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Michael Abels
Michael Abels

Michael Abels was interviewed on April 26, 2007 by William Schneider in Fairbanks, Alaska. In this interview, Michael talks about the history of Toolik Lake Field Station, the establishment of the camp and facilities, and types of research conducted there. He also talks about the logistics and communications of running a remote research station, and the challenges of regularly driving the Dalton Highway.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2006-28-20

Project: Dalton Highway Project Jukebox
Date of Interview: Apr 26, 2007
Narrator(s): Michael Abels
Interviewer(s): Bill Schneider
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
National Park Service
Alternate Transcripts
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1) Personal Background

2) Beginning of Toolik Field Station

3) His involvement with Toolik Field Station

4) His involvement with the Toolik Field Station, and early days of driving the Haul Road continued

5) Traveling up the Dalton Highway to Toolik Field Station

6) Establishment of the expediter’s job at Toolik Field Station and moving the camp

7) Communications

8) Meteor burst method of communication and computer problems

9) Hosting participants from the International Permafrost Conference in the 1980s

10) Funding in the 1990s and Long-Term Ecological Research Program

11) More on communications and use of computers

12) Driving the Dalton Highway (Haul Road) and how tough it is on vehicles

13) Research at Toolik Field Station

14) Land-water interaction component and other types of research

15) Winter presence at the Toolik Field Station

16) Native Alaskan heritage of the area

17) Summary

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Section 1: New Jersey\ University of Alaska Fairbanks\ student\ degree -- natural resource management\ 1975\ Nava, Joe\ job -- summer\ animal care facility\ job -- student\ job \ Toolik Field Station|

Section 2: Haul Road -- relation to\ 1974\ Haul Road -- northern part completion\ scientists\ North Slope\ research -- lakes\ Brooks Range\ lakes -- deep\ lakes -- shallow\ lakes -- comparison\ lakes -- northern\ International Biological Program (IBP)\ research -- Arctic Tundra Ecosystems\ Miller, Mike\ Alexander, Vera\ Hobbe, John\ Miller, Phil\ Murphy Lake\ Galbraith Lake\ Toolik Lake -- name\ name -- confusion\ Murphy Lake -- confusion with\ Toolik Lake -- site selection\ Toolik Lake -- research of\ lakes -- comparative study of \ Toolik Lake Research Station -- establishment of\ establishment -- date of\ 1975\ Toolik Lake and Toolik Camp -- construction camp\ Toolik Field Station|

Section 3: Toolik Field Station -- involvement with\ job -- beginning\ 1976\ Haul Road -- access\ access -- restricted\ id cards\ job -- hauling equipment to camp\ trailer -- modular\ trailer -- hauling\ trailer -- size of (ten by fifty foot modular trailer\ driving -- adventure\ uncharted territory\ Biome Center -- relation to\ Whitten, Dave\ West, George\ story -- getting trailer up the highway\ trailer -- location\ location -- runway of old Toolik Lake construction camp|

Section 4: Galbraith Lake\ airplane flights\ cargo\ food -- delivery\ food -- pick-up\ supplies -- delivery\ food -- emergency\ Haul Road -- driving\ Logistics Center\ maps\ driving -- speed\ driving -- dangerous\ trip -- length of|

Section 5: Dalton Highway (Haul Road) -- travel\ miles -- 375\ driving\ team approach\ Atigun Pass\ camp -- feeling\ camp -- 1970s\ remoteness -- feeling of \ communication -- methods\ radio -- sideband\ funding -- problems\ funding -- 1980-81\ Whalin, Steve\ National Science Foundation -- support from\ camp -- moving\ moving -- date\ 1982\ camp -- new location\ location -- south side of lake\ Jorgansen, Tor\ Coltack, Terry|

Section 6: job -- creation of\ job -- expediter\ job -- seasonal\ job -- full time\ Biome Center\ Biome Center -- management of\ Institute of Arctic Biology\ control -- take over in 1982-83\ operation -- summer\ old camp -- taking down\ buildings -- ATCO standalone units\ ATCOs -- moving\ ATCOS -- trucking to Toolik\ name -- change of\ name -- official "Toolik Field Station"\ Alyeska -- support from\ auctions\ donations to the university\ services -- trading of\ bulldozer time\ laundry service|

Section 7: communications -- methods of\ communication -- Pony express\ messages -- getting out\ trucks -- use of\ truck -- schedule\ supplies -- requests for\ truck drivers -- help from\ notes and envelopes -- sending\ truck -- old yellow|

Section 8: communication -- meteor burst system\ computer -- Texas Instrument\ communication -- large-scale\ documents -- size of\ documents -- large\ computer -- overload\ computer system -- jamming of\ messages -- language\ language -- specialized lingo\ messages -- short\ code numbers -- use of\ codes -- for ordering food supplies\ communications -- methods of\ communication -- meteor burst system\ cook\ Cadillac -- buying\ computer -- warm\ heating\ computer -- damage\ computer -- new\ computer -- melted\ computer -- in the oven|

Section 9: conference -- organizing\ participants -- travel\ travel -- north\ University of Alaska Fairbanks\ Institute of Arctic Biology\ logistics\ camp sites -- three\ road -- travel on\ bus -- first\ truck -- cattle\ Sakinger, Bill\ van -- Institute of Marine Science\ outhouses (8) -- trucking\ camp -- setting up \ camp -- taking down\ 2008 Permafrost Conference -- planning|

Section 10: Toolik Field Station -- funding\ National Science Foundation\ research\ long-term ecological studies\ research -- long-term\ research -- one place\ research projects -- large-scale\ investigators -- multi\ Marine Biological Laboratory -- Lakes and Streams Project\ US Department of Energy program\ buildings -- new\ buildings -- funding for\ buildings -- double wide ATCO units\ construction -- ribbon cutting ceremonies\ camp -- changes in\ camp -- feeling of\ field station -- evolution to\ water -- generation of\ power -- generation of\ facility upgrade -- funding for\ buildings -- location of\ buildings -- spacing of\ fire -- avoidance\ communication -- improvements\ communication -- ACS\ ACS -- dependence on\ communication -- ATT|

Section 11: communications -- systems\ microwave backbone\ communication -- Alascom\ Alascom -- dependence on\ antenna -- new\ VHS system\ telephone -- first\ telephone -- old blue box\ technology -- new\ technology -- reliability\ transmission speed -- slow\ internet access -- quality of\ transmission time -- slow\ computers -- reconfiguration\ email address -- single\ emails -- receiving\ camp manager -- email distribution\ emails -- posted\ privacy -- lack of\ communication -- improvement\ computers\ internet access -- quality of\ transmission -- speed\ laboratories -- internet connectivity to|

Section 12: Dalton Highway (Haul Road) -- travel\ vehicles -- condition\ vehicles -- types of\ GMC crew cab pickup\ vehicles -- maintenance\ union contracts and welding job\ tires -- getting new\ tires -- heavier duty\ road -- dangers of driving\ dust\ tasting like the haul road\ air conditioning\ vehicles -- comparison\ wheel base -- longer\ wheel bases -- shorter\ road --improvements to\ trip -- length of\ trip -- eight hours|

Section 13: research -- types of\ research -- 30 year involvement\ lake -- freezing\ lake -- that doesn't freeze to the bottom\ research -- funding\ research -- $46 million dollars of\ research -- baseline\ Chapin, Terry\ Shaever, Gus\ terrestrial ecosystem\ plant communities\ aquatics research on streams\ grayling -- over winter locations\ Green Cabin Lake\ lake -- fish\ fish -- types of\ manipulation experiments\ lake -- separating in half\ truckers\ material -- hauling\ material -- types of\ curtains\ chains\ fertilizers\ story -- "throwing fertilizer in the lake"|

Section 14: research -- components\ terrestrial\ lake and stream\ runoff\ King, Doug\ Hinzman, Larry\ hydrology -- watersheds and snow\ Sturm, Matthew\ research -- large-animal\ Toolik -- cost of staying there\ cost -- effect on research\ Barnes, Brian\ ground squirrels -- hibernation\ Wingfield, John\ birds -- migration\ research -- geophysical\ all-sky camera\ research station -- Poker Flats\ research -- aurora\ Toolik -- location\ location -- strategic\ sky -- conditions\ Toolik -- changes\ field methods -- sample and process\ facility -- improvements to\ field methods -- changes|

Section 15: Toolik -- winter presence\ winter presence -- start of\ 2006-07\ Schimmel, Josh\ building -- winter design\ stoves -- types of\ drip stove\ forced air stove\ wood stove\ "fool resistant system"\ winter presence -- increase\ fall of 2006\ wind storms\ safety\ station -- keeping open\ winter -- challenges\ fuel truck|

Section 16: Iñupiat\ Nunamiut\ Paneak, Roosevelt\ job -- logistics assistant\ project -- mapping\ project -- identify historic points\ Toolik area\ place names -- Iñupiaq\ Kaplan, Larry\ Iñupiaq names -- spelling\ Paneak, Simon\ dictionary -- Toolik\ Iñupiaq names -- birds\ Iñupiaq names -- plants\ Iñupiaq names -- snow\ Irving, Larry\ Paneak, Simon -- work with\ Iñupiaq -- classic texts\ Anaktuvuk Pass\ village -- community|

Section 17: logistics -- Toolik Field Station\ logistics -- Dalton Highway\ trucking -- people\ trucking -- supplies\ Prudhoe Bay -- influence of|