June 18, 2008

Brian Barnes, Mike Abels, and Donie Bret-Harte represented the Toolik Management Team.  Thom Walker, acting camp manager, attended.  Since the first User Forum coincided with the NEON site visit and CPS upgrade review, Boyce Bush and Kelly Eggers of BLM attended, as did Jay Burnside, Stan Wizneski, and Jason Neely of CPS.

Comments were received on a variety of issues.  In this report, comments have been organized according to those that pertain to working in the field, to the labs, and to life at the station.


Lina Taneva brought up the need for repair of the boardwalks around the ITEX snowfence plots, which were established in 1995.  Some of the boards are tipped at a great angle, or are not connected and fly up when you step on them, which can be quite dangerous if you are carrying a heavy pack.  Lina suggested that it would be best to replace them, but if it is not possible to do that, help with repair would be very much appreciated.  Donie Bret-Harte commented that since these are plot-specific, rather than common-use boardwalks, normally the PI would request assistance from CPS for repair or replacement.  Jeff Welker is the PI of this experiment currently, but evidently hasn’t done that yet.  However, for boards that are dangerous, it is fine to ask Scott Houghton, Faye Ethridge, Shelby Bakken, or Teresa Tran (science support staff) for assistance, and if they can fit it in, they will.  Brian Barnes and Donie concurred with this.  Peter Ray commented that the boardwalks around the LTER experiments at the moist acidic tussock tundra (MAT) site on the south side of the lake are also in terrible shape, and that Gus should ask for assistance in replacing them.  Many people from different projects make measurements at this site, so it is effectively a common-use facility.  Mike Abels suggested that the repair and replacement of common-use boardwalks be a topic for discussion at the Toolik Steering Committee meeting in the fall of 2008.  Jay Burnside suggested that it would be nice to develop a plan for incremental maintenance and replacement of common-use boardwalks in the Toolik RNA, as there are a lot of boardwalks now.  Jay commented that the matted trail boardwalks used in Barrow work well in dry areas but not in wet ones, and that CPS now favors raised boardwalks of the type around the new low-fertilization LTER plots. 


Peter Ray requested window shades on the south- and west-facing windows in all of the labs.  He commented that is very hard to use the microscope or computer in the south end of lab 2 in the evening, because the sun shines in so brightly.  Two shades were subsequently installed in the south end of lab 2.  There are approximately 20 other window shades available to be installed in the labs on request. 

Anne Giblin asked whether the staff does a walk-through and inspection at the end of the season, after all of the users leave.  There was a problem in wet lab with leftover soda cans freezing and making a mess, which potentially damaged a $10,000 instrument.  She emphasized that it is not responsibility of the TFS staff to clean up the labs at the end of the season, but there needs to be a mechanism in place to make sure that the users stay on top of the situation and clean up before they leave.  Scott Houghton subsequently commented that he or other staff members walk through each lab after the scientists leave, to check shelves, freezers, and refrigerators, and remove items like soda cans, but sometimes one gets missed.  Thom commented that he will compile a binder of shut-down procedures and give a copy to each of the labs, to help users understand what needs to happen, including cleaning out refrigerators and freezers, removing any beverages, taking out the garbage, and sweeping and mopping the floor.

Peter Ray commented that the trash is building up in the labs, and that users don’t seem to be putting it out on the porch.  He commented that most people probably expect staff to empty the trash in the labs, as that is how it is done at their home institutions.  Thom explained that it is inconvenient for staff to empty the trash bins inside the labs because it would take too long for them to take off their shoes before coming into the labs, to keep the floors clean.  He feels that since the users are generating the trash, it is their responsibility to take it out to the porch.  Others commented that users would probably be willing to take out the trash, but many do not realize that they are expected to do it.  It would also be helpful to have a supply of new trash bags in each of the labs.  Peter commented that lab 2 could definitely use some trash bags, and Dan White requested a pile of bags for the wet lab, also.  Lina commented that staff, not scientists, remove the trash from lab 3, so the policy is not completely consistent.  Thom will provide more orientation for users on trash disposal, and implement a consistent policy across all of the labs. 

Bjartmar Sveinbjörnsson commented that he is surprised that we have to take our outside shoes off when going into a lab.  He wondered if there is some way to reduce the amount of dirt that is tracked into the labs, for example by making paths to the labs that go across gravel, rather than dirt.  Several years ago Jim Laundre had requested more washed gravel for the paths into the labs, but this was request was not fulfilled.  Peter (and Scott Houghton, subsequently) seconded the need for more and clean gravel of better quality.  Bjartmar commented that at Abisko, people can wear their outside shoes into the lab, because the pathways are either washed gravel or sidewalks, as in a city.  Jay Burnside commented that it might help to provide boot brushes, such as the one at the dining hall, at all the entrances to the labs.  Thom replied that the boot brushes get full of dirt and are hard to clean.  Jay noted that there a supply of crushed gravel from the old runway would be available once CPS starts mining it, but it would need to be washed.  Thom suggested that it might be possible to get a pro deal on Crocs (plastic footwear) for the labs.  Peter commented that it would be nice to get more of the large black “furry” plastic mats at the entrances to the labs, because they are much better at removing dirt from shoes than the hard plastic mats.  There is one in lab 2, but it is very small.  Thom agreed to supply more of these mats, and also to have the staff clean the existing mats.  Mike requested information on the size of the mats requested.  These have not been purchased yet, but this should happen soon. 

After the User Forum, John Hobbie commented that it is really important to ensure that there is enough RO water available to make deionized water for aquatic chemistry.  Once the LTER chemistry program starts up, it creates a huge crisis if deionized water is not available.  TFS generates RO water (used to make DI water) on-site a couple of times a year, but this can only be done during the summer right now, as the RO plant cannot be kept heated through the winter.  TFS nearly ran out of RO water because some of the water that was stored last year was consumed during the winter after the plumbing froze in Cottongrass.  Next year, TFS staff will bring up additional RO water from Fairbanks in the winter and spring, to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.

George Kling commented that he would like to see another lab tent set up, where much of the common-use scientific equipment could be housed.  This lab space should not be assigned to individual projects, but rather be a place where common-use items are set up and available for all projects to use.  George feels that getting more common-use equipment has been excellent for the science users, but that the equipment is gradually taking up more and more bench space, and this has been problematic in some of the labs as Toolik’s population has increased.  A common-use facility would alleviate this problem, and since no new buildings are on the immediate horizon, a tent might be the best way to go.  There could be some issues about housing items such as muffle furnaces or hoods that need ventilation in a tent, and there is also some concern about the security of a lab tent in the winter.  However, it is definitely an idea worth considering. 

Life at the Station:

Brian commented that the faucet in Cottongrass is not working well, and Lina commented that the showers in Cottongrass are always cold.  Jason Neely commented that there is a recirculating pump for the shower water in Cottongrass, but that it might not be working.  Jason and Jay will check into this tomorrow, when they do their walk-around on the recent construction upgrades.  Peter commented that the showers on the new side of the shower module also seem to take a long time to get warm, and that this may make it difficult to persuade people to take short showers.  Jason commented that there are recirculating pumps in Cottongrass, which are preset for 110o F, which should be warm enough.  The shower water should be warm within 30 seconds.  Thom Walker will check to see if they are functioning properly. 

Anne Giblin commented that, just as NEON seeks a Fundamental Instrument Unit (FIU), Toolik needs a Fundamental Bedroom Unit (FBU).  The furniture in the weatherport tents is very uneven, with some rooms equipped with beds, dressers, and tables, while others that have only beds.  Anne felt that at a minimum, the FBU should consist of a bed, a shelf or dresser to put your things on, and a chair.  Ideally, the FBU should include a bed, dresser, desk/table, chair, and electric space heater.  Julie Deslippe concurred with this, and felt that having more furniture and heaters available would improve the weatherports greatly.  She commented that upgrading some of the mattresses would also be useful, as some of them are not very comfortable.  Lina added that having black-out shades in the dorm rooms and for the doors of the weatherports to enable them to be dark would also be very helpful in allowing people to sleep.  She has slept much better since moving into a room with a blackout shade.  Thom commented that now that Brett Biebuyck has the ability to obtain items from University Surplus, it should be possible to quickly increase the furniture in the weatherports.  After the User Forum, Sally McIntyre commented that it would be really helpful to have more single rooms with better beds available for scientists, and not only weatherport rooms.  She really appreciated having a room to herself in Cottongrass for a few days, and thinks that all scientists, but especially those who are here long-term, need privacy and comfortable beds (just as staff do).  She felt that this should be a priority for NSF upgrades. 

After the User Forum, Julie Deslippe commented that she would very much like to see Toolik move toward incorporating more renewable energy sources into our power generation capability, and reduce our fossil fuel use. 


Sarah Barbrow commented that the staff has been very helpful in the early season.  Brett Biebuyck’s safety orientation on driving was really useful, as was Scott’s help with maintaining the old MBL trucks.  Teresa Tran quickly fixed the leaks in Sarah’s weatherport, and Jake Schas and Jason Stuckey helped her be safe when taking samples from the frozen lake.  Thom has also been helpful and responsive.  Anne Giblin also wanted to add her thanks to the staff.  She feels that Chad and Thom were helpful and on top of things, and the food has been great.   Kudos to all the staff!  Lina agreed and said she appreciates the rapid turnaround time on requests.  Sarah and Lina also appreciate the citrus air fresheners in the outhouses. 

Persons who attended or gave comments afterward:

Michael Abels
Sarah Barbrow
Brian Barnes
Donie Bret-Harte
Jay Burnside
Boyce Bush
Julie Deslippe
Kelly Eggers
Anne Giblin
John Hobbie
Scott Houghton
George Kling
Sally McIntyre
Jason Neely
Bjartmar Sveinbjörnsson
Lina Taneva
Thom Walker
Dan White
Stan Wizneski