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Hanover, New Hampshire has a population of 11,000.  It is 90 miles from Burlington, 120 from Boston, and 260 from New York.  Undergraduate and graduate students at Dartmouth College have tremendous global learning opportunities, and, as an IGERT student, I have received enormous support for developing my less-conventional career goals in the policy arena.  Still, Hanover is geographically distant from scientific and political hubs, and I do not regularly interact with the larger community of students and experts committed to ensuring a peaceful and sustainable future for the rapidly changing Arctic environment.

The Arctic is warming faster than anywhere on the planet, three times the global mean temperature change, in fact.  Its changes are affecting human populations, ecosystems, and economic opportunities, and the Arctic Council provides the sole forum for solution development and consensus building.  The Arctic is unique in being a region where climate changes are affecting resource availability, human health, cultural heritage, and governance across many national boundaries—and to the great interest of the rest of the globe.  As US Public Affairs Officer Steven Labensky stated on the first day of the winter school, “the ramifications and solutions to challenges [faced by Arctic nations] fall also below the 66th parallel.”  He saluted the decision to include observer nations in the Model Arctic Council.

I view the challenges faced and solutions developed by the Arctic states a mild harbinger of what is in store for the more politically volatile, more densely populated region of the Tibetan Plateau, where I also conduct research and ultimately hope to do diplomatic work.  The Arctic Council – its procedures, its shortcomings, and its enormous successes – will serve to provide the world with a model for peaceful international dialogue and resolutions for collaborative adaptation and sustainable development.

In addition to learning about the history, procedures, and priorities of the Arctic Council, I left Arkhangelsk reflecting on two subjects I had not necessarily anticipated: first, the role of scientists in Arctic diplomacy and, second, what it means for America—and for an American—to be part of the larger Arctic community.

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Circumpolar map showing 8 Arctic nations. (source: mapresources.com)

The Arctic Council formed in 1996, with the signing of the Ottawa Declaration, but its precursor began in 1991 with the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy (AEPS).  Although the AC now promotes coordination on issues ranging from health to economics to cultural preservation, it was exclusively environmental at its inception.  Therefore, the work of earth and environmental scientists has always been of central interest and relevance to Council officials and ministers, and the AC’s working groups represent a closer formal and procedural tie between government leaders and scientists than I’ve been exposed to elsewhere. 

The Arctic Council’s working groups provide a pathway for soliciting and implementing science; however, much of the responsibility still lies with the scientists.  A group that is balancing many interests, considerations, and priorities may not be able to seek out every aspect of relevant scientific work, particularly if it is not easily and readily accessible.  What I’ve heard my adviser call “loading dock science” is a luxury that climate and Arctic scientists can no longer afford.  We cannot conduct our work in a vacuum, publish it, and expect someone else to communicate it and advocate for its consideration in policy decisions.  Nor can we continue to speak an arcane language only our scientific colleagues understand.  It is not uncommon for an Arctic Council member to say to a scientist, “You’re speaking English but I don’t understand what you’re saying,” according to Prof. Douglas Nord who has attended several AC meetings over the last two decades.  Scientists are not permitted to make official policy recommendations to the AC, but it is their responsibility to communicate results, their relevancy, and their implications clearly to ensure that decisions are made with consideration of accurate and up-to-date scientific knowledge.

American universities are producing an astounding amount of research on the Arctic Ocean, ecosystems, ice, climate, and other aspects of the Northern region, which is particularly appropriate given the United States’ status as an Arctic Nation.  I’ve had the privilege of traveling twice to Greenland and twice to Alaska for coursework and research, and so it surprised me that several of my friends seemed confused when I told them I was representing the U.S. at this Model Arctic Council.  “Wait, what?  Why does the U.S. care about the Arctic?  [pause]  Oh, just because of Alaska?” was a common response, even among my peers at Dartmouth.

On the first day of the workshop, we participated in a roundtable discussion with policy representatives about the role of public diplomacy in Arctic issues.  I posed the question of whether it’s problematic for the general American public not to understand the enormous opportunities and responsibilities associated with owning land and marine shelf in the Arctic.  In terms of regional governance and international relations, perhaps the fact that many Americans view Alaska as a gas tank is not a problem.  But choosing not to extend public diplomacy efforts to the younger generation seems, to me, a lost opportunity to engage the public in questions concerning the effects of, collective adaptation to, and equitable capitalization on changes in climate.  Furthermore, by not actively engaging in Arctic issues, we miss exploring part of our identity as Americans.

I was one of 5 participants representing the United States in Arkhangelsk and the only one not from Alaska.  On the first day of the workshop, the group took an organized excursion to Russia’s largest open-air museum, Malye Korely.Image

Standing outside a chapel at the open air museum, Malye Korely. 

As I walked among the 18th century churches and peasant homes, I realized that I knew embarrassingly little about Russian history.  I tried to make up for what I’ve lacked in my history courses and my independent reading in the evenings (when I could get my internet connection to work).  But it didn’t hit me until the conclusion of the Model Arctic Council, when we were invited to the grand opening of the exhibition on American Russia at Arkhangelsk’s Museum of the Arctic, that Russian history—at least prior to the purchase of Alaska in 1867—is part of American history. 

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Museum of the Arctic: opening of exhibition on American Russia.

A native New Englander, I have always vaguely identified with European history.  But to the rest of the international Arctic community, particularly to the Russians, Americans are the people who acquired Alaska.  It’s crucial to remember that this one state, with its unique geographical location and associated history, is an important part of our country that provides us with the privilege to contribute to developing, protecting, and preserving one of the most vulnerable parts of our planet.

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Museum of the Arctic. (Photo credit: Irina Tyurikova)

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Museum of the Arctic.

 

Given the increasing interest in the Arctic—from the international scientific, business, and health communities—it seems fitting, and perhaps even imperative, to expose the next generation of policymakers to the inner workings of Arctic diplomacy. During the last week of February, I had the privilege of representing the United States and Dartmouth College at the first ever Model Arctic Council, a role-playing conference with the same goals as the Model UN: expose students to high-level policy negotiations through experience and participation.

The Northern Arctic Federal University (NArFU) in Arkhangelsk, Russia hosted 30 graduate students from over 10 countries to simulate the proceedings of the Arctic Council, the high level intergovernmental forum through which Arctic governments and indigenous peoples discuss and take tangible actions to address the economic, social, health, safety, and security issues that they face.

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In front of Northern Arctic Federal University.

The first of four days (see program) consisted of lectures and round-table diplomacy discussions led by prominent government figures: US Embassy Public Affairs Officer Steven Labensky, Russian International Affairs Council Deputy Program Director Timur Makhmutov, and Dr. Lev Levit of the Arctic Council Secretariat. Additionally, students engaged in lectures by Arctic experts in academia: Prof. Hitchins of University of Alaska spoke on the history of the Arctic Council, Prof. Nord of Western Washington University shared his tremendous insights on the changes in and challenges for the Council from his involvement over the past 22 years; and Prof. Alexander Sergunin of St. Petersburg State University lectured on international relations and security strategies.

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Me with Officer Labensky of the US Embassy.

The following days involved simulations of the three types of meetings run by the Council: a biannual meeting for one of the six Working Groups, which implement research and projects related to specific interests; the biannual meeting of the Senior Arctic Officials; and the biennial meeting of Arctic Ministers (the Secretary of State represents the US in this meeting). Each was a progressively higher-level meeting to which participants passed along information discussed and resolved at the lower-level meeting the previous day. Students followed the Council’s Rules of Procedure while representing delegates from the 8 Arctic States, 6 Permanent Participants of indigenous groups, 4 of the 6 Working Groups, and 3 of the 12 non-Arctic observer states. Each role was assigned prior to the meeting, and students prepared written position papers as well as oral statements or presentations for the meetings.

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Active in negotiations.

Arctic states are those with territory north of the 66th parallel: Canada, Denmark (including Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden, and the United States (i.e. Alaska). The Arctic Council is unique among international fora in its inclusion of indigenous groups which have a permanent place at the negotiation table. Although they do not have a vote, each group is actively involved in discussions and consultations at every level of the Council’s activities. Representation may change but currently includes the Arctic Athabaskan Council, Aleut International Association, Gwich’in Council International, Inuit Circumpolar Council, Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, and Saami Council. The final category of delegates present was Working Group chairs; working groups focus on a particular subject of interest and include sectoral ministry experts, researchers, and representatives from government agencies. On the Arctic Council, there are 6 such groups:
-Arctic Contaminants Action Program,
-Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme,
-Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna,
-Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response,
-Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment, and
-Sustainable Development Working Group.

I played the chair of the Protection of the Marine Environment (PAME) working group during all three levels of negotiation. As the sole PAME representative, I contributed information related to achieving economic and social development while simultaneously ensuring sustainable marine resource use, maintaining biodiversity, and minimizing pollution. I represented the group that provides guidance to the Arctic Council on how to strengthen governance and environmental management, and I contributed environmental considerations to the conversation. The working groups provide the primary pathway through which scientists’ work informs the policy measures and initiatives developed through the Council and was, thus, of particular interest to me as an Earth Sciences PhD student.

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Developing language for the Declaration.

Our task and final product was the “Arkhangelsk Declaration.” Emulating those produced every two years at the Arctic Council Ministerial Meetings, this document highlights progress and outlines future goals we agreed upon by consensus. Specifically, the Declaration summarized our work creating and designing initiatives to revitalize indigenous language, facilitate international electronic sharing of historical archives and data, stimulate product development within the reindeer herding industry, and address the incidence of suicide in Northern communities. Overall, the discussions were engaging, the negotiations successful, and the resulting plan both compelling and achievable.

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Daniil Erofeevsky of NArFU, representing of Ambassador Thorsteinn Ingolfsson from Iceland Ministry for Foreign Affairs, signing our Arkhangelsk Declaration.

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All participants and instructors.

It’s the dead of night. An investigator is working in the lab, trying to answer one simple question, one question that begins all good investigations: Who are you?

She examines the body, which has three bright white lights shining on it. The body is hairier than expected. The key, she thinks, is the unusual indentations on the side of his abdomen.

After taking notes and doing a final once-over, the investigator knows who this guy is. She feels like cueing some tv crime show theme song. Maybe the one from Bones, where scientists help solve an FBI case.

After a careful examination of the body, an identification was possible.

After a careful examination of the body, an identification was possible.

But the dead-of-night investigator isn’t done yet. She has 194 bodies to go. The ultimate goal is to create a network – like the kind you see on those tv crime shows. Who’s connected to whom? What were their usual hang-outs?

Making a network helps an investigator figure out who's connected to whom and what their usual hang-outs are.

Making a network helps an investigator figure out who’s connected to whom and what their usual hang-outs were. Credit:cityTV

The guy she just identified might have had a thing for hanging out at buttercups. Or maybe he visited gray willow, like many of the other guys and girls. The guy’s a fly.

Identifying fly specimens is a daunting task. She progresses to the next fly, and starts the process all over again. Antenna shape. Wing veins. Leg spikes. Hairs on the middle of the body near the legs. So many characters to pour over. So many possible identities. Each identification is helping to uncover the network, which will help us understand the importance of pollinators in Greenland.

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A fly being identified under the microscope.

The pollen that was previously collected off the fly’s body will give the investigator insight into the fly’s hang outs –  flowers they were visiting.  Stay tuned as we collect these clues .

Sitting in my office at Dartmouth, it is hard to believe that just two weeks ago I woke up in McMurdo. After nearly two weeks at home, I’ve readjusted to life in the Upper Valley. Little things, however, quickly bring me back to the Dry Valleys, with their towering peaks and constant winds. Last week, hearing all of your responses to my blog questions was a lovely reminder of my travels. It was wonderful to hear back from so many of you, to read your thoughts, and to know that you enjoyed following along as I shared my experiences. For me, writing the blogs was one of the highlights of being in Antarctica. It completely eliminated that feeling of isolation that many of you imagined.

Since all good blogs require photos, I thought I'd take this opportunity to share some of my favorites from the season.

Since all good blogs require photos, I thought I’d take this opportunity to share some of my favorites from the season.

In reading your responses, it was clear that everyone understood and related to the importance of liquid water in the Dry Valley ecosystem. Indeed, this can’t be stressed enough, especially when we think about what may happen with warmer conditions. Your thoughts and questions about how additional water availability and warming temperatures may change the Dry Valleys were insightful:

Will more nutrients be delivered to the system due to more running water?

How will habitats change?

Will there be any algae blooms due to increased nutrient availability?

How will the lake chemistry change?

Could the Dry Valley lakes ever mix?

Of course, I have no answers to these questions – that’s why we continue to return to the Dry Valleys each year to make observations and conduct our experiments! But it’s rewarding to see that even without visiting the Dry Valleys, you can begin to construct interesting and important science questions.

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Although many of the questions I asked were related to science, the question that generated the most responses had to do with repetitive tasks. It seems as though the balance between enjoyable and unbearable may be as delicate as the balance between liquid water and solid ice. Repetitive tasks, when efficient and with a defined purpose, can be soothing, meditative, and bring a peace of mind. But it’s very easy to push things over the edge: with just too much brainpower needed, no defined goal, or a feeling of endlessness, repetitive tasks drive everyone crazy. Having a goal, keeping that big picture in mind even as we focus on details, is critical to enjoyment. That’s something that we should all keep in mind, especially as we train assistants to do those repetitive tasks for us.

The McMurdo Dry Valley LTER Principal Investigators, all together at Lake Hoare Camp!

The McMurdo Dry Valley LTER Principal Investigators, all together at Lake Hoare Camp!

A number of you mentioned that yes, it is possible to learn something without repetition (fire is hot, for instance). So maybe I need to qualify my statement: learning to do something well (playing an instrument, conducting science, asking important questions) requires repetition.

I want to end by thanking you all for a successful blogging season! Thanks for reading, sharing with others, and responding. Stay tuned for future blogs from my travels to Greenland this coming summer!

Photo credit: Matt Knox

Photo credit: Matt Knox

On Tuesday, Ross and I got to do something very exciting: we recovered year-old soil incubation experiments (sausages) that we had buried last season. As we approached the site, I had no idea what to expect: would I be able to find them? What would the sausages look like? Would they be intact? I soon spotted the tags, started digging, and there were the sausages! Yes! They looked exactly the same as when we buried them! But hopefully we’ll be able to detect changes inside…

BEFORE: the soil sausage in lab, before getting buried. Apatite crystals are in there somewhere!

BEFORE: the soil sausage in the lab, before getting buried. Apatite crystals are in there somewhere!

AFTER: The soil sausages coming out of the ground! I'm very curious to see what the apatite looks like inside!

AFTER: The soil sausages coming out of the ground, looking just the same! I’m very curious to see what the apatite looks like inside!

So what are these soil sausages, and why was I burying them last season and unburying them on Tuesday? Well, to answer these questions, I have to tell you about phosphorus. As you may remember from an earlier blog, phosphorus is one of the limiting nutrients in Dry Valley ecosystems, which means that there isn’t much of it available to organisms. All phosphorus that is available originally comes from the mineral apatite, found in small quantities in igneous rocks. So if we understand something about how apatite breaks down and releases phosphorus, we’ll know something more about how an important nutrient enters the system.

Kenyte, a rare rock found in the Fryxell Basin of Taylor Valley, contains a lot of apatite. Is it responsible for contributing a lot of phosphorus to the ecosystem?

Kenyte, a rare rock found in the Fryxell Basin of Taylor Valley, contains a lot of apatite. Is it responsible for contributing a lot of phosphorus to the ecosystem?

To study the weathering (or breaking down) of this important mineral, we put store-bought crystals of apatite into the soil sausages. The tubing holding the sausage together is permeable, so water and bacteria can still interact with the mineral surfaces. We buried the sausages in a wet area just outside a stream channel, where we know there is a lot of flowing water. Water is crucial for chemical and biological weathering – we wouldn’t expect much to happen in the dry soils that carpet the majority of the valley.

Water was plentiful where we buried the soil sausages. This picture was taken right after the sausage was taken out of the ground.

Water was plentiful where we buried the soil sausages. This picture was taken right after the sausage was taken out of the ground.

So what are we looking for? After I get back to Dartmouth, I will separate out the apatite crystals, and I’ll look at them under very strong microscopes. I’ll look for any signs of weathering – small grooves in the surface of the rock. I’ll also look for any signs of life – with these microscopes I may even be able to see bacteria clinging to the surface of the mineral! These signs will tell me how actively apatite is being weathered, and how quickly phosphorus can be released into the system.

Back at Dartmouth, I’ll also be looking at apatite grains from the soils themselves (i.e. not ones we put there). So far, I’ve been able to see some interesting patterns in the shapes of the grains. I’m looking forward to understanding more about phosphorus cycling in the Dry Valleys – this will be a project that I’ll be working on for a number of years, and it’s exciting to see it progress!

It was exciting to collect the sausages! After all, I've been waiting for a year!

Very happy to collect the sausages! After all, I’ve been waiting for a year!

I’ve chosen to study phosphorus cycling in the Dry Valleys. After reading about the Dry Valleys and hearing about our research, what would you choose to study here? What would you be curious to learn about? 

In many of the blogs I’ve written thus far, I keep on coming back to the delicate balance between liquid water and solid ice. In this environment, where all precipitation falls as snow, and the vast majority of water is in solid form, a small change in temperature can have major consequences. For a small change of temperature in the tropics, liquid water remains liquid water. But here in the polar regions, a small change in temperature results in one of the most incredible transformations: from solid, inaccessible and unmoving ice, to life-sustaining, flowing water.

As I’ve mentioned previously, an increase in liquid water may have large consequences for the Dry Valleys. These past few days, though, I’ve been thinking about this phase transformation a little more broadly. Yesterday, we went on a walk around Observation Hill, and it struck me how much of a change I’ve seen in the short three weeks I’ve been here. When I arrived, the sea ice around Ross Island was completely solid. It was hard to remember we were on an island at all. Now, there’s open water extending far off from McMurdo. Part of this is a natural progression of the summer season, and part is due to the Polar Star, the US Icebreaker that has arrived in McMurdo.

The sea ice near Ross Island is all broken up.

The sea ice near Ross Island is all broken up.

This isn’t just a visual change – there are other consequences as well. Liquid water brings life – and we’ve been seeing many adelie penguins and some minke whales from the helicopter and right out our lab window!

Liquid water brings life: Adelie penguins grace us with their presence right in town!

Liquid water brings life: Adelie penguins grace us with their presence right in town!

Our helicopter flights are longer now, since we have to remain over solid ground at all times (not a problem, when our flights are so spectacular!). And for the first time, I really get the sense that I’m on an island, that the Southern Ocean is right there.

With a ship and open water, it finally feels like we're living on an island!

With a ship and open water, it finally feels like we’re living on an island!

Today, I had a small-scale experience with the delicate water-ice balance. This morning, we headed out for a full day of fieldwork at Lake Bonney, arriving at our site at around 10:00am. You might think that with 24 hours of sunlight, there are no daily cycles here in Antarctica. But in fact, the daily cycle is strong enough to tip that balance between water and ice back and forth. This morning, the small stream near our experimental plots was frozen over, with liquid water flowing underneath.

This morning, Wormherder Creek was completely frozen over. When we left, just a few hours later, the ice was completely gone.

This morning, Wormherder Creek was completely frozen over. When we left, just a few hours later, the ice was completely gone.

When we left, at around 4pm, the ice was completely gone. Tonight, as I write, the water is turning solid again. While there’s nothing terribly significant about this small stream freezing and thawing (although it was incredibly beautiful), it reinforced for me the importance of this most critical phase change.

The phase change between liquid water and solid ice isn’t only important in Antarctica. Can you think of ways it impacts the ecosystem where you live, in Vermont? How would our landscape, ecosystem, and culture be different without the transition between water and ice?

In the summer of 2012, I had the fortune of meeting up with Dr. Carl Benson (see “Meeting people in Alaska …“), where we chatted about his previous traverses on the Greenland Ice Sheet and some of his current scientific endeavors. I was fascinated with his stories as my 2011 traverse with Thomas Overly and company was still fresh in my mind. As luck would have it, the Dartmouth IGERT community continues to interact with Benson.

Carl Benson and his report
It all started with a picture … Photo courtesy R. Benson.

In December 2012, while attending the AGU science conference with Chris Polashenski, I had the fortune of meeting Betsy Turner-Bogren from ARCUS (Arctic Research Consortium of the US), and we briefly chatted about an interview concept that reminded me of my August conversation with Benson. ARCUS has a newsletter it produces, Witness the Arctic (WTA), that provides “information on current arctic research efforts and findings, significant research initiatives, national policy affecting arctic research, international activities, and profiles of institutions with major arctic research efforts.” “Arctic Generations,” a series within WTA, is where an early career scientist gets to interview a scientist with “a long, distinguished career.” I could not pass up this opportunity to bridge the ground-breaking science, research techniques, and logistics accomplished by Benson and his traverses with the 2011 Greenland Inland Traverse. You can find the interview here. While we touched on some science, I was also intent on bringing out some of his personal memories of the traverse – my favorite anecdote is about the air logistics and, in particular, the French “free drops” along the 1955 traverse.

I’m not the only IGERT’eer chatting Benson up. Indeed, Chris is collaborating with Benson for his 2013 traverse of the Greenland Ice Sheet experiment (known as “SAGE”: Sunlight Absorption on the Greenland ice sheet Experiment). Recently, Chris shared his experiences and some of his initial findings at an IGERT-sponsered talk here at Dartmouth. A blog of his 2013 traverse can be found here.

For me, this illustrates one of the neat aspects of snow and ice core science – its a very young science. What I mean by this is that many of the techniques developed and initial studies happened within the last 50-60 years, and many of those pioneering researchers are still pushing the envelope of knowledge today. The opportunity for a young scientist, like myself, to talk with giants in their field is unique.

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