July 24, 2012
This spring I deployed an acoustic monitor on the banks of the Noatak River for the Natural Sounds program. With the intention to leave the recording equipment in the field for 30 days to gather baseline information, it was set up in early May when we could land the airplane on the frozen river with wheel-skis and retrieved after the ice had moved out and the river subsided when the plane could land on the gravel bar with large tundra tires.
While the datalogger, recorder, and battery are housed in rugged Pelican cases the sensitive microphone and anonometer (wind gauge) eerily resemble the robots from Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Deep in the Noatak National Preserve an acoustic monitor can record a lot of silence interspersed with fierce wind and storms. During spring, however, it can also record the sound of break-up when the ice retreats and the waters swell. The ice on the Noatak River can often freeze to the bottom save for the deep pools that harbor chilled yet hardy fish. Stories of spring break-up describe how slabs of ice five to six feet deep can break, crowd, and push each other along sharp bends or narrowed canyons, stacking two or three slabs high and racing up to 20mph in a mad dash toward the Chukchi Sea.
This spring, however, the ice wasn't the only thing that broke up. The remote camera I set up at the site to identify the sounds of wildlife passing by also recorded the demise of the tripods that held the microphone and anonometer. Ignoring the fact that the microphone was soon flat on the ground interviewing the dirt, a video compilation of the photos at least provides a glimpse of some curious brown bears. And, if you can ignore the bears, you'll even see break-up.