It’s Friday in Providence. Our crate just came in and I’m very excited. Inside are 45 two-inch diameter pipes, one meter long. Each pipe contains sediment from the bottom of an Alaskan lake and clues to the climatic and ecologic history of northern Alaska.
Sponsored by the National Geographic Society, Will Longo, myself, and our Brown University advisors, Yongsong Huang and Jim Russell spent about two weeks this spring doing Livingstone coring, through lake ice, to retrieve these sediment cores. The idea behind livingstone coring is to collect the full sediment record by incrementally collecting 1 meter of mud from the same hole. The idea of doing this when there is still ice on the lake is that we have a stable platform to work from (as opposed to a conglomoration of rafts, canoes, and anchor systems).
The team crossing the Arctic Circle on the Dalton Highway.
A herd of ~200 caribou on the move. These caribou are in a formation of two lines. They migrate toward the Arctic Ocean coast each spring.
Livingstone coring requires a few steps:
1) Locate the coring location. Auger a hole in the ice.
Yongsong on a frozen lake.
We snowmachined to some sites, snow permitting.
And walked to other sites, pulling our gear in sleds.
Jim muscling gear through a blizzard.
Yongsong floating through whiteout conditions.
Will and Will (photo: WML)
Longo and Jim use an auger in Upper Capsule Lake, with the Brooks Range Mountains and Yongsong in the background.
The ice was about 4 feet thick, the same length as the auger. (photo: YH)
Punching holes is a team effort. With this much ice, it is important that we drill straight down so that the coring gear goes straight down into the mud. (photo WML)
Longo marks the coordinates of the site with a GPS.
2) Insert the casing. We used 4″-diameter PVC with threaded couplers. Casing helps keep core rods from bending when we push into the mud and also ensures we core into the same hole for each 1-meter section.
Yongsong and Longo preparing to lower the next section of PVC casing.
Jim pulls up (?) or lowers (?) PVC. photo: WML
3) Prepare core tube, pistons, piston cable. The start of each core drive needs to be carefully measured so we know how deep in the mud each section is. The livingstone device uses a special square rod to keep the piston at the front nose of the core barrel while we push the device through slop in the hole.
Measuring out lengths on the piston cable. (photo: WML)
4) Push it into the mud. Strong threaded rods, each ~6 feet in length, are added to the device to reach the appropriate depth. When the mud is stiff, it takes some serious muscle to push the corer down, and even more serious muscle to pull it back up.
Will Longo and Yongsong Huang lower the core barrel to the sediment by attaching a series of 2 m rods.
Coring makes Jim very happy, as you can see. Here, we’ve pushed the livingstone barrel into the next 1 meter section of sediment and prepare to pull it back up.
5) Pull it up. Extrude the mud. We used a metal core barrel, so each 1 meter section needed to be pushed out into a pvc sleeve for storage and transportation.
Jim and Will check out sediment collected with a clear polycarbonate tube. We collected a core with an intact sediment-water interface from each lake. (photo WML)
Booya. (photo: WML)
Pushing the mud out of the metal livinstone barrel took some muscle and grunting. Here Yongsong, Jim, and Longo extrude a core into a plastic sleeve.
More core extrusion, but on a nicer day. (photo: YH)
Longo wraps up a core section for storage.
6) Clean and repeat for the next 1 meter section. Do this until you can’t push anymore. In some cases, we stopped when we hit the ‘junk layer’ at the bottom of the sediment column, and in others, we may have been stopped by permafrost.
Final result: A nice sediment record from each lake. (photo: WML)
We have a lot of work to do now that the cores are here. The next steps are to create an age-depth model for each core and to measure a suite of organic biomarkers and other traditional paleolimnologic proxies that are indicative of past climate and ecosystems.
More pictures for viewing pleasure:
wolf tracks on Toolik Lake.
Mosquitos, even in winter (photo: YH)
Lake ice (photo: WML)
Album cover (photo: WML)