Toolik Users’ Forum, June 26, 2017

Attending: Mike Abels, Chris Baird, Seth Beaudreault, Sonnary Campbell, Faye Ethridge, Helen Chmura, Jonathan Gewirtzman, Justin Johnson, Sofia Iglesia, Jeremy May, Peter Ray, Josh Schimel, Matthew Simon, Jeb Timm, Steve Unger, Dan White, Kyle Zollo-Venecek, Donie Bret-Harte

Notes by Donie Bret-Harte

The suggestion box was opened to start the Users Forum.  There were many suggestions, as it had not been opened since the end of the previous summer.  Suggestion box comments are summarized below.

1)      “To NSF, Toolik Field Station is awesome. Best project support I ever received. Keep it up, it’s a treasure up here” – Daniel Obrist

2)      Thanks to Jeb for snowmachine support – Svetlana Stuefer

3)      Thanks to TFS and Travis for setting up the shipping station in the tent

4)      Thanks to the kitchen staff for the amazing food!

5)      How about LED lightbulbs instead of incandescent ones in the residences?

6)      Please try to ensure that people use biodegradable soap in the sauna - Claudia

7)      How about horseshoe games?

8)      A variety of small food suggestions, which will be passed to the cooks to grant (or not) at their discretion: 1) large marshmallows for S’Mores, 2) bring back Dr. Pepper, please, 3) thanks for the great selection of decaf teas.

The comment on biodegradable soap prompted some discussion.  Dan White noted that Anne Giblin looked at Dr. Bronners’ soap some years ago, and it is OK because it has no Phosphorus (the lake is Phosphorus-limited).  There are lots of shampoos and soaps at the sauna other than Dr. Bronners’ soap, which will get into the water when people jump into the lake.  Dan said that the main concern for biogeochemistry is not the soap itself, but any fragrances and sodium lauryl sulfate.  Justin commented that we could put up a sign at the sauna and add to the orientation an instruction to be aware of biodegradability of soaps and shampoos.

Horseshoes were discontinued because they can easily hit people.  Dan commented that games using “Kubs” are kind of like horseshoes, and safer.


There was some discussion about whether having two R-44 helicopters was working.  Steven Unger commented that last year, Beth Nielson’s group was limited by helicopter weight limits.  Dan commented that his project is limited by space, not weight, and so far the helicopters are working out fine.  His project mostly requires short trips, which don’t need much fuel. 

Shower module

There was discussion about the shower module.  The floor in the men’s bathroom in the shower module has issues; when will it be fixed?  There are also problems with water pressure in the shower module.  Justin Johnson indicated that the men’s shower room with the floor problem is currently shut down.  Jason Neely has put fixing it on the CPS tasking list, but if funded, the fix won’t be carried out until next spring.  TFS maintenance will work on improving flow in the other shower heads.  Steven commented that the water pressure is better than it was earlier.  Faye Ethridge indicated that she cleaned all of the shower heads in April and May.  Dan asked whether adding a water softener would help the situation.  Jeb Timm explained that we have a water softener in the dining hall, but it has to be regenerated by flushing frequently, and this uses a lot of water.  Justin commented that we hope to soon be able to use lake water in the system during the summer, and this will greatly reduce the scale build-up in all of the pipes.  We are in the process of getting permission from the State of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation to do that.  Mike Abels indicated that the lake water is high in dissolved organic carbon (DOC), which necessitates some additional testing over 8 weeks this summer. 

Toolik taxi schedule and transportation

Justin asked everyone how they feel about having the Toolik taxi meet the 4:40 pm flight in Deadhorse.  Meeting that flight makes a long day for the staff that drive the taxi, because the trip is now 4-5 hours with the road construction near Deadhorse.  Josh Schimel commented that he likes the late flight, because he can make it to Prudhoe in one day from California; otherwise he has to spend the night in Anchorage.  Dan commented that you can’t make it in one day from anywhere on the east coast, so it doesn’t matter to him.  Josh indicated that he would be OK taking the earlier flight as long as he knew about it in advance.  He also suggested that if the plane is very late (as happened to him), perhaps TFS could leave without the person, then come back the next day.  That is quite inconvenient for staff who drive the taxi.  Josh got stuck in Deadhorse, and there was no lodging, then he had to rent a vehicle the next day.  Another option might be to arrange transport with Northern Alaska Tour Company.  Josh emphasized that it is important to explain to travellers what the options are.  Mike indicated that the taxi schedule is based on the regular plane schedule, and he didn’t see that it should be different.

Chris Baird commented that NEON will have a lot of truck trips between TFS and Fairbanks, and the trucks are not always full.  NEON would be happy to take extra passengers, if they have space.  Brett will coordinate with NEON.  This could take some of the pressure off of our wait-lists for science trucks.


Josh commented that the sauna has been cold, and perhaps the arctic entry could be closed in so that it would be warmer.  Jeb commented that the whole sauna needs to be rebuilt, because the floor is rotting, though it has held up pretty well for a long time.  Dan commented that, if we rebuild the sauna and contemplate changing the design, it will be important to get feedback from the Toolik users.  It is such an important and central part of Toolik culture that people will have strong feelings.  What is the status of the hot water in the sauna?  We are using buckets, which isn’t entirely satisfactory.  Jeb commented that he is waiting for parts for the pipes that go through the stove to heat the barrel on the porch.


We discussed the rented weatherports that will be arriving in July to accommodate the unusually large populations.  Jeremy asked if this high population is a fluke, or something that we expect to continue.  It is hard to predict the future, but it is clear that TFS  needs more  housing, and we are hoping to get some additional hard-sided rooms in the next few years.  Dan commented that if TFS could provide cheap tents, there are probably people who would be happy to move into tent city.

Common-use equipment

Dan and Justin commented that more DeWalt drills (18 or 24V) would be helpful.  Dan also commented that the band saw is running better, but is not great, and the table saw needs blades. 

Miscellaneous quality of life issues

Jonathan Gewirtzman asked if there are brooms and air freshener available.  Justin suggested looking in the shower module or in Cottongrass.  We have brooms available; if you can’t find one, come and talk to him. Steven commented that there are lots of potholes in the driveway.  At present there is no money in the CPS budget to grade the road.  We will see whether some grading action could occur when equipment is here to fix the foundation of the deck on the dining hall.  Dan appreciates the seltzer water, which helps him reduce is calorie intake.  Steven asked whether TFS might provide logo Nalgene bottles, or make them available for sale.  We will look into that.

Josh commented that TFS is running well, and Dan agreed.

The meeting adjourned.