"I'm all out of ideas," says hydrologist Mike Gooseff, still smiling despite his frustration.

On a crisp, unusually warm and dry August afternoon on Alaska's North Slope, a few miles from the Toolik Lake Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) field station, a two-meter metal rod is wedged in pristine streambed, irretrievable despite nearly an hour of yanking, pushing, prodding, and countless Rube-Goldberg-like brainstorms. Someone had forgotten to slip on a metal piece that would give a jack enough leverage to dislodge the rod, part of a long-term study monitoring the effects of Arctic warming, after it had been hammered into the streambed to measure the depth to permafrost. Excalibur simply wouldn't budge.

Definitively answering whether global climate change is indeed occurring – and how precisely that change might reverberate through ecosystems – is complex business. The experiments that push the envelope, seek some small clues, and fuel the science, however, are...

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