Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Tarfala, June 25

This series of posts shares field notes from the study abroad course "Environment and Society in a Changing Arctic." The course begins at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, and then students from the University of Illinois and KTH travel north to conduct research in the Arctic. This blog was originally posted on KTH's Environment and Society in a Changing Arctic webpage.

by Lucia Dunderman and Jessica Malmberg

Our first full day at the Tarfala Research Station! Unfortunately, the weather was not in our favor today. There were showers throughout the morning resulting in a few hours to work on our essays and enjoy the various buildings of the station and the view of the surrounding mountains.  Before lunch, we all congregated to the lecture hall in order to present our research questions and theses of our essays to the staff of the Tarfala Research Station. This allowed the staff and our program leaders to give us feedback and further information regarding our topics and research plans. This was a great learning experience on how to present our topics and incorporate new information and ideas from a group.

During lunch with the staff, we discussed our plans for the afternoon due to the change of weather. Luckily, the weather cleared up and we were able to go for a hike in the afternoon down Tarfala Valley to study the vegetation there. We first went to the research station’s test square, a plot of land that the staff constantly monitor for ten different plants. This information is published on a website which gathers seasonal change in vegetation around Sweden. The Tarfala test square was still deep in snow due to the lingering cold weather in the Swedish Arctic.

Facing opposite of the test square was the outermost edge of the 1910 moraine of Storglaciären. This moraine was decorated with large rocks, most likely resulting from a rock slide on the surface of the glacier that slowly moved to the end moraine. This moraine formation is different from the other glaciers in Tarfala Valley which are defined with more till. This glacier has been monitored since 1946, thanks to Walter Skytt who started the research on the glacier since it was reasonably safe to work on.

We traveled to exposed land in the valley to spot certain plants there. We were able to find most of the plants except a few since the weather has been cold and the rock has not been exposed for long. The vegetation was much more diverse than expected, it is just a case of looking closer. There were also various animal droppings including reindeer, Arctic hare, and lemmings. Reindeer mainly eat lichens, mushrooms in Autumn, grass, and small bushes. With climate change, these bushes would actually be increasing in numbers in the Arctic if it wasn’t for the grazing reindeer.

To finish our hike, we went to an outlook to take a current picture of Storglaciären. This outlook has been used to document the change in the glacier since the early twentieth century. Being at this outlook was a way to be a part of continual glacial research since we helped document this change through photography. This hike was a great introduction to the valley and the vegetation of the area.


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