Under the boardwalk installed near Toolik Field Station lies spongy, water-saturated tundra--during the warm months, that is. In summer, water trapped as ice during the winter melts, creating sodden conditions. Barren of trees due to frozen ground called permafrost that lies only 9-10 cm beneath the surface and prevents the establishment of deep roots, the tundra is still a lively place, a miniature forest of dwarf birch and willow, tiny flowers, lichen and moss. Harsh conditions and a short growing season mean that damage caused by foot-traffic on tundra lasts a long time. To avoid this impact scientists in the Arctic LTER who study tundra plots access their experiment sites via boardwalk trails.
As part of our support to NSF's research commitment at Toolik Field Station, PFS staff install and maintain the network of boardwalks. Earlier in June, our staff installed planks on a few of the plant phenology plots to increase researcher sampling access across the plots. Here's the rail system with a sliding hover plank:
And here's the fold-down system, made with a scaffold plank:
There's nothing easy about the Arctic, but there's often a way.