A Day at the Center of Climate Change

We clamor out of our rental SUV to prepare for another day “in the bog.” Michelle, Erin and I don rubber boots, work gloves, and the de rigueur headgear: a baseball cap topped with a mosquito net. Combined with our long-sleeved shirts and long pants, we are way overdressed for the 90-degree interior Alaska summer heat, but well prepared for a day squishing through the sphagnum muck and warding off the thirsty mosquitos.

We have driven about 20 miles on the Parks Highway from Fairbanks, and another six down a continually degrading dirt road to where we parked. After we dress for the day, it is another three-fourths of a mile trek to where our greenhouse gas sensor is set up. The walk starts with a hike on a path on a narrow path through a mixed forest of white spruce, aspen and paper birch. As we slowly descend, the trees become a monoculture of black spruce with a mossy understory. Many of the black spruce are leaning precariously forming a “drunken forest.” Once we are in the black spruce, the dirt below our steps is replaced with a Rube Goldberg improvisation of boardwalks (in some stretches just two by sixes laying on the ground). Finally, we enter the clearing that we will call home for the next 10 hours. When we leave in the evening, the sun is still relatively high in the sky, but is less direct and the feet-thick layer of frozen ground below our feet starts to cool the air around us. (The cold beneath is not forgotten if you step off of the boardwalk and hit a spot soft enough that icy water pours over the top of your boots, insuring a miserable day of squishy socks).

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