Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Pass the salt

En route between the Nahatlatch River and the mouth of the Fraser, we made a brief stop at Lytton to observe the mixing of the blue Thompson, the largest tributary of the Fraser River, with the muddy Fraser. The swirling eddies clearly visible at this point provided a natural platform for our resident physical oceanographer, Rocky Geyer, to pontificate on the dynamics of mixing. The two streams remain separate for a considerable distance downstream despite the turbulent flow of the river.

After following the mighty Fraser from its icy beginnings at the base of Rocky Mountain glaciers through raging tributaries of the Cariboo and Coast Mountains, we finally concluded our journey at the estuary near Vancouver, where muddy river water first meets the ocean in the Strait of Georgia. We chartered a whale watching boat to take us across the freshwater-saltwater transition at different tidal stages. Using CTD casts, we watched a wedge of saltwater at depth creep upstream with the rising tide, then retreat with the ebb. We also collected grab samples of bottom sediments, which will inform us about what types of sediment (small clay and mud particles versus large sand grains) are deposited at different points across this transition.

Our time in Vancouver was graced by beautiful sunshine, which made exploring the city on our last day all the more enjoyable. Despite nursing cuts, sunburns, twisted ankles, blisters, and colds on our return trip to Boston, I'm sure we were all sufficiently distracted by pleasant memories of the gorgeous surroundings we enjoyed over the last 10 days and the exciting science that infused all our adventures. Thanks to everyone who organized and participated in this year's Geodynamics trip, and thanks for reading!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Paddle out

Yesterday was the heart-pumping high-point of our trip. After a long drive out of the Rockies (with a final stop at the Swiss bakery and brief layover at the Packing House cafe in Spences Bridge, a Fraser expedition tradition), we finally arrived at the REO Rafting Resort outside Boston Bar in the Fraser Canyon. We were all excited to decompress, shower, and get a good night's sleep after three nights in the woods. And we needed to rest up for our next adventure: white water rafting.

After breakfast, we each shimmied into wetsuits and piled onto a big orange school bus, which delivered us to a launch point on the Nahatlatch River. Within minutes we were on the water practicing our paddling and man-overboard rescue skills. Then the action really started. We started hurdling down the Nahatlatch in our rafts, occasionally steered expertly into waves and rocks by our guides, with the river bed racing past under the clear blue water. More than just a thrill ride, this was an awesome opportunity to experience the raging flow of a mountain river at high water, the canyon walls of the Coast Mountains jutting up on either side and huge log jams sticking out from the banks now and then. When the ride was finished, we availed ourselves of a few water samples, which affirmed the clear nature (i.e. low solute and particle load) of the river we had just traversed.

After a relaxing afternoon discussing the local geology in the sun back at the resort, we ended the evening with a few presentations on river geochemistry. Some of the resort staff even sat in, curious about the geology of the area after perusing our Roadside Geology of Southern B.C. book while we were out rafting. Today we are off to Vancouver to see what happens when rivers meet the sea...

Britta Voss

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Backpacking in the shadow of Mount Robson

Greetings from British Columbia. After arriving in Vancouver, the Geodynamics class took the long journey up from Vancouver to Mount Robson provincial park for 4 days and 3 nights of backpacking. After sorting out all our gear, picking up some delicious Warschauerbrot (Warsaw bread) from the Valemount Swiss bakery (and yummy croissants), and picking up some fuel, we were off to the trail head. We quickly got a taste of the amazing views to come, as we drove up to the breath-taking snow-capped peaks of the Rocky mountains. We started off on the trail and followed the roaring Robson river up toward Kinney Lake. A lunch stop overlooking the lake allowed us to take in the beauty of the glacial lake and its blue waters. The water is unusually cloudy and appears much bluer than pure freshwater due to the glacial rock flour (very finely ground up dust from when the glaciers grind the rocks beneath them). After our lunch we continued our climb towards our campsite at Whitehorn. After arriving at our campsite, setting up our tents, and cooking dinner, we had a discussion about the geology of British Columbia and Mount Robson.

The next day we continued our climb towards Berg Lake by heading up the Valley of a Thousand Falls. The tough climb was completely worth it as we experienced amazing views of huge waterfalls. The highlight of the climb was making it to Emperor falls, where we were able to stand at the base of the raging waterfall. After climbing out of the valley of a thousand falls, we got our first views of the huge glaciers that we would spend the next night camping in front of: Mist glacier and Berg glacier. Finally we arrived at Berg lake, named such due to the icebergs that spatter it year round from the calving of Berg glacier. After setting up camp, we took a short hike out to the Robson glacier to see the ultimate source of the Robson river.

The next day we had a short detour up to Toboggan Falls before heading back down to the Whitehorn campsite. After a very rainy night, we got up early for the hike back to the trail head. After a great hike, we celebrated our success with more delicious baked goods from the Swiss bakery, before heading off to the rafting resort.

Andrea Dubin

Monday, July 25, 2011

Now with 200% more adrenaline!

Welcome to yet another installment of Fraser River exploits! This time, we are here with a large group of MIT/WHOI students and WHOI faculty on the annual Geodynamics field trip. Unlike our usual sampling programs, this expedition will focus on experiential learning through observation and excursion (i.e. fun in the great outdoors). Tomorrow we set off for three nights on the Berg Lake trail, which will take us to the Robson glacier at the base of Mount Robson, the tallest peak in the Canadian Rockies. We of course won't have internet during this time, so you'll have to wait a few days to hear all the juicy details. Stay tuned!

All we have to report today is our grueling all-day journey from Woods Hole to Valemount, BC. Some of us left Woods Hole at 3am (Eastern Time), and we arrived in Valemount at 10pm (Pacific Time). So, if you're keeping track, that's nearly 24 hours in transit. We were only rained on briefly, so our hopes are high for fair weather while we're out in the elements. To keep ourselves amused through the sleep deprivation (and add a bit of officialdom to our walkie-talkie messages), we christened our three minivans with code names: Phoenix, Iceberg, and Blizzard. This should be my last post for a while, as I let other students tell you about our adventures. See you in a few days!

Britta Voss

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Nothing gold can stay

After three fast-paced days of sampling and filtering, our expedition has finally come to an end. On Monday we finally got into the Fraser River, thanks to Metro Port Vancouver, who once again offered the services of their Port Fraser patrol boat in the delta. We collected a total of 300 liters of water at different depths in order to determine how well-mixed the suspended particles in the river are. We then returned to the hotel to begin the filtration marathon.

Tuesday we met the UFV students at the time series sampling site in Fort Langley. The students seem excited about the expanded sampling protocol (including dissolved organic carbon, radiocarbon, deuterium, trace metals, and DNA samples, in addition to the major ion, nutrient, and strontium isotope samples they have collected for over a year already). We hope that they are gaining valuable experience and scientific inspiration in the process! We also appreciated their help in processing samples today and yesterday in the lab. We spent the better portion of the last two days at UFV filtering our massive water samples, not an easy task in the face of stubbornly leaky equipment and quickly clogging filters. But the team effort made the work easy and by the end of the day, we had generated an impressive set of extremely clean water bottles. We're looking forward to diving into another set of fantastic samples back at WHOI!

Things I will miss about B.C.:
  • the mountains, everywhere
  • salmon on every menu
  • the awesome UFV students (special thanks to Jenna for helping with filtration and lignin extraction ALL DAY today)
  • Stanley Cup fever (especially Tyler, the charmingly belligerent Canucks fan on the SkyTrain)
  • the wonderful cafes/bakeries in every small town we visited (Wendel's in Fort Langley, City Blends in Abbotsford, German bakery in Lillooet, Granville Coffee in Quesnel, Books & Company in Prince George, the Beanery in McBride, the Swiss Bakery in Valemount, and of course Packing House in Spences Bridge)
And for those who entered the "How high will it go?" water level contest, although the freshet is not quite finished on the Fraser, the maximum level recorded so far at Hope was 8.75 meters. The lucky winner will be treated to a free slideshow of pictures from our trip, with commentary! Or, if they would rather watch paint dry, cookies. But I should point out that this was the lowest estimate, and judging from the considerable snowpack still locked up in the mountains, I would wager that it might rise more yet...the adventure never ends!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Up in the air

We are now firmly back in the Fraser floodplain, gearing up for our final sampling sites. Saturday was our longest driving day of the expedition, over 700 km between Valemount and Langley. Along the way paid another visit to the Hell's Gate rapids, which gave us a chance to scope out afternoon lighting in the canyon, an important attribute for our next day's activities...

Yesterday was perhaps our most exciting day. We had the opportunity to take a small plane flight over the lower portion of the Fraser valley. The plane was operated by LightHawk, an organization that provides volunteer pilots for conservation and scientific missions. Our pilot, Hunter Handsfield, met us at the Abbotsford airport, and soon we were up in the air gazing down at the Fraser from hundreds of feet above! The views were absolutely spectacular: gliding upstream, we saw the rugged peaks of the Coast and Cascade mountains surrounding the flat floodplain, then the opening of the canyon as the Fraser curves north, and finally the stunning contrast at the confluence of the Fraser and Thompson Rivers at Lytton. I was especially surprised by how widespread patches of clearcut logging were in every forested area we saw. We then turned south and passed over the delta at Vancouver where we looked down on the mixing of the muddy Fraser River plume with the blue waters of the Strait of Georgia. In a matter of a few hours we had gained a totally new perspective of this area by being able to see the transitions between mountains, canyon, floodplain, and estuary all at once. And our photographer Chris captured some amazing images for his multimedia piece before returning home to Seattle.

Today we are sampling the delta; we plan to collect large volumes of water in a depth profile for filtration to characterize the suspended particulates. We look forward to a long day or two of filtration to follow...

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The end of the road

In between our sampling stops over the past few days, we have had the opportunity to take in some of the natural beauty of the zone through which the Fraser climbs up from its flat northern peneplain, through the Rocky Mountain trench, and almost to its source high in the Rockies. During this transition, the river valley courses through a broad meandering floodplain with mountain walls on either side (the Rockies to the north and the Cariboo to the south), which gradually constrict in until the mighty Fraser begins to resemble a large mountain stream bursting off a mountainside. The landscape in this region is characterized by spectacular pine forests, blanketing the steep ridges green below the treeline.

In many places, vast swaths of dead and dying trees are visible from the highway, evidence of logging, forest fires, and mountain pine beetle infestation. Driving between Prince Geroge and Valemount, we made a stop at a special area called the "Ancient Forest," a relatively small and rare patch of intact primary forest. The trees in this area are enormous and surrounded by lush undergrowth, almost as verdant as the old growth forest we visited outside Abbotsford earlier in our trip. Later at one of our sampling sites, we took a short jaunt up a trailhead and found huge ferns covering the ground like a tall layer of grass (see photo, grad student indicates scale). For contrast, at a different site in the Rockies the next day, we saw fallen trees with exposed tunnels burrowed by pine beetles which likely killed the tree. The combined stresses of human disturbance and the spreading pine beetle infestation in these forests paints a bleak picture for the ecosystem in this region over the next few decades, although the overall natural beauty of the area is still stunning.

I've been trying to brush up on background knowledge during this trip by reading An Illustrated History of Canada's Native People by Arthur Ray (which is a great book!), and one section describing the acquisition of land by the nascent British Columbia government from local native groups seems to set the tone for how natural ecosystems (and people) have been treated by the dominant culture for the past few centuries here and in the rest of North America. In describing how the Hudson's Bay Company should handle Native land claims, future B.C. governor James Douglas wrote "you are to consider the Natives as the rightful possessors of such lands only as are occupied by cultivation, or had houses built on... All other lands are to be considered waste." It's hard to think of a more inappropriate word to describe the natural ecosystem value of something like an old growth forest in this basin.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Pass the DEET

A wise man named Eddie Izzard once said "I'm covered in bees!" I think we can all relate to this scenario after today's sampling experience, during which we were attacked by hordes of ravenous mosquitoes. It did, however, prove a powerful of incentive, as we've never collected samples to efficiently! We suspect that the high water levels across the basin have created large areas of inundation here in the northern peneplain region, meaning lots of stagnant standing water, i.e. mosquito breeding grounds. We're hoping that as we gain elevation tomorrow heading into the Rocky Mountains, the insect threat level will decrease.

I wanted to use today's post to talk about a new sample we've added to our repertoire for this trip. The main focus of most of our samples has always been to characterize the geochemistry of river water and sediments. But that's only part of the story. A river system is comprised of inorganic and organic components, which includes living organisms. We don't yet have a comprehensive idea of the biological communities living within the river: phytoplankton and algae creating plant matter, invertebrates feeding on plankton, and microbes consuming organic matter associated with particles. So this time we are collecting a special filter sample (first photo) from which DNA will be extracted by Marco Coolen and his lab at WHOI. This will serve as a broad "who's there" survey of the microbial community living on the particles we collect for chemical analyses. It will be interesting to link this biological information to the geochemical picture we have of the Fraser basin and attempt to understand which organisms and metabolic processes may be transforming the chemical signatures we measure. And it's always fun to work a little outside your scientific comfort zone!

Our team also has a new member: incoming WHOI student Sarah Rosengard, who joined us yesterday by flying straight from her graduation at Brown to Prince George. She's jumped right into the action helping collect samples and filter back in the hotel room. And fortunately her first day wasn't entirely mosquito-filled misery; conditions at our first sampling site, the McGregor River, were pleasantly bug-free and sunny (second photo).

Tomorrow we have a long drive to Valemount, a small town in the Rockies, which will be home base for our last few sampling sites in the headwaters before we head back to the floodplain. The residents of Prince George bid us farewell tonight with an impromptu parade of music and cheering from cars passing by our hotel. Well, it might have been to celebrate the Canucks first Stanley Cup final victory over the Bruins, but I think it's open to interpretation.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

You think you know a river

Since leaving Lillooet, we've made two big detours on two long days of driving to sample tributaries off the beaten track. Since Highway 97 leaves the Fraser for long stretches between Lillooet and Prince George, getting to our sampling sites sometimes involves considerable travel on gravel roads into somewhat remote areas. The Chilcotin River (see last post), was one such site. After sampling the Quesnel River yesterday morning, we took another long gravel road drive to the Blackwater River (and saw some wildlife on the way - see photo), so named for its tea-colored hue due to high concentrations of dissolved organic matter. But instead of living up to its moniker, we found the swollen Blackwater to be turbid and light brown, just like every other site we've sampled so far this trip. Along with the Thompson, Chilcotin, and Bridge Rivers, which we had until now known as relatively clear-water tributaries, the Blackwater has taken on this characteristic muddy freshet nature. Chris chides us for promising that certain sites will look different and our predictions have all been wrong!

However, each site still has a distinctive particulate/dissolved size spectrum, giving it a certain filtration behavior (some samples tend to clog the filters quickly because of high concentrations of colloidal material, which does not necessarily contribute to the water's "muddiness"). Bernhard is processing our sample from the Blackwater right now, and it is clogging filters faster than any sample yet, which makes me want to keep writing to perhaps postpone my own shift...

We are now based in Prince George for a few days, sampling the many tributaries that drain to the Fraser in this area; today's sites included the Bowron, Willow (see second photo), and Nechako Rivers. In addition to our regular sampling routine, last night we tried our hands at lignin extraction. Using solid phase extraction cartridges, we processed a few liters of Chilcotin water, which Yvonne Feng will analyze for lignin concentrations. We hope to try this again if we can tolerate processing much more of our Blackwater sample.

In case you missed my earlier petition, there is still time to register your wager for the maximum water level of the Fraser at Hope! There has only been one entrant so far and I refuse to award an uncontested competition. The closest guess will receive a mystery prize, which may or may not be related to rivers or Canada or chemistry. You'll never know if you don't try... Yesterday's max level was 8.67 meters, and you can consult Environment Canada for recent trends.

Monday, May 30, 2011

It's a little bit country

Touring the Fraser Canyon is as much a cultural experience as a scientific one. Something about wide open spaces creates a different sort of atmosphere than what you're likely to find in the city. We wouldn't necessarily notice this difference from the comfort of our van driving between our sampling sites. But the towns we visit that provide food and shelter along the way each offer their own ambiance. In most cases, this involves some mix of frontier and aboriginal flair.

En route between Lillooet and our sampling site on the Chilcotin River today, we stopped for breakfast at the Hat Creek Ranch, where the proprietors of the restaurant and (apparently) historic ranch have gone to great lengths to emphasize the western attributes of the site's surroundings and roots. Not leaving out a single detail, they even had "Rawhide" playing in the background. Before moving on, we were reunited with the busload of Australian tourists who followed us to breakfast just yesterday in Lillooet (where they appear to have made quite an impression, see first photo). Also spotted on the road today were a rodeo in progress and countless pastures of grazing cattle, and all before Williams Lake (the rodeo capital of B.C.)!

The real highlight of the day was driving through the Chilcotin canyon. The area looks completely different from what we saw on our last two visits (summer 2009 and fall 2010). Instead of sparse bunchgrass dotting the vast sandy-brown landscape with the milky blue-gray Chilcotin River running through the middle, we found the hills dusted with green grass and the Chilcotin a muddy brown color. After sampling, we paused to admire the beautiful landscape (see second photo) before continuing on to Quesnel.

The Chilcotin has always been our nemesis when it comes to filtering out our precious particles. True to form, the filters we use to collect water samples on-site clogged before we could fill all our bottles. Then back in the hotel we discovered that our pressurized filtration units could only filter about half as much water as they did for previous stations before clogging. But given the stark visual contrast in the Chilcotin between our visits, it will certainly be worth it to compare the chemical nature of these particles with those collected at different times of year! The water passing through the filters is also visibly colored, so we hope to save some for lignin concentration measurements as well.

After just one night in Quesnel, we will head to Prince George, which will serve as a "base camp" for most of our remaining stations. Stay tuned for more exciting tributaries, a new team member, and more pictures of sunshine (fingers crossed)!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The canyon walls are high and hard to climb

Since the last post, we've covered quite a bit of ground. After finishing our Hope station yesterday morning, we hit the road for Lytton, stopping at Hell's Gate on the way. Hell's Gate is a spectacular spot near the end of the Fraser Canyon where the river narrows to the point that, at high flow, it is as deep as it is wide. The result is a torrent of rapids and massive whirlpools. Whole trees rush by and collect in backeddies, forming huge debris rafts. The view is quite spectacular and, despite the occasional drizzle, we were joined by many other tourists at the visitor's center.

The next stop was Lytton where, in the past, we have efficiently sampled both the Thompson (the Fraser's largest tributary) and the Fraser mainstem at stations very close to one another. We soon encountered trouble, however, when we discovered that this beach site was now completely inundated, and we could not reach an area where the Thompson and Fraser were completely separated. Consulting our map, we decided we needed to head upstream to find an accessible site. Eventually we arrived at Goldpan Park and got down to sampling. The sun even made a brief appearance, and Chris took a break from shooting cool underwater videos to document the science action (see top photo).

Trying our luck again in Lytton, we returned to our site at the reaction ferry, which is out of operation during the freshet because of unsafe current speeds and debris flows (which leaves a stretch of 130 km between Yale and Lillooet without a crossing of the Fraser). Sampling here was also not feasible because of the high water! (see second photo) So on we drove to Lillooet...

This morning at the Bridge River above Lillooet we encountered yet more difficulty finding a sampling site. This time, the high flow of the Fraser created a small branch of flow over what we previously knew as land, which was flowing back some ways into the Bridge River. The possibility of mixing between the Fraser mainstem and the Bridge tributary made us wary of this site, but the canyon walls through which the Bridge flows are nearly vertical everywhere, so we had no alternatives. So we collected a few samples at our original site, and enjoyed the scenery (including a bald eagle stalking a portion of river for its lunch).

Tomorrow we move on yet again. Unfortunately, we must leave Lillooet without a visit to the Jade Museum, one of our favorite stops in the Fraser Canyon. The Lillooet area is a historic mecca for minerals; more recently people have started exploring its jade deposits, but back in the 1860s the town served as the jumping-off point for erswhile gold miners. Many businesses still have a gold rush flavor: Goldpanner Restaurant, Hotel de Oro, Mile 0 Motel. Most of the easily mined gold has already been removed, but some people still carry the torch for the Fraser gold fields - we even met such a man in Hope!

Friday, May 27, 2011

The thing with feathers

There was much rejoicing when we learned that our gear had finally arrived at UFV this morning. Not a moment too soon, as we were rearing to hit the road and start some serious sampling. After an elaborate game of 3-D tetris to arrange all our gear and personal effects in the minivan, we were off!

Stop #1 was Pitt Lake. Shrouded in fog on a regular basis due to the steep valleys surrounding the lake, Pitt always has a sort of mystical charm to it. Which is important, since we also always seem to get rained on there. But we used the conditions to iron out the kinks in our sampling routine under real circumstances. We also caught sight of a few great blue herons, which was a treat.

Leaving Pitt, the skies cleared up and we were feeling optimistic for our second station, Harrison Lake. Pitt and Harrison are two long, deep glacial valleys that contribute the majority of the flow to the Fraser in the floodplain, delivering heavy rainfall runoff from moist Pacific air and considerable snowpack from the Coast Range mountains. Just looking around at these two sites we could see how much snow is still locked up in the mountains, suggesting that the rising water level of these tributaries and the Fraser mainstem will continue for a bit longer. We were surprised to see how much higher the water level at our Harrison sampling site was today than we have ever seen it (see photo). The boat ramp at Kilby Park is completely submerged, as is the entire shore of the beach and many trees.

Driving to our final stop for the evening offered even more stunning vistas of the high flow condition of the Fraser River. The river is visibly pushing up against its banks and many of the mid-channel islands are partially submerged. We drove into the town of Hope to discover that our previous sampling site was flooded to the point of being inaccessible. But we quickly found a friendly proprietor at the nearby RV campground, who welcomed us to sample where we could find access. We accomplished the first half of our Hope station, filling large carboys to be filtered later. While the water poured into our carboys, we watched in awe as the mighty Fraser rushed by in front of us in the hazy evening light. Pleasant thoughts to keep our spirits up for the long filtration session that followed.

I am currently accepting wagers for exactly how high the Fraser's water level (at Hope) will get by the end of the freshet. Today's maximum was 8.28 meters. If you wish to make an educated guess, visit Environment Canada Water Office. Gentle readers, place your bets!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Sea of complexity

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter C: condensation, coffee, chutney, contrafibularities, and clogged filters.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that field research is dictated by Murphy’s Law. No matter how well [you think] you’ve prepared, reality will do its best to throw a wrench in things. This is why we spent the better part of the last two days tinkering with malfunctioning batteries, in line at the customer service counter of Canadian Tire, rescuing chemicals from waste disposal, and on the phone with customs brokers. Fortunately, despite the fact that none of the supplies we shipped for our sampling have arrived yet, our collaborators at UFV were ready and eager to provide their time and supplies to get some science done this morning. We got to watch new and seasoned members of the time series team try out the recently expanded sampling procedure at Fort Langley. Working together like a well-oiled machine, the students split into teams, leading each other in a variety of new and familiar techniques. Over the past year and a half, small groups of students have visited Fort Langley monthly to weekly to collect samples for nutrient and major ion concentrations and strontium isotopes. We can’t overestimate the value of the dataset that this has generated; the temporal resolution and sustained presence of this work is unprecedented and would not be possible without the commitment and enthusiasm of the UFV students and their faculty mentors. This year’s hydrograph is very different from last year’s, so we can’t wait to see what these samples will reveal the second time around!

With a little luck, today we will be able to get going on our tributary sampling and will end the day at the mouth of the Fraser Canyon. And with even more luck, our first encounter with frigid waters will be on the banks of the river, rather than under the shower faucet at the hotel (although I am interested in opportunities to earn honorary Greenland Points). Our fate may rest equally tenuously in the gloved hands of certain athletes vying for a chance at the Stanley Cup. If the Bruins win Friday’s playoff game, pitting Boston against Vancouver in the final next week, we may soon need to hide our Massachusetts roots when meeting locals in B.C. Perhaps science can be a force for unity in a world torn apart by professional sports.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Fiddleheads and forts

Welcome back to the Fraser River expedition blog! Over the next three weeks, we will be posting updates and musings on our experiences collecting samples from across lower British Columbia. For information about our previous expedition last October, see the posts below.

Bernhard and I flew into Vancouver yesterday and today we were joined by Chris Linder, a photographer who will be documenting our expedition. In lieu of science, today we took the opportunity to meet up with local collaborator Steven Marsh from UFV and daughter Sarah, undergraduate students Garrett and Jenna, and John from Nature Conservancy Canada. We met at Sumas Mountain, one of many small peaks jutting abruptly out of the Fraser floodplain near Abbotsford. This afternoon, John gave our group a guided tour of a small patch of stunning intact old growth forest on Sumas Mountain.

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter F. Wandering through the forest was like taking a step back in time. After leaving the logging road, we followed a barely detectable trail over rich, spongy soil and surrounded by towering cedars and maples. Every surface was covered with moss and ferns. There was no trace of nearby civilization: the hum of Highway 1, the rattle of passing trains, or even views of the towns below at clearings quickly faded away. We stopped at trees that have been dated to many hundreds of years, and one so old its age isn’t exactly known because the center has rotted out. However, John explained that this could all change in a matter of days, as developers are eagerly pursuing permits to begin clearing the native vegetation from this area in order to build homes on five-acre lots, which are already creeping up the side of Sumas Mountain. The Nature Conservancy has been fighting this campaign in an effort to preserve the critical habitat found in this small area, which is home to a number of endangered plant and animal species found nowhere else in Canada.

The other important F word today was Fort Langley. This historic town boasts the title of the first European settlement in the lower Fraser Valley, established as a fur trading post by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1827. As such, it bears historical significance in the province, which was on display at the reconstructed fort (a National Historic Site complete with period character interpreters) and during today’s Victoria Day parade. For us, Fort Langley is notable as the site of our time series sampling (near the old ferry dock), which has been carried out by UFV students and faculty since fall 2009. We will report more on the incredible dataset these students have helped generate when we return on Wednesday.

Of course, the most important F word of our expedition is Fraser, the river that connects people and ecosystems across lower British Columbia. This year is special because we are sampling during the freshet period, when the water flow peaks due to spring rainfall and snowmelt in the mountains. It should be an exciting time to see the river!