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> Paradise Valley--Guest Post by Ken, Experiments, Science, and Observations
post Jul 27 2005, 12:19 AM
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Today was our 5th and last day at the remote camp in the Green Valley, so we journeyed to a neighboring valley – Paradise Valley – known for its huge concentration of birds called dovekies. The primary objective was to characterize the soils, vegetation, and hydrology of the valley to determine the impact of the estimated 5 million nesting dovekies on the terrestrial system.

Leaving our remote camp in the Green Valley early, we ascended a long talus slope before descending into the headwaters of Paradise Valley. We had, by this point in the trip, been rotating through the various sampling teams, so we were familiar with site protocols and were quite efficient. We were greeted by large residual snow drifts at the headwaters of Paradise Valley, one drift containing fresh polar bear tracks and scat. We proceeded down the valley in our 3 teams, engulfed by interesting science and fairytale surroundings.

The valley is much more lush than typical high arctic landscapes, because the millions of birds feed on plankton in the ocean and transport nitrogen up valley to their nesting sites via defecation. This transforms the otherwise barren valley into Mother Nature’s nitrogen fertilization experiment. Glowing green mosses, grasses, and lichens typically absent in polar desert landscapes thrive here. Soils were dominated by peat (accumulated organic material) deposits. Hydrologic measurements show that the stream was notably acidic and nitrogen rich. Together, the vegetation, soil, and hydrologic characterizations allowed us to trace the flow of nitrogen up valley by the birds, through the soils and vegetation, and eventually back downstream to the ocean.

We slowly progressed down the valley, occasionally wandering amongst muskoxen, and always preparing ourselves for the inevitable bird bomb (use your imagination). We eventually completed our last site right near where the stream entered the ocean, and the day majestically turned clear and calm. A handful of us swam (briefly!) in the 34F degree water before trekking back to the Green Valley in the low radiant sun. Views en route were of the Pitufik Glacier draining the ice sheet and vaulting cliffs overlooking scattered sea ice and ice bergs. We returned to camp at 10:30 p.m., ravenous from our 13-hour scientific adventure. Our last day in the Green and Paradise Valleys had been memorable.
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