When I first started thinking about working in the Arctic, I remember thinking it was pretty amazing that certain animals, insects, and plants actually thrive at these high latitudes. Then I came to Barrow, where there is an entire community of people that have chosen to live here and whose ancestors have been living here for centuries!
When you first see Barrow though, it may appear like some kind of temporary settlement. The buildings and homes are relatively small and simple, and there aren't any paved roads. But in fact, Barrow is one of the oldest permanent settlements in the U.S., and the rich history, culture, and lasting traditions of the people who live here definitely show that.
At 320 miles north of the Arctic Circle, Barrow is the largest, and northernmost village in the North Slope Borough with ~4300 year-round residents living on just over 21 square miles. The city is broken up into 3 main areas: Barrow, Browerville, and NARL. The Barrow area is kind of like a downtown. It's where the high school, elementary school, police station, airport, restaurants and hotels are, as well as the City Hall and a bank. Browerville is primarily residential but there is also one hotel, a couple restaurants, two grocery stores, a library, the post office, the Iñupiat Heritage Center, and a few businesses too. And then NARL, originally the Naval Arctic Research Lab, is now home to Ilisagvik College, the buildings associated with the Barrow Arctic Research Center (BARC), and housing for researchers who are working on the Barrow Environmental Observatory (BEO). The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) also has a site near the coast line, and the local hunters and fisherman have set up a camp near Point Barrow just past the high school's football field!
The city is home to primarily native Iñupiat families and, like their hunter-gatherer ancestors, they still rely on the hunting of whales, walrus, seal, caribou, ducks, geese, and fish for food. There are even multiple festivals throughout the year to celebrate the beginning of whaling season and to honor the whales that had been caught to feed the village. One thing I have noticed about the 2 grocery stores that Barrow does have is that skim milk, or low-fat anything for that matter, is not as prominent as it is in the grocery stores down south. Up here, they eat to live. To keep warm. They don't skip out on a measly 100 calories in their yogurt so they can have a 'bikini body'. It's actually really interesting, and refreshing, to see an attitude where exercising and keeping healthy just comes with daily work and play, not a separate activity which usually requires you to fork over some cash.
Another thing I have found particularly enlightening is the core set of values that the Iñupiat families all hold: sharing, respect for elders, others, and nature, knowledge of language (Iñupiatun) and family tree, cooperation, hard work, love for children, avoidance of conflict, spirituality, humor, family roles, hunter success, domestic skills, humility, and responsibility to the tribe. I haven't had the opportunity to interact with many of the local native members of the community, but even in just seeing how they interact with each other on the street, in the grocery store, or with their families outside their homes, they visibly emanate these qualities. It has been incredibly humbling to see such resilience and strength in such a small community living in such a remote location under extremely harsh weather conditions.
Just what is the weather like? The 'polar climate' is generally dry and cold, with 160 days out of the year having sub-zero temperatures. Snow and sub-freezing temperatures can also occur on any day of the year. We even saw some snow (and lots of wind) out at the research site today. At least that kept the mosquitos away! :)
This is one of the reasons why there aren't any paved roads in Barrow, or in much of Alaska for that matter. With the extreme freeze-thaw cycles and the presence of permafrost beneath the soil, paved roads will often crack, or waves will start to form in the road giving a sort of 'washboard' effect. This is extremely costly to maintain and so dirt roads are favored instead.
I think it is because of this that I've only seen 1 sedan among the constant traffic of SUVs, ATVs, and trucks since I first arrived on Wednesday morning. Even the young kids, maybe around 10 years old, ride around on the ATVs after school, pulling their friends behind them or going down to the beach to play. There's also a community center with a basketball court, and many have bikes that they ride around town on.
The atmosphere in Barrow has been lively, welcoming, and a refreshing escape from the typical day of living in the 'lower 48'. I'll be sad to be leaving so soon tomorrow, but this short trip has been everything I'd hoped it would be, and more! :)
Thanks for following along. If you came here for another #soilpicoftheday, here are a few! :)
Welcome to Think Like a Postdoc. If you're a fan of science as much as I am, and/or are curious about getting a degree in a STEM field, or pursuing an interdisciplinary graduate degree (all from the perspective of a graduate student), then you're in the right place. Think Like a Postdoc also includes posts about my current lab and field research, including analytical chemistry, Arctic biogeochemistry, and energy & environmental policy. Comments and questions are always welcomed. And please tell me what you want to hear about next!
Questions to Ask Before Choosing Grad Program
First Semester of Grad School
Field Work in Alaska
Science Conference Dos and Don'ts
Women in STEM Series
Things I've Learned in Grad School Series
Blogs I Follow
Mass Spectrometry Blog
The Grad Student Way
Anthony's Science Blog
The Thesis Whisperer
Fossils and Shit
Science Communication Breakdown
Science Communication Media
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.