Posted in Alex Lauder, Ali Giese, Community, Courtney Hammond, IGERT Fellows, IGERT Friends, IPY Montreal, Julia Bradley-Cook, Laura Levy, Lauren Culler, Rebecca Williams on April 24, 2012 |
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IPY Montreal 2012
This week the polar community is taking over Montreal for the International Polar Year (IPY) Conference. Since the Dartmouth Polar Environmental Change IGERT was born out of an IPY project in 2007, it seems fitting that a number of IGERT students are up here to present their research. Moving from learning and researching to presenting and sharing their knowledge, just as the IPY Montreal theme, From Knowledge to Action, promotes.
Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland’s opening keynote address
Yesterday morning the conference started off with a bang with an opening keynote address by Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, member of the UN Secretary General’s High Level Panel on Global Sustainability and former Prime Minister of Norway. Dr. Brundtland’s work in the 1980’s, with the Brundtland Commission, laid the foundations for the today’s model of sustainable development. She opened the conference by placing an emphasis on the role of science in sustainability and the importance of the polar research in finding solutions for the rest of the world.
IGERTS making the rounds at IPY
And on that note students rushed off in all direction to various talks and sessions relating to their particular interests, ranging from polar ocean dynamics to human health and well-being to communicating polar science. We’ve got a busy week ahead, including poster presentations and talks by Alex Lauder, Julia Bradley-Cook, Laura Levy, Ben Kopec, Rebecca Williams, Lauren Culler and, last but not least, our intrepid leader, Dr. Ross Virginia.
IGERT Fellow Lauren Culler with her poster
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The 2011 IGERT cohort spent one week camping outside of Kangerlussuaq in the same site the 2010 cohort chose last year. The first things we noticed upon arriving at our campsite were the incredible views of the Russell glacier, the Little Ice Age moraine, and the glacial meltwater lakes.
Google map of the area between the IGERT camp near the Russell glacier and the Kangerlussuaq fjord. Air temperatures drop as you drive up the road from Kangerlussuaq to the IGERT camp and the glacier, perhaps offering a gradient useful for studying climate change and insect outbreaks.
But as a close second we noticed that the woody shrubs at the site were all leafless and brown, and that there were many large Lepidoptera larvae (caterpillars) roaming in search of food. This place had experienced a recent caterpillar outbreak. The larvae that were left had no more food to eat, and they crawled up our tents and boots or into any warm microclimate. Northern wheatears and snow buntings came in to camp to eat this easy prey off the tents. Adult moths also flew around in large numbers and we picked them out of our hair and our coffee. We identified this Lepidoptera species as Eurois occulta, the Great Gray Dart moth known to defoliate the dwarf birch and grayleaf willow common in Greenland.
Caterpillars ate all of the birch and willow leaves around camp, leaving a brown world.
Eurois occulta larva
Eurois occulta adult
However, the entire landscape was not brown. Many hillsides with similar aspect and distance from the glacier experienced only moderate levels of herbivory and remained green. Farther from the glacier, back toward Kangerlussuaq and the fjord, the brown outbreak patches disappeared. Acting on a hot tip from Mike Avery, a PhD student in Eric Post’s lab at Penn State University, we searched for evidence that caterpillars were attacked by a pathogen – desiccated caterpillar corpses draped in the willow leaves. We found many of these corpses in non-outbreak areas farther from the glacier but did not see any close to the glacier where air temperatures are much cooler.
Some nearby hillsides, however, suffered only slight defoliation.
Closeup of moderate levels of herbivory.
Carcass of a larva infected by a pathogen.
Why are some hillsides completely brown while others remain green? This is a big question in ecology, and one possible answer is that caterpillars in defoliated areas lack “top-down” controls by predators such as birds, other arthropods, and pathogens. The caterpillar immune system can fight off infection by pathogens (fungal or viral) but this defense requires a high protein diet. In plants much of this protein is RuBisCO, a nitrogen-rich enzyme essential for photosynthesis, and the protein content of leaves is expected to decrease as air temperatures get warmer and the growing season gets longer. Perhaps caterpillars farther from the glacier had less resistance to pathogens because of lower protein content of leaves, or perhaps there are more natural enemies such as birds or arthropods in warmer areas. The birch/willow shrub tundra of West Greenland is a great ecosystem to test competing explanations for why insect herbivores sometimes outbreak and how climate change may alter the frequency and intensity of these outbreaks.
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With the greatest effects of climate change expected to be seen in the Arctic, we will likely see major changes in the hydrologic cycle. The lakes in the Kangerlussuaq region of Greenland have unique ecosystems and, because of their great number, play an important role in the surface albedo and local climate of the region. These lakes are already changing in size and future expansion or contraction of the lake area may result in significant changes in the local water balance, surface albedo, and ecological processes. In order to predict the future changes of these lakes, such as changes in volume, chemical compositions, or ecological processes, we first need to understand the water balance of these lakes and the hydrologic cycle of this region.
There are two main types of lakes around Kangerlussuaq which have different hydrologic regimes. Most of the lakes receive water from precipitation only and because they are in closed basins, lose water primarily through evaporation. The other type of lake is located near the ice sheet and differs from the others by receiving the primary input of water from melting ice, with precipitation playing a lesser role. These inputs and outputs of water are going to be changing as climate change progresses so it is important to understand the current hydrologic cycle before these major shifts occur.
Ben and Sam overlooking meltwater lake
Precipitation fed lakes in Vulgaris Valley
In order to quantify these components of the hydrologic cycle, our group conducted a series of studies on a number of lakes in the Kangerlussuaq region. One of the primary efforts was to collect water samples to be measured for their isotopic composition as the isotopes of water are powerful tools that are used as tracers to understand hydrologic cycle dynamics. In addition, samples were taken to measure the water chemistry, determined the depth of lakes from our boat, identified if lakes were stratified or not, and we used a YSI multiprobe to measure various properties of the water that included temperature, pH, and conductivity. From these measurements, a series of mass balance relationships will be used to best determine the rates of inputs and outputs to these lakes to define a starting point in order to predict future changes.
Sam sampling on dried up lake near camp
- The team sampling from boat near the ice sheet
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