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Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

Alexandra is on her way to the remote field site in the Khumbu Region. She only has intermittent internet access and managed to email us some photos of her journey. Scroll down for a sight of Mt. Everest!

Morning in Khumjung

Morning in Khumjung

On the trail

On the trail

Another trail shot

Another trail shot

Me at our first view of Everest (on the left!)

Me at our first view of Everest (on the left!)

 

 

 

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We flew to Lukla airport on Saturday, without any weather delays which are usually quite common. The plane fits about 12-15 people, two pilots, and one flight attendant who told us before taking off: “the flying time is 30 minutes and the weather is high turbulence.” But it was much smoother than I expected!

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Waiting at bag check at Kathmandu airport on Sunday

Flying to Lukla from Kathmandu

Flying to Lukla from Kathmandu

Me at the Lukla airport

Me at the Lukla airport

From Lukla, we started on our trek to our field camp at changri nup glacier. We follow the trek to Everest base camp for several days but then diverge and go northwest instead of onto the Khumbu glacier.  Last night we hiked 3 hr from Lukla and stayed in Phakding (2610m).  

Phakding (where we stayed saturday night, 2610 m, 3 hr from Lukla)

Phakding (where we stayed saturday night, 2610 m, 3 hr from Lukla)

Today we hiked to Namche bazar (3440m) for lunch and we are staying in Khumjung (3780m) for the night.  

Namche Bazar (the biggest town on the trek, 3440 m, 5 hr from Phakding)

Namche Bazar (the biggest town on the trek, 3440 m, 5 hr from Phakding)

The towns in the Khumbu have lodges and restaurants as well as gift shops for tourists. It feels strange to be so far into the mountains with some amenities!  There’s no heating and the plumbing is pretty limited, but we’re sleeping in lodges every night with delicious food. And we’re having lots and lots of tea at tea houses en route.

Namche Bazar

Namche Bazar


We’re taking our time to acclimate to altitude. Our porters will meet us at the pyramid research station with our scientific gear and the rest of our cold weather gear (I’m carrying only about 40 lbs of gear now).  

Standing at the entrance to Khumjung Village with Sonam Futi Sherpa, the only other female member of the field team. Sonam is a second year masters student in glaciology at Kathmandu University. Khumjung is her home town; we're staying in the lodge her parents own and run.

Standing at the entrance to Khumjung Village with Sonam Futi Sherpa (left), where we’re staying Sunday night. Sonam is a second year masters student in glaciology at Kathmandu University and the only other female member of the field team. Khumjung is her home town; we’re staying in the lodge her parents own and run.

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A few weeks ago, I was setting up some curious equipment that looked like sunny-side-up eggs on wires. One hundred of them on the tundra overlooking a glacier.

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They were for the Global Dryas Project, which is a collaboration among arctic scientists and residents to study pollination and seed production of Dryas flowers. The sunny-side-up eggs were pollinator sticky traps made to resemble these beautiful white and yellow flowers.

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Dryas flowers

I wondered if pollinators around here would actually fall for the faux flowers.  They did! When I brought the “flowers” out to the study area, it was like bringing free pizza to starving grad students. Flies started landing on them before I even had a chance to set up the plots.

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Flies on the faux flower sticky traps.

With the sticky traps, we now have a better idea of what insects visit and potentially pollinate Dryas in Greenland. These results and other data will be sent to the project organizers at the University of Helsinki in Finland.

It is great to squeeze as much as much science as possible out of a Greenland field season and to learn more about pollination across the Arctic. I look forward to seeing the results from the other participants.

More information about the Global Dryas Project:

http://www.helsinki.fi/foodwebs/dryas/index.htm

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/345/6196/492.full (need Science subscription).

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I stood at the edge of the river in awe. The river had swallowed half of my study site, leaving niviarsiaq flowers and my temperature sensor poking through ice-cold rapids.

There must have been a spectacular glacier calving event to cause the river to violently spill over its banks [Edit: The hypothesis around the station is that an ice dam broke.] Waterfalls almost doubled in width, the river found new courses to handle the large volume of water, and chunks of ice were carried downstream.

I grabbed my camera and started taking pictures. This is crazy cool,  I thought, but what about my research?!

Study Site #1

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DURING FLOOD: My study site is on the left. It didn’t used to be an island…the water in the foreground wasn’t there the day before.

We returned the next day to survey the aftermath. Things looked like they were almost back to normal.

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AFTER: The site is almost back to normal. See Becca standing on the rocks? The water would have been over her head!

The niviarsiaq flowers were extremely resilient.

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AFTER: These flowers were covered with two meters of rushing water the day before. Two days later, the flowers were producing pollen and buds were opening, like nothing happened.

Study Site #2

The day the river went rogue, we had to hike to our study site at seahorse lake because the road was flooded.

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DURING: The road to the seahorse lake study site was flooded – we continued on foot.

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DURING: The flooded landscape produced some great scenery.

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DURING: Looking out from our study site the day of the flood.

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AFTER: The beach and the boulders reappeared the next day.

Study Site #3

We visited a third site the day after the flood. Signs of the surge were abundant.

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The water etched ripples into the sand and left behind ice at a third study site.

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Ice deposited near our third study site.

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The grounded ice chunks were hefty.

Had I not been there the day the river went rogue, I would not be able to grasp the extent and power of the flood.  Fortunately, niviarsiaq, aka dwarf river beauty,  is  presumably adapted to such disturbances despite its delicate appearance. So, my research continues, and I am left with a much deeper respect for the ice-fed river.

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This week it felt hard to decide what to write a blog about. “Nothing has changed,” I thought, “I don’t have anything new to say.” But that’s when I realized that simultaneously, everything and nothing had changed. And that seems like a good thing to blog about.

By saying that everything has changed, I mean that five new people have joined us; three will be staying at camp with us until I leave.

So many new people have joined us! It's great to be out in the field with everyone and hear about so many different projects. Here Lauren tells us about nitrogen isotope sampling.

So many new people have joined us! It’s great to be out in the field with everyone and hear about so many different projects. Here Lauren tells us about nitrogen isotope sampling.

We have an enormous palatial tent at camp now where we can sit and relax, eat, and enjoy each other’s company without the company of so many mosquitoes.

The big new tent at camp required a new sketch. What luxury!

The big new tent at camp required a new sketch. What luxury!

And the biggest change for me is that Phoebe has joined me as my field assistant. I now have a companion all day in the field – work goes so much more quickly with another person!

It hailed on Phoebe's first day of fieldwork! She didn't seem to be too upset about it.

It hailed on Phoebe’s first day of fieldwork! She didn’t seem to be too upset about it.

But in most ways, nothing has changed. And although this may seem boring, it is actually a good thing. My science depends on repetition, and this means that most days feel exactly the same. While Becca was still working with me, we took some pictures to document what we do at each site. Although it may seem tedious to do the same thing again and again, there is something soothing about it as well – while things at camp may be changing and hectic, I know exactly what to expect when I walk up to the next deflation patch.

 

Step One: Take numerous photos of the deflation patch. I'll use the photos back at Dartmouth to create a three-dimensional model of the patch. From this, I'll be able to calculate the volume of soil loss due to wind erosion.

Step One: Take numerous photos of the deflation patch. I’ll use the photos back at Dartmouth to create a three-dimensional model of the patch. From this, I’ll be able to calculate the volume of soil loss due to wind erosion.

Step Two: Set up a transect running perpendicular to the active margin of the patch. We collect soil samples and measure lichen diameters along this transect.

Step Two: Set up a transect running perpendicular to the active margin of the patch. We collect soil samples and measure lichen diameters along this transect.

Step Three (A): Collect samples of the biological soil crust that develops within the eroded patches. Measure the thickness of the crust at each sampling location.

Step Three (A): Collect samples of the biological soil crust that develops within the eroded patches. Measure the thickness of the crust at each sampling location.

Step Three (B): At each soil sampling location, measure the strength of the soil crust with a handy soil penetrometer. The soil crust strength may determine how the crust helps or inhibits plant growth within the eroded area.

Step Three (B): At each soil sampling location, measure the strength of the soil crust with a handy soil penetrometer. The soil crust strength may determine how the crust helps or inhibits plant growth within the eroded area.

Step 4 (A): Record lichen diameters along the transect. The diameter of the lichen tells us how old it is -- this in turn can tell us about the age of the eroded area and how quickly the erosion occurred.

Step 4 (A): Record lichen diameters along the transect. The diameter of the lichen tells us how old it is — this in turn can tell us about the age of the eroded area and how quickly the erosion occurred.

Step 4 (B): Record all the lichen diameters in the lichenometry binder. I'm sure looking forward to entering the hundreds of pages of data we've generated this summer! And that's just the beginning...

Step 4 (B): Record all the lichen diameters in the lichenometry binder. I’m sure looking forward to entering the hundreds of pages of data we’ve generated this summer! And that’s just the beginning…

The best part about nothing changing is the knowledge that with each new deflation patch, I’m adding a site to my collection. By doing the exact same thing at each patch, each and every day, I can compare patches and look for patterns. And the patterns I find won’t be a product of anything I’ve done differently at different sites; I can be confident that they represent a real part of the landscape. So yes, it’s nice to have new people in camp, the new tent is rather lovely, and it’s great to be spending the day with Phoebe, but I’m glad my days haven’t changed one bit.

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Coming to Kangerlussuaq for the third summer in a row, I thought I knew exactly what to expect. I was excited to be back in Greenland and to see all of the familiar sights. I never would have guessed that what makes the third time most exciting (at least thus far) are the new discoveries, new perspectives, and unexplored territory.

The first new experience: spending the night in Goose Bay, Labrador! I should have known not everything would be routine!

The first new experience: spending the night in Goose Bay, Labrador! I should have known not everything would be routine!

There are, of course, many things that feel much more comfortable the third time around. I know exactly how to arrange everything in my tent and daypack for maximum coziness and comfort. Driving the stick-shift truck on one of the bumpiest roads ever is much less nerve-wracking. And my tundra legs came back quickly this year – I no longer feel like I might twist my ankle on each tundra hummock. I am thankful that each time I return these things become easier.

Setting up my cozy tent felt much easier this time around -- I already knew where everything belonged!

Setting up my cozy tent felt much easier this time around — I already knew where everything belonged!

But what surprises me is how much feels new and different. Even after being here for only 10 days, I feel like I have a new perspective on the landscape and on my research. Just by coming back again, by wandering over the hills of Kangerlussuaq, I’ve gained more insight than any amount of data analysis could provide.

For instance, over the past year I’ve been thinking a lot about whether or not a deflation patch can fully recover and become revegetated. Just two weeks ago, I had a hazy notion of what such a patch would look like. A few days ago, walking around close to town, I started seeing recovering patches everywhere. The vegetation is taking over, obscuring the telltale features of a deflation patch, but I’m now fairly certain that yes, this landscape can recover from soil erosion. Although I had walked the exact same paths many times before, something had changed in my perspective, allowing me to see through the layers of vegetation to the landscape’s history.

Becca posing in one of the many recovering deflation patches I've spotted recently.

Becca posing in one of the many recovering deflation patches I’ve spotted recently.

My curiosity about recovering deflation patches also took me to a new area even farther from the ice sheet than the town of Kangerlussuaq – unexplored territory. Although I knew that soil erosion was less active farther from the ice sheet, I had never really walked around beyond town. Exploring this new landscape has been the highlight of my time in the field thus far – after a morning wandering new ridges, discovering new viewpoints, lakes, and erosional features, I felt incredibly inspired and motivated.

One of the new views I've seen on my explorations of new territory.

One of the new views I’ve seen on my explorations of new territory.

More than for any samples I collect or data I write in my field notebook, this is why fieldwork matters. New perspectives and new discoveries, for me, don’t happen in my office. They happen in the field, after returning to the same place for the tenth time, or after exploring a new ridgeline and looking at the landscape from a new angle.

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When I think of middle school, I think of purple braces, playing a lot of basketball, and being inspired by my science teachers, Mr. Z and Mr­­. Serrill. Thanks to these teachers, the most important things I learned in middle school were that science and math are wicked awesome and that I wanted to be an ecologist. 🙂

In Mr. Z’s class we learned about biomes and the life of animals in the tundra. I was captivated and read more about the arctic tundra in a National Geographic magazine sitting under Mr. Z’s window. Still though, the Arctic seemed like a faraway strange place that was completely disconnected from me and my community.

So, when I learned about the possibility of involving a middle school teacher in my research in Greenland, I jumped at the opportunity. If a teacher could do research in the Arctic and teach students about it, the students might gain a better understanding of the world as one system, why the Arctic is important, and how day-to-day science works. Maybe one student will even grow up to be a polar scientist. Just because their teacher cared about immersing students in current scientific research.

Emily Snowden, a science teacher at Crawford Middle School in Lexington, Kentucky, is one of those teachers. Thanks to the support of the PolarTrec program, Emily will be joining me in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland in June. Emily and I wanted to write a short pre-field-season blog, interview style.

Q: Emily, what are your students most excited to have you see or do and share with them?

A: My students view scientist as rock stars.  They know they exist, but they have little hope of ever actually interacting or meeting a scientist.  They love hearing my stories of past field experience I have had, but these stories are from the past and the research team has moved on.  I feel that this opportunity allows my students to get a lot closer and involved with the scientists.  With technology advancements such as Skype and the internet they will be able to meet Christine and the team while the research is occurring.  They are excited be able to follow along and ask questions instead of me just relaying old information.

Q: I think it’s awesome that you found this opportunity and want to be involved in scientific research.  What do you think is the biggest misconception your students, or any middle school students, have about science?

A: I think one big misconception that students have about science is that if you study science it is only to become a doctor.  They do not realize all the fields of study that science involves and how many other paths (besides being a doctor) are possible if you study science.

Q: What is one way you are planning to share polar science with your community or school?

A: To create an initial interest in Greenland and to encourage students to follow along with my blog I am having students draw pictures of what they think Greenland looks like on a post card.  I am then going to take these postcards to Greenland with me and mail then back to the students. I will write on these postcards to encourage my students to look at my pictures on my journal of what Greenland actually looks like.  These post cards will also include postage from Greenland which is neat since most of my kids have never left Lexington, much less the state or country.

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The top of one of my field sites in Kangerlussuaq.

We’ll keep you updated! Emily is posting pictures and journal entries to this webpage: http://www.polartrec.com/expeditions/climate-change-and-pollinators-in-the-arctic

In a nutshell: Ecology + Teacher and Outreach + Greenland = We’re psyched for this field season

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