by microorganisms in marine and freshwater aquatic environments. I am doing my PhD in a small town in southern France located in the foothills of the Pyrenees on one side and the Mediterranean Sea on the other, Banyuls-sur-Mer, within the Laboratoire d'Océanographie Microbienne (LOMIC). As part of my thesis project, I had the opportunity to integrate the Nunataryuk project, whose objective is to study the origin, transport and fate of organic matter transported by the Mackenzie River to the Beaufort Sea.

A short break in Quebec City for scientists before flying again to Inuvik, this time with an almost entirely new crew. For expedition #3, we shifted from helicopter surveys to small vessel surveys (21ft long boats). We targeted the sampling of the MacKenzie Delta plume right after the freshet in order to keep track of seasonal changes in sediment transport from the Delta to the Beaufort Sea coast.

Well, this title is a bit of a short cut to describe the satellite activities that are taking place in the Work Package 4 (WP4) of the Nunataryuk project, but it summarises it all. Our aim is to characterise suspended and dissolved material exported from the Mackenzie River into the Delta and coastal Beaufort Sea. We are interested in carbon in its solid and dissolved forms to measure the impact of permafrost thaw on the carbon cycle.

The Zodiac approaches the beach in the morning hours. It is heavily loaded: six scientists, including gear and equipment, are sitting on the inflated edges of the boat, while Cedric stands starboard at the wheel. As soon as the engines turn off, all passengers start moving like ants. The first ones jump onto the beach to secure the Zodiac and to unload the boxes, backpacks and batteries. 

Our fourth week started out with two days of hard slogging, carrying boats and sampling and camping gear five km around Aberdeen Canyon. The trail was often a knee-deep muddy track between hummocks. Despite our packing as light as possible, it took us multiple trips to get everything portaged. In addition to the boats and the usual camping gear, our scientific equipment included filtration devices, a solar panel, battery and small freezer. Because of the portage, not many people paddle the upper Peel River.

During our fifth week, we followed the Peel River on its way through great walls of loose sedimentary rock and out onto the Peel Plateau, where our river journey ended on August 2, 2019 at the Fort McPherson ferry crossing. Bill and Niek had driven the Klondike and Dempster highways from Whitehorse to re-sample all of our sites along the road and bring the samples to Inuvik. While Niek went on to fieldwork on the Yukon coast, seamlessly moving from one expedition to the next, Bill came to pick up the boat crew and all of their gear up at the river.

The third week began with a drive up from Whitehorse with new participants:  Bobbi Rose Koe of the Tetlit Gwich’in First Nation, Jody Overduin (Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society – Yukon Chapter) and Kirsi Keskitalo (VU Amsterdam). We reached the Ogilvie River and met up with the canoe crew, who had hiked 21 km from the Blackstone River through boreal forest to reach the road. At this point, there was a re-shuffle of people, samples and supplies.

The terrestrial Permafrost team has arrived in Inuvik on Tuesday the 29th of July. Preparations for the Komakuk Summer Expedition 2019 are progressing fast. Tents, camping equipment, soil and water sampling equipment and other scientific gear is being checked and inventoried thoroughly before being weighed and stored for the twin otter fight.

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