The North Slope and the South Coast

by Robert Golder, Graduate Research Asst., Urban Initiative.

Last summer, I commuted to work via helicopter. I spent two-and-a-half months above the Arctic Circle in Alaska, often living in a tent on the tundra while working as a research assistant on fisheries migration studies in rivers of the North Slope and in the Brooks Range, on the western edge of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. I studied Arctic grayling (Thymallus arcticus), a troutlike fish of far northern latitudes. I caught, weighed, and measured thousands of fish, and then subcutaneously injected an electronic tag into each one. The tagged fish were tracked by remote antenna stations that our team installed, during multiple helicopter trips, across the wilderness of the North Slope. There was a severe drought in the Arctic last summer, so the grayling demonstrated some very unusual migration behavior. However, our tags captured all the data we needed in order to understand the fishes’ movements.

The author prepares to tag an Arctic grayling at Oksrukuyik Creek, North Slope, Alaska, Summer 2011.

This summer, I commute to work via a twenty-two-year old Ford Ranger, arising each morning from my familiar bed in my New Bedford home to drink some coffee, pet my dog, and drive to Dartmouth. I’m a graduate research assistant in the Urban Initiative program, and some of my friends wonder whether I’ll miss the Arctic wilderness too much. It’s true that I love camping in the endless expanses of northern Alaska, and I don’t mind dodging grizzly bears and mosquitoes as much as some other folks do. But there are extraordinary parallels between my Arctic work and my urban work that make it very exciting to be here this summer.

One project I’m working on involves the Taunton Housing Authority, which is about to bulldoze an old low-income housing complex and build two new ones as replacements. THA’s clients could be displaced by the housing renewal project. Just like the Arctic grayling, these clients will “migrate.” Our team needs to find these clients and survey them to discover their current status and future housing needs. We also need to go to Taunton to locate and survey neighborhood residents living within a one-mile radius of the housing complex.

Although I will draw upon other past experiences as Field Operations Supervisor for New Bedford during the 2010 U.S. Census, it is not mere hyperbole to say that I expect to use the Arctic grayling studies as a successful model for working in Taunton. Like the Arctic grayling population in last year’s drought, some of the Taunton human population has been displaced from their normal comings and goings. I must find them, “catch” them even if they do not want to be interviewed, and “tag” them using a survey that identifies their characteristics.

So although I will not be in the Arctic this summer, something of the Arctic will be in me, even on the streets and sidewalks of Taunton.

Another day at the office. The author in the Brooks Range, northern Alaska, Summer 2011.

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