Not many incoming PhD students have the opportunity to visit field sites before taking any classes, much less travel to three major Arctic field stations in less than two months. I guess I am just lucky that way. Or perhaps more accurately, I am benefiting from existing Dartmouth research initiatives, like IGERT, that explore and research polar regions. My previous experience in northern systems has focused only on interior Alaska, so when my new adviser Dr. Ross Virginia asked if I would want to visit Sweden and Greenland, I jumped at the opportunity. I also then smiled and asked if I could visit Toolik, Alaska too because I still had to finish moving my life from Fairbanks, AK to Hanover, NH. He agreed, plane tickets were bought, and the now I am hiking around Greenland!
With only two weeks in Hanover to prepare, I immediately became swept away into the land of “cool science that matters”. An exploratory trip to Abisko Naturvetenskapliga Station in Northern Sweden with Dr. Matt Ayers allowed me to brainstorm research ideas and consider what I would like to study. While there, we connected with researchers from the Climate Impacts Research Center (CIRC) of Umea University. It was inspiring to meet with the numerous graduate students, post-docs, and other researchers at CIRC and I learned a lot about the numerous ongoing research projects addressing climate change, permafrost thaw, community ecology, and biogeochemical cycling.
After about five days of asking questions, looking for insects, and collecting plant and soil samples, Matt and I headed down to Stockholm to meet with Ambassador Mark Brzezinski at the US Embassy in Sweden for a luncheon to discuss US-Sweden scientific collaboration in the Arctic. We met with numerous Swedish and American scientists, policy makers, and members of the media, and even a Sami reindeer hearder. Lunch ended and then I immediately headed to the airport, still wearing my business attire, in order to catch a plane to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. Phew!
I now have been in Greenland for about a week and it is fascinating to see how diverse climates and ecosystems can vary around the Arctic, even though they are located at similar latitudes. In Sweden it rained 4 out of 5 days, and “tall” mountain birched reigned the hills. I then arrived in Kanger to find record-breaking dry heat, constant sunshine, and dwarf-shrubs growing on siltly, sandy soils. I now often find myself thinking about how water balance and moisture play a large roll in controlling the distribution of plants, and that increasing temperatures in the Arctic might have different repercussions for different areas. For example, Abisko might see warmer temperatures and more moisture, leading to more anoxic soil conditions in certain areas, while Kangerlussauq may be getting warmer and drier, which might lead to more water stressed vegetation. Both are likely to change vegetation distribution, but likely in different ways. I guess that is why I am here, to find the similarities and differences between different places in the Arctic and think about how they might respond to climate change.
Next stop: Toolik Lake, Alaska. Stay tuned!