Two German volunteers helped with ArcCoML and NaGISA. Here, they describe their impressions.
We had the opportunity to help in two projects as volunteers. In the NaGISA (Natural Geography in shore areas) project, we sorted invertebrate samples from different coastal sites of varying depths that were taken along the southern coast of Alaska. The interesting thing about this project was that it is international, as the overall goal of NaGISA is to quantify nearshore marine biodiversity of hard bottom macroalgal and soft sediment seagrass habitats on a global scale. We learned a lot about marine zoology, especially about invertebrates. Most exciting was to not only see the organisms in a textbook but in real life. We discovered a number of taxa previously unknown to us, e.g., sipunculids and priapulids (and we also discovered the high ingestion rate of coffee in homo sapiens). Unfortunately, we could not participate in the field collections, as they were conducted over the previous two summers.
The second project we got to help with involved benthic samples collected during RUSALCA (Russian-American Long-term Census of the Arctic), a project that contributes to the umbrella of the Arctic Census of Marine Life, which is an international effort to inventory biodiversity in the Arctic sea ice, water column and sea floor from the shallow shelves to the deep basins. Our RUSALCA project addressed the community structure of the epibenthic fauna, e.g., brittle stars, crabs and snails, and the analysis of the Chukchi shelf food web using stable isotope analysis. Our job was to prepare the samples for this analysis, which is really interesting. The ecology of the Arctic is an exciting topic, especially with regard to the ongoing global climate change.
This place has long been a dream of ours: the terrific nature, high mountain peaks, ‘cute’ wild animals, northern lights … We got around quite a bit and had a lot of adventures. For example, we visited the coast and Denali National Park, the White Mountains, hot springs, Fairbanks, Anchorage … Particularly impressive was the wildlife viewing. During a boat trip, a pod of orcas swam right by our boat! In Denali National Park, we were ‘face to face’ with grizzly bears, moose and squirrels.
We wanted to visit Alaska in the fall and winter, because we felt that this is the prettiest, most typical and most adventurous season – and the bears supposedly hibernate at this time. Life in a real cabin (without running water and with an outhouse) needed some getting used to, and we really got to appreciate some amenities. After a while, cabin life was just really cozy. There is one advantage of having an outhouse: you get to see the northern lights when going out at night.
It is remarkable that some Alaskans really live in cabins in the wilderness outside the scattered cities – just like Jack London. They lead a life that we Europeans can only dream of, although one should probably not have too much of a naïve and romantic perception of this tough life style. We have gotten to know and appreciate the Alaskans as very open-minded, hospitable and helpful people. That is the impression that we took home. Our dreams: To hike from the Brooks Range to the Arctic Ocean (Goetz) and to once stumble into a wolf (Melanie)!