Expedition Siberia, Autumn 2016
A story by Ove Meisel and Joshua Dean
During the field trip in late October to early November 2016, Joshua Dean and Ove Meisel from the Earth and Climate Cluster of the Earth and Life Sciences Faculty of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam ventured out to the northeast Siberian Arctic to collect a set of sediment cores from the bottom of thermokarst / permafrost lakes.
During our field trip in late October to early November 2016 we ventured out to the northeast Siberian Arctic to collect a set of sediment cores from the bottom of thermokarst/permafrost lakes. Our plan was to drill holes in the lake ice to be able to deploy our simple manual and hand-held equipment and to ram a plastic tube into the lake bed to recover up to a meter of intact sediment.
These sediment cores are relevant to us as they will give us a better idea on how these lakes, which pave large parts of the Siberian Arctic in innumerable numbers, function as a storage for carbon and to what extent they interact with the atmosphere as emitter of methane – a very potent greenhouse gas. We also extracted pore water samples from some of the cores to explore the interaction between the carbon-rich sediment and the lake water, particularly dissolved organic carbon (DOC).
The field trip
The trip was laid out as an ambitious two-week expedition via Moscow, Yakutsk, Chokurdakh all the way to our field camp in the Kytalyk Nature Reserve. We were heading out into the tundra with three people, Joshua Dean and Ove Meisel from the VU Amsterdam, and Sergey Karsanaev from the Institute for Biological Problems of the Cryolithozone, Yakutsk. Everything went fine until we arrived in Chokurdakh where we got stuck in a six-day snow storm, which made it impossible to travel to the camp by snowmobile. In the end, we spent eight unplanned nights in Chokurdakh and had to extend our trip and change our return flights before we could travel to Kytalyk.
The unusually warm autumn and the late start of winter were also worrying as the ice on the lakes and rivers was still too thin in places for travel at this time of the year. Eventually, we made it safely to the camp and managed to retrieve all the samples we hoped for in three very effective field days under good weather conditions, even allowing for sneak views of Aurora Borealis at night. The temperatures never dropped below -10°C which made working as ‘’comfortable’’ as it could have been at this time of the year. But it was still cold enough to instantaneously freeze all the equipment once emerged from the lake water, requiring constant defrosting with a heat gun in the field.
The overall experience of living in the remote, white and endless tundra for a few days, driving snowmobiles, spotting wolverine tracks in the snow and warming up at the wood-heated oven in the evenings made this trip eventually a real adventure, holding up to our expectations of an Arctic winter expedition.