This past Monday morning, Julia and I had the pleasure to work with a group of high school students on the Greenland Education Tour (read their blog here). The group is currently stationed in Kangerlussuaq, where they are meeting with scientists, recording their own measurements, and getting to know the area.
Prior to meeting the 21 students, hailing from all over Denmark, the United States, and Greenland, we knew we wanted to do something physically active and engaging. It was hard to plan ahead, however, not knowing anything about the group. Finally, we settled on something that would either work really well or totally flop: a carbon cycle dance! Fortunately, the students were eager to dance as carbon dioxide molecules, willing to let me capture them through photosynthesis, and ready to have Julia decompose and respire them back to the atmosphere! Our dance included carbon storage in the atmosphere, biosphere, and geosphere, as well as the processes of photosynthesis, respiration, and decomposition. While dancing, we discussed the complexities added with permafrost, a warming climate, and human consumption of fossil fuels.
Although Julia and I do enjoy dancing around the tundra, we also wanted to give the students a feeling for the work that we do each day in the field (see Julia’s earlier blog post on gas analyzing for more details). One student initially thought the gas analyzer was a lawn chair (we wish!), but Julia soon set her straight and explained the different components of the system and how they work. Before measuring the soil respiration, we decided to measure our own respiration, which quickly turned into a breathing contest. Students were eager to show off how much carbon dioxide they could breathe into the chamber until they realized that perhaps they shouldn’t feel so good about contributing to climate change!
After our demonstration, we were happy to join the students on a walk out to Russell Glacier, where we saw (and heard) a few incredible calving events. Everyone was impressed by the enormity of the ice wall and the brilliant blue color of the ice.
On the way back from Russell Glacier, as we crested the hill and looked out over Long Lake, I pointed out the moraines striping the hillside to the students walking near me. There is nothing like seeing the history of an ice sheet so clearly recorded along the side of a valley, each gravelly ridge marking a moment in time when the ice paused in its retreat. The students shared my enthusiasm for the view, exclaiming with awe in their eyes, “science is so cool!” Even if they remember nothing else from the day, I feel satisfied and proud to have left them with that sentiment. It is one I agree with completely.