Planned Upgrades Will Expand Toolik Field Station’s Winter Capacity

Toolik Field Station (TFS), located on Alaska's north slope and administered by the Institute of Arctic Biology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, has operated year-round since 2006. Plans are underway for a new year-round-capable kitchen and dining facility, which will increase the "winter-over" capacity of the station, and scientific services have been expanded to include an environmental data center. TFS management is also in the process of developing a new "master plan", which will direct further station development over the next ten years.

Recent Upgrades and Plans for Future Development

Between October and April, TFS capacity is currently limited to 16 scientists at a time. Although the station has winter-capable housing for 30 people, capacity during these months is constrained by the size of the station's insulated kitchen and dining space.

To address this need, plans are underway for a new year-round-capable kitchen and dining hall at TFS. In collaboration with CH2M HILL Polar Services (CPS) and with project funding provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, design of the new facility has been developed over the past 11 months and is now nearly complete. Construction of the structure, which will seat approximately 100 people, is expected to begin in summer 2010. This will be the first new structure at the station since 2004 when the Cottongrass Dormitory was commissioned.

In addition to addressing the station's winter needs for expanded kitchen and dining space, the new facility will more adequately meet the needs of the summer population, which can be as high as 125 people per day. During the winter months, the extra dining space will be used for science support.

TFS management is also currently in the process of developing a new master plan that is intended to guide further station expansion over the next ten years—this plan will build on community recommendations presented in a previous report, Science Support at the Toolik Field Station, Alaska: Directions for the Next 10 Years, which summarizes the findings of an NSF-funded strategic planning workshop in 2004. A draft of the plan, which is also being developed in collaboration with CPS, is tentatively expected to be available for community review in spring 2010.

The plan addresses support for several upcoming science initiatives at TFS, including the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON). Funded primarily by NSF, NEON is a proposed continental-scale research platform that will collect data on the impacts of climate change, land use change, and invasive species on natural resources and biodiversity.

NEON has partitioned the U.S. into 20 eco-climatic domains, each of which represents different regions of vegetation, landforms, climate, and ecosystem performance. In each of the domains, data will be collected about climate and atmosphere, soils, streams and ponds, and a variety of organisms over the next 30–50 years.

Plans are underway for TFS to become the base for the "tundra" domain and the new master plan will lay the groundwork for meeting this objective by 2013.

More information on NEON is available online (www.neoninc.org).

Toolik Field Station's Environmental Data Center

Over the past three years, TFS has expanded collection of baseline environmental data to complement and extend the measurements already being made by Arctic Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Network scientists based at the station—these activities were initiated in response to community recommendations presented in Science Support at the Toolik Field Station, Alaska: Directions for the Next 10 Years. TFS has recently taken a greater role in managing the data and has published the information online for use by the research community (http://toolik.alaska.edu/edc/).

Toolik Field Station elevation drawing.

An elevation drawing of the planned year-round-capable kitchen and dining facility at Toolik Field Station. Construction of the structure, which will seat approximately 100 people, is expected to begin in summer 2010. Photo credit: Johnson River Enterprises LLC and Design Alaska.

Currently, baseline environmental and biological data being collected by the TFS Environmental Data Center include:

  • weather (expanding and continuing a 30-year dataset);
  • birds (phenology, abundance, and status);
  • plants (phenology and herbarium);
  • snow cover and depletion (time lapse photography); and
  • timing of other environmental events (a daily naturalist journal).

The TFS Environmental Data Center also provides a suite of commonly used laboratory and field equipment and limited assistance with fieldwork.

TFS recently joined SCANNET, a circum-arctic network of terrestrial field site and research station managers and user groups that collaborate to improve comparative observations and access to information on environmental change in the North. More information on SCANNET is available online (www.scannet.nu/).

For more information on field station activities, see http://toolik.alaska.edu, or contact Mike Abels (maabels [at] alaska [dot] edu), Brian Barnes (bmbarnes [at] alaska [dot] edu), or Donie Bret-Harte (msbretharte [at] alaska [dot] edu).