UAF’s Toolik Field Station Funded for Five More Years
Toolik Field Station on the shore of Toolik Lake in the northern foothills of the Brooks Range, just off the Dalton Highway about 133 miles south of Prudhoe Bay.
Toolik Field Station, the largest scientific research station in the Arctic, has $19.7 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to pay for five more years of operation.
The outpost on the shore of Toolik Lake, about 1 mile off the Dalton Highway in the northern foothills of the Brooks Range, is operated by the UAF Institute of Arctic Biology (IAB). It provides logistical, technical, and research support to hundreds of national and international scientists and students each year.
“Toolik Field Station has been a key location for Arctic research for many years,” says Syndonia Bret-Harte, the principal investigator for the award and a professor at IAB. “The importance of the Arctic to the rest of the world continues to grow as climate changes rapidly, and we expect sustained scientific interest in studying sites near Toolik.”
Since 1975, research at Toolik has advanced collective knowledge of the Arctic and contributed to understanding of the region’s disproportionate influence on global climate. More than 1,400 scientific articles have been published on research conducted at Toolik, including 56 articles in high-impact journals such as Science and Nature.
Scientists from a diverse array of fields, including ecology, physiology, space physics, and atmospheric chemistry, flock to Toolik, despite its remoteness. Toolik also is a leader in combatting sexual misconduct at field stations and is often highlighted in national programs focused on creating safer, more inclusive fieldwork conditions.
“The Institute of Arctic Biology is immensely proud of the world-class research opportunities provided by the outstanding team and facilities at Toolik Field Station and is delighted to see its longstanding partnership with NSF continuing strong,” says Diane O’Brien, IAB’s interim director. “Toolik Field Station is a major contributor to UAF’s position as an international leader in Arctic research and is a great way to show researchers worldwide what Alaska has to offer.”
Originally awarded in 2000, the cooperative agreement with NSF enables Toolik to support critical research conducted by programs such as the Arctic Observing Network, Arctic Long-Term Ecological Research program, and the National Ecological Observatory Network. This fifth cooperative agreement supports Arctic research and education in response to the needs of the scientific community and public.
UAF staff remain at Toolik in the winter to assist researchers on site or, more commonly, collecting data for scientists unable to travel to the station. Requests for remote access service skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic. In response, the Toolik Spatial and Environmental Data Center (SEDC) increased its support for such services by nearly ten-fold. Toolik SEDC will continue its expanded remote access in this new round of NSF funding.
“Remote access will never replace the transformative value of an in-person research experience, especially for students,” Bret-Harte says, “but timely assistance from Toolik staff on-site can solve problems and maintain data collection while reducing the cost—and carbon footprint—for researchers to come from far away.”
NSF also is investing in new infrastructure at Toolik to adapt to the growing number of research projects, including an improved shower facility and medical clinic. These improvements will boost Toolik’s support for shoulder season and wintertime research.
“We are honored and humbled to serve the community of Toolik researchers and the public in partnership with the NSF,” Bret-Harte says.