Flashline-16 Expedition Report-02 06-07-2024

 In Expedition Report

Expedition Commander: Natasha Nicholson

Team: Ilaria Cinelli, Terry Trevino, Tiffany Swarmer, Mason Robbins, Michael Andrews, Rhett Woods

Destination(s): The Haughton crater

Transport: On foot

Distance Travelled: 6.48miles/10.4km

Furthest coordinates from the station: 75°24’12.9”N, 89°48’41”W

Expedition Duration: 5.45hrs

Time: 10:00 – 15:45

Expedition Description:

The expedition team, this time our full crew, set off at 10am in bright sunshine – a welcome change from our previous cloudy/rainy days at the station. We travelled south-southwest across the relatively flat sloping ground towards the crater, quickly encountering more of the soft sticky ground described in Expedition report 1. The rationale behind protecting this ground, beyond pure conservationist principles, comes from a finding in a 1990 paper Whitlock and Dawson, which names the silt/fine sand/mud environment of the Haughton Formation as rich in assemblage of pollen and fossils, and as the only known record of early Neogene Arctic vertebrates in the world.

 The party was reminded of the fragility of the soil and of best practices for crossing this type of ground, such as ‘remember to look ahead as well as where you’re stepping, so you can plan your path as you’re going’, and including some levity to keep moral high, with phrases like ‘have you ever played the floor is lava?’; ‘remember rock hopping in rivers when you were kids?’; and ‘oatmeal not porridge’, the last referring to how smooth ground was more treacherous than rough ground (see Fig. 1). All seven expedition members made admirable efforts to minimise impact while traversing the plain, following the erratic rocky paths that snake through the terrain like stony streams.

The 2023 crew had not experienced this problem in their July mission, and this issue could be due to the earlier timing of this mission (2 weeks prior to the previous year), due to a wetter spring, or perhaps a little of both. Anecdotally, one of the camp managers in Resolute, who has been working there for 30+ winters, said he had not seen rain here except in the last two or three years.

Figure 1. Example of rock hopping. The apparently solid ground around these larger rocks is deceptively liquid.

 With our careful and meandering pace, it took us nearly an hour to walk the first mile to the wide stream at the far end of the sloping plain. We crossed this and climbed up the rise to an old ATV trail, hoping to find more solid ground, or at least minimise our damage by following a pre-existing path. After attempting to find a suitable path along the ridge, we quickly determined that the more stable course was to follow a second streambed below, which was marshy at its banks, but provided more rocks for jumping along. We also walked on the snow where we could, as it provided a buffer between our steps and the hopefully still partially frozen ground.

Figure 2. Following the stream.

The stream led us through some snow to a very clear lake, with rocky banks and more snow on its western banks. To the south-southeast there was a rise that led up to a steep drop with views into the deeper part of the crater, which we theorised was the inner of two crater rims (see science report 4).

Figure 3. The lake a short distance before the ‘final rim’, crew on the horizon heading in the direction of the second crater wall.
Figure 4. View from the top of the ‘final rim’.

We carefully picked our way down the least steep slope of scree, then followed a stream around a medium sized hill, before encountering a small river. To the east of the stream, a pale grey mound/small hill caught our attention. We moved to its base, hoping to find pale grey breccias but couldn’t find any. Instead, we found a stream with a higher abundance and diversity of life than in previous areas and spent some time sampling and photo-documenting the area.

It was 12:30 in the afternoon by the time we finished, 2.5 hours into the expedition, and the crew agreed it was time for lunch. The area we’d been sampling had little in the way of large rocks for us to safely sit on, so we returned to the river to seek a stonier environment.

Figure 5. The river we crossed to reach our picnic site.

The most promising area was an outcrop across the river, and we found a shallow area to cross without wetting our boots, though a few people did get slightly damp socks through their lace eyelets.

Beyond the rocky outcrop the landscape changed again, becoming soft and cushiony until the land rose and fell out of sight, without any incursions of rocks to jump between. As we were already 3 hours into our journey, it was decided that this would be the furthest point.

Here, Rhett Woods set up his drone, and while the rest of us ate lunch, he explored farther, using a First Person View display to see deeper into the crater’s interior. His exploration, as well as capturing some incredible footage, also confirmed there was no easy route to the crater’s centre from our current location that wouldn’t scar the landscape.

Figure 6. The crew relaxing in the sun while Rhett Woods explored further with his drone.
Figure 7. FPV drone footage of crater interior.

Whilst eating, we noticed three different birds in the area, and a few winged insects, the first we had seen since landing on Devon Island. First, we saw a snow bunting, which we had glimpsed when searching for a place to cross the river, but which came to investigate us as we were being more quiet and restful. We also saw a seagull in the distance, after hearing it first, and witnessed a goose fly down from some height to land in the river some distance from us.

Re-fording the river back towards the station, we made our way north on a slightly different track, heading for a smoother break in the ‘final rim’. We found another green algal streak, similar to the one sampled in Expedition 1, and stopped to sample it (see Fig. 8) using the same methodology. Again, the inquisitive snow bunting found us, flitting nearby for a short period – sadly too fast for most of us to locate our cameras.

Figure 8. CSO and XO sampling the new algal site.

The route we took back was more direct and – fortunately – offered longer periods of  ground. We climbed and descended a few lower ridges, sliding down through snowbanks, re-crossing the wide stream to the south end of the plain. On reflection, our path in the morning had crossed the path too laterally, with each member wary of heading south where the plain sloped toward wetter ground. Already at the wettest end of the plain, we were able to strike north with more confidence, following the rocky lines back to the ‘apparent rim’ where the research station stood waiting for us.

Figure 9. Return to the research station.

To celebrate a successful mission, we each chose a snack bar or chocolate bar, and sat on the edge of the escarpment, looking back into the crater. With the generators off for the time being, we enjoyed the silence, relaxing in the sun while Rhett flew his drone around us, taking photos and zipping off again, like a memory of the inquisitive snow bunting.

Figure 10. Snow bunting, image courtesy of Norsk Polarinstitutt