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Massive Permafrost Exposure

Journal Entry 14: Sunday, August 3, 2008

COLVILLE RIVER, ALASKA– Days drift by on the river. The wind of the previous entry indeed subsided that evening, and we paddled from 11 PM to 5 AM, stopping for an hour to gape in awe at a massive exposure of permafrost (frozen ground) towering above the river. It was the most massive body of permafrost any of us had ever seen. There is some orange coloring to the photo from the 3 AM sunset colors on the other side of the sky, and you can imagine how active the erosion is when the sun hits the ice.

This location has exotic plants, ice formations, and soil erosional features. Ben even pointed out the possibility that plants at the foot of the wall germinated from seeds of extinct plant species that had been frozen in the wall for thousands of years before eroding into a fertile soil. There were indeed places where we observed ancient green plant material frozen into the wall.

Massive ice exposure adjacent to the river, 3 AM. The vertical walls of frozen ice and silt are 10 to 12 m high throughout most of the exposure. Ben is standing in front of the wall near the right edge of the bluff.

Several long river days later, we are nearing our other sampling sites. The long trip down was punctuated by frequent cliffs hosting rough-legged hawks and peregrine falcons. Sandbars came and went endlessly, and much time was wasted on bad 80’s songs and every imaginable food fantasy. The week-long transit from the upper sites constituted the bulk of the adventure portion of this trip, and we will soon be camped at our final site and returning our focus to the science of shrub expansion.

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  1. Do you remember seeing traces of other people camping, especially near the mouth of the tributaries of the Colville River between Killick River and Chandler River? Did you ever stop at the mouth of the Fossil Creek?