Expectations Exceeded


All of the expectations that I had of the tundra did not amount to the beauty and indescribable features of the landscape nor the vast variety of questions that met my scientific interests. My fear of having a project that did not fit the environment was gone on our first walk along the vegetated road we traveled on the first day we arrived in the tundra. In a matter of minutes Kenzie and I had more than enough study sites to do our experiments and extrapolate our data. The micro-topography of the land, scattered with small ponds, depressions and varying vegetation, lent itself particularly to my interest in the methane release that comes from different types of depressions and their respective differences in vegetation. The best part of living in the tundra was the overwhelming sense of a vast place belonging to only us. There were no other people to participate in the wonders of the tundra besides the 20 of us who lived on the barge. I traveled about a mile and a half every day to my study sites through tussock, frost bulges, and wet ground where I spent hours with Kenzie measuring soil and water temperature, taking gas fluxes, and gathering soil samples. Through the intensity of long work days and inconsistent weather changes it was comforting to be able to pick my head up and see in all directions for what seemed like miles. The low-lying landscape, accented by the distant mountains and wide valley, was by far the most advantageous and beautiful part of doing science in the tundra. Not only could I see if large animals were approaching but I could also see storms rolling in. One day the wind was so strong that we all stood on the front of the barge and watched as the wind bent the rain in unnatural formations, so far away that it did not start raining where we were for another 35 minutes.

In the field.

In the field.

 

From my experience in the tundra, I learned that patience is critical. The uncertainty of data collection and unpredictable forecast were so similar. I came to the tundra knowing exactly what I wanted to do but it took time and patience for it to actually happen. I am still in the process of collecting my results, struggling to keep in mind that, like the tundra, there are hills, valleys, tussocks, and unexpectedly deep puddles that may hinder me from the end result of my project. Despite the hardships, the mountains in the distance are tangible and within reach. I will leave here with lessons learned, lasting friendships and some sort of resolution to the scientific inquiry that beckoned me to go out each morning and collect data.

Storm over the Kolyma River.

Storm over the Kolyma River.

 

I look forward to the last four days we have in Cherskiy. The warm hospitality of our Russian hosts has made this journey so much more comfortable than imagined. On paper I knew this was going to be an adventure but in reality it was life changing. As a black woman in science it is rare to get opportunities like this one and I could not be more thankful for the people who made this happen. I never would have thought that I would see ice wedges, frost boils, or bones from the Pleistocene era. Nor did I think that I would live in the middle of the tundra, on a barge, with 20 people that I had just met, in Russia. I am very blessed to have had this opportunity. I look forward to sharing my data and my journey with aspiring scientists who share my passion for learning—and hope that someday I can also help young scientists of my ethnicity in receiving opportunities like the ones that I have had.


One Response to “Expectations Exceeded”

  1. July 27, 2014 at 1:02 am, Anita Hunt said:

    I retired from teaching 4 years ago, one of the minor factors for my decision included the lack of interest that students have for anything beyond the latest trends in obscenity and violence. I’m particularly concerned about our young women who are returning to the belief that they are not competent learners. I believe that opportunities are made only when a student is committed to pursue a passion; I think that you are already helping those students to recognize the possibilities beyond the average. I will be sharing your name and your blog with the young people I still work with. Thank You!!!

    Anita