History of Toolik
TFS was established to support an aquatic program designed to obtain baseline data on the North Slope and Inland coastal ponds, an extension of the International Biological Program (IBP). A number of projects were retained and became known as Research on Arctic Tundra Environments (RATE). RATE was coordinated under a proposal funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) as part of the Man and Biosphere Program (MAB), Project 6, Impact of Human Activities on Mountain and Tundra Ecosystems. Terrestrial studies were sited at Atqasuk on the Meade River. In June, 1975, Toolik Lake was selected as the site for the aquatic research. New scientific research projects and support facilities offered a north/south transect between the Yukon River and the Beaufort Sea. A survey of ecological and limnological sites from the Brooks Range to Prudhoe Bay was made in 1975. In June 1975, a 16-foot travel trailer belonging to the Institute of Marine Science (IMS), University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), was placed at the north end of the lake.
In 1976, a 10' x 50' modular unit was added. It contained a kitchen/dining area, laboratory room and a sleeping room. People at the camp brought their own sleeping tents. In 1978, a new kitchen/dining unit was added and the original unit was modified into five laboratory cubicles. In 1980, a 10' x 50' unit was added as a laboratory trailer. In 1982, a 10' x 40' unit was added as a laboratory and then redesigned and refurbished as a hygiene/wash-up facility. A number of small temporary wooden structures were added from 1976-82 and used for scientific work and storage. Excluding these temporary units, there was 1,400 square feet for laboratory use and 500 square feet for food service in 1982.
In 1983, the "University Toolik Camp," located on the decommissioned Alyeska Toolik Camp airstrip, outgrew available space. A closed Alyeska pad was identified on the south shore of Toolik Lake. Permits were applied for and issued. The "University Toolik Camp" moved to its current location and was officially named "Toolik Field Station". Thirteen surplus Alyeska modules were purchased, upgrading the camp to 17 units and increasing square footage. As an in-kind remuneration to the station for support of the IV International Conference on Permafrost, eight 12' x 20' Hanson WeatherPORT tents were acquired. These tents provided 1,920 square feet of work or storage space. No funds were available for pad improvements. The modules had to be positioned on existing level areas. In 1981 and 1982, the Department of Energy (DOE) contributed $20,000 a year for field station operations. The 1983 upgrades were supported by $30,000 from DOE and $7,000 of IAB indirect cost. The 13 modular units were purchased from the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company (APSC). In 1984, the Alaska State Legislature appropriated $35,000 to upgrade the wastewater collection system and the kitchen. A $10,000 award from UAF was used to upgrade the kitchen trailer during 1985. In 1986, NSF awarded $60,000 with a $30,000 UAF match for upgrading the Station. A dining facility was constructed connecting the dining trailer and kitchen trailer. The added 960 square feet of floor space released the dining trailer which was redesigned as the communication office to accommodate general-use computers and communications equipment.
In 1988, NSF awarded $74,250 with a $78,250 UAF match for equipment and improvement of facilities. An electrical cable tray distribution system was installed from the Station generators to each building. The generators were placed inside an Arcticpac trailer which provides soundproofing, shelter for the equipment, and a method of shipping the generators to Fairbanks each winter for service. Other equipment included a water filtration system, three snowmachines, a gas chromatograph, a wet/dry fall collector, a stereo-zoom microscope, a spectrophotometer, a leaf-area meter, two balances, and a freeze dryer.
In 1992, the NSF awarded $66,534, with a $33,266 match from UAF to upgrade research facilities and equipment. Items purchased included two Gateway 486sx computers, two WeatherPORT tents, a Centris 620 computer and printer, and an 8,000 gallon generator fuel storage tank. The upgrade also funded a survey of the Station and improvements of the interior electrical systems of the existing lab trailers and kitchen.
In 1993, the University of Alaska applied for a long-term lease for the pad site from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Part of the application process required a Development Plan and Schedule. The site plan, which organized the pad into designated science areas, utilities areas and residential areas, is still followed.
In May 1993, the NSF tasked Antarctic Support Associates (ASA) to upgrade laboratories at TFS. Three modular laboratories were mobilized during the 1994 and 1995 field seasons. A 24' x 60' modular "Wet Lab" was designed to support wet chemistry with running water and fume hoods. A 24' x 60' "Dry Lab" was designed to include microscope rooms, balance rooms, GC rooms, and laboratory bench space. A 20' x 55' modular "Winter Lab" includes animal holding and surgery rooms, an arctic entry, storage areas, and an outside deck to stage snowmachine survey work. To accommodate use during winter months when the main camp generator is off, a generator room with a 12 kW generator was included in the module. An oil gravity feed heater and an outside fuel storage tank were also designed for the lab as an emergency backup heat source.
In February, 1995, a workshop was attended by 35 arctic scientists, logistics experts, land managers and representatives of indigenous people of Alaska. The result was published by the Arctic Research Consortium of the United States (ARCUS); Toolik Field Station: The Second 20 Years. The scientific mission and goals of the TFS for a 20-year period were defined, as well as the needs for improvements of facilities, management and funding.
Over the next five years, funding became available to upgrade facilities at the Station. The development concurred with recommendations outlines in the ARCUS report and the 1993 Development Plan and Schedule. Regulatory agencies attended TFS management meetings and gave approvals to on-going development activities.
In 1998, NSF awarded $196,762, with a $98,381 UAF match, to the IAB for the acquisition of "An arctic winter residence facility for the Toolik Field Station." The facility was designed by Mike Abels, IAB, and Steve Keller, USKH Architects. A modular structure with redundant heating and power sources were featured in the design. The facility, which includes five 2-person bedrooms, a kitchen, storage room, and inside toilet, can accommodate 10 researchers. The Winter Quarters was positioned on-site in November 1998.
In 1999, the NSF supported the delivery of four 24' x 60' modular laboratories, which replaced five laboratory trailers (10' x 50'). The new modules design included running water, fume hoods, bench and desk stations, storage and outside staging decks. A generator module, with two 50kW and two 80kW generators sets, was sited at the Station.
In 2001, with NSF support, the generator module was redesigned into two modules, each housing a 50kW and 80kW generator. The "North" outhouse was built and a modular bathhouse was designed and delivered. The shower module is divided into men's and women's sides, each with showers, sinks and storage cubes. An intrastation LAN was also installed.
In February, 2002, the Development Plan for Toolik Field Station was prepared to support the continued lease of the BLM property.
In December, 2004, under the leadership of M. Syndonia Bret-Harte and Brian Barnes, a workshop was held in San Francisco to discuss the future of TFS. The resulting report, Science Support at the Toolik Field Station, Alaska: Directions for the Next 10 Years, provided guidance on environmental monitoring and preservation of long-term control areas and research sites, core laboratories and scientific services, and data management/GIS/IT. Recommendations were also made about integrating education with the research at TFS.
Toolik Field Station has developed from a ten-person tent camp into a premier arctic research laboratory and science support facility with a capacity of over 100 users. Current research themes and funding levels are very dynamic and responsive to national interests in the arctic.