Each year, one of the highlights of coming to Greenland is working with American, Danish, and Greenlandic high school students in the Joint Science Education Project (JSEP). JSEP is collaboration among the three nations, and aims to further the students’ interest in science, introduce them to science projects occurring in Greenland, and teach them about the cultures of the three nations. During their two weeks in Kangerlussuaq, the students get to interact with the scientists – glaciologists, botanists, geologists, ecologists – working in this area. I am always jealous of the wide range of activities the students get to experience while here.
Although this is the third year I’ve worked with JSEP, this was the first year I led a project based on my own research. This made the experience both more challenging and rewarding, since I felt so invested in teaching the students about the importance of soil erosion. In planning the activity, I wanted to give the students a feeling for all parts of my research – from big picture questions to hands-on data collection to computer-based analysis. Fortunately, lichenometry data doesn’t need a lot of processing, so we were able to collect and analyze our data in just one afternoon!
We started with the big picture – observing some eroded areas and thinking about the implications soil erosion might have for carbon cycling, plant growth, and herbivores. As the pictures show, it was quite a blustery day, so it wasn’t too hard for the students to grasp how important wind can be in shaping the landscape we see around Kangerlussuaq.
The big picture led us to my methods, and I introduced lichenometry, a dating technique that uses the diameter of Rhizocarpon lichen to estimate age of rock exposure. Each group got to experience what Phoebe and I do everyday – we set up five transects perpendicular to the active edge of the eroded areas, and the students measured lichen diameters along each transect.
Back in town, we graphed the results, combed through the data, and made some calculations to come up with a rate of soil erosion for each transect. I really had no idea what to expect for, so I was blown away when the students’ results were all within the range of soil erosion rates I had measured last year. Success! Not only had they collected and analyzed data, but they had done so with enough accuracy to produce meaningful and useful results!
As always, it was such an inspiring experience working with these motivated and curious students. As we drove back to camp for the evening, I felt exhausted, yes, but I also felt uplifted by their energy and driven to continue teaching. Many thanks, JSEP!