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> Friday, June 16th, 2006, Arctic Ground Squirrel
post Jun 17 2006, 03:41 AM
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On Friday, June 16th, we awakened to a temperature of thirty-four degrees. On the way to breakfast, I spotted the most adorable creature – an Arctic ground squirrel. The little creature was nice enough to pose for a picture!
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After breakfast, we took a hike around Toolik Lake. Toolik Lake is what scientists call a kettle lake. Thousands of years ago a glacier receded and left a depression which filled with water.

We walked around to various experiment sites conducted by botanists, ecologists, hydrologists, and biologists. I learned about two new types of scientists today. Limnologists are scientists who study lakes (freshwater ecology). Pedologists are scientists who study the soil. We walked on planks of wood to all of the experiments.

It was very challenging to balance on these planks of wood for a hike which totaled about a mile. It reminded me of walking on a balance beam in gymnastics class. I only fell off the boards once when my hiking boot hooked into a rusted nail sticking out of a post. Ouch!

When you step off the board, you step into the Arctic tundra consisting of swampy sedges, heath, and tussocks.

After the hike, we ate lunch and left for a research site about two miles away. Thankfully, we took the University of Florida research truck since we had 150 wooden stakes, rubber mallets, and a host of other items. Our walk to the research site was exhausting! Tundra feels like really soft carpet, but you sink way down into the ground so it takes great effort to walk. We arrived at our site to stake various plots for the decomposition experiment. I have included a picture below.
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The fence in the picture is called a snow fence. It was placed at the site to study the impact of snow depth on shrubs.

The snow melted about a week ago. Below is a picture of what Toolik Lake Research Station would have looked like. I missed the complete Arctic experience of below freezing temperatures and snow, and I must say I am happy to just look at a photo. It could snow on any given day in the Arctic Circle even summer which lasts only two months!
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Quick facts about Alaska:

The highest point in North America is Mt. McKinley located in Alaska’s interior. It stands at 20, 320 feet above sea level. It was called Mt. Denali before it was named Mt. McKinley after President McKinley who never visited Alaska. There is a move to change the name back to Mt. Denali.

Juneau is the only capital city in the United States accessible only by boat or plane.

Anchorage is the state’s largest city. The second largest city is Fairbanks.

Alaska is fifty-five miles east of Russia.
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