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Fashion Show 1
Normally I would not expect to write a fashion post about a conference, but the fact that I am demonstrates the wide range of events and activities taking place in Montreal for the International Polar Year conference this week.  Monday afternoon, while scientists, policy makers, educators and polar industry representatives mingled in the exhibition hall, the duo of Nunavik Creations sent one after another of their stunning pieces down the runway.

Fashion Show 3

The region of Nunavik covers the land north of the 55th parallel in Quebec, and is therefore Quebec’s northernmost province.  As the women behind Nunavik Creations suggest, the clothing they create is inspired by the harsh and beautiful climate of the tundra and taiga that they call home.
Fashion Show 2
Fashion Show 5
Fashion Show 4
Their creations are a great example of how Inuit communities are adapting to a whole slew of changes, not just changes in climate.  In the pieces they incorporate traditional designs and materials, such as fur and seal skin, but also include new fashion, textiles and accessories, to reflect a “culture in constant evolution.”

Fashion Show 6

To learn more about Nunavik Creations, check out their website nunavikcreations.com.

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IPY people

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. Brundtland

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 on the move

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.

Lauren and her poster

IGERT Fellow Lauren Culler with her poster

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Scientist in Action at Nuuk Basic

This week we had the unique opportunity to visit Nuuk Basic, a low-arctic long-term ecological monitoring station.  The research station is part of the Greenlandic Ecological Monitoring (GEM) program, which also has a station in high-arctic northwest Greenland at Zackenburg.  The goal of the GEM program is to study the effects of climate change on the terrestrial, freshwater, and marine environments of Greenland and more broadly the arctic using “cross-disciplinary” techniques.

Greenland Ecological Monitoring (GEM) program sites

Cross-disciplinary – it is kind of like double narwhalwhat does it mean?

When I think of the term cross-disciplinary, I envision using one set of methodologies (i.e. ecology) to think about and answer questions in a different field (i.e. geology).  Cross-disciplinary may or may not be synonymous with multi-disciplinary, inter-disciplinary, or trans-disciplinary; it may also just be used colloquially as a synonym.   This is one very interesting questions that our Polar Environmental Change IGERT program at Dartmouth College is trying to think about and contribute to the discussion occuring in academia.

Badeso in the foreground (i.e. the lake with Arctic char) and Kobbefjord in the background

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What is Fukushima?

In case you’ve been living under a rock or on top of an ice sheet, Fukushima radiation, refers to the release of nuclear radiation from the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant in Japan starting on March 11, 2011.

The release of radiation was caused by one of the world’s largest ever recorded earthquakes, a 9.0 magnitude, that struck off the east coast of Japan. The earthquake created a large tsunami up to 133 ft in parts of Japan.  The combination of the huge amount of shaking and the inundation and power of the tsunami wave lead to the eventual meltdown of 3 of 6 reactors at Fukushima I and the release of large amounts of radiation from the power plant (See Wikipedia and the NY Times).

So what does Fukushima have to do with Summit, Greenland?

Ice core scientists use atmospheric events such as major volcanic eruptions to confirm the age of ice cores at specific depths.  Beta radiation from upper atmosphere nuclear weapon testing during the 1950s and 1960s appear in Greenland ice cores (one such core was drilled right here at Summit, GISP2).  Will radiation from the Fukushima disaster be deposited in the snowfall of central Greenland?

Dartmouth’s own Erich Osterberg, Research Assistant Professor in Dartmouth College’s Earth Sciences Department, was recently awarded a NSF Rapid Research and Response (RAPID) grant to study the impacts of the Fukushima Nuclear power plant disaster.  IGERT student here at Summit Camp are assisting with the collection of snow, which will eventually be tested for the presence of cesium, Cs137.

What evidence is there that radiation from Japan got all the way to Summit?

After the Fukushima disaster began, air masses (possibly containing radiation) from multiple different elevations (red=low, blue=medium, green=high) moved eastward over Greenland, between 2 and 3 weeks after the disaster started according to two different sets of meterological data available from NOAA’s Air Resources Laboratory and their HYSPLIT model.

Now that we know what Fukushima is, what is has to do with the Greenland Ice sheet, and how it got here, lets talk about how we collected samples to test if radiation from Fukushima actually accumulated in detectable amounts in the snow pack.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory version 2.0 – White Umpa Lumpas on Ice

First we shipped three huge ice core boxes full of 45 4L Nalgene bottles from Hanover, NH all the way to Summit with the 109th Air National Guard unit. Additionally, Thomas Overly, one of the IGERTs who recently completed the 1500km traverse from Thule, Greenland to Summit and back again in May and June had left smaller sampling bottles for us to use for the first sampling procedure. The next step was to dig a huge snow pit (7m long x 2m deep x 1.5 m wide – shown below), which contained two of the sampling locations, and one other pit ~100m away (2m long x 2m deep x 1.5m wide), containing the third replicate.

Thomas, Ben, and Ian digging the big pit

Once the pit was dug, we had the immense pleasure of donning white clean suits and gloves (so as not to contaminate the samples – see Sam and I below) – and transforming into snow umpa lumpas.  And FYI wearing straight white was freezing – super high albedo.

Two sampling procedures were conducted at each site.  The first set of samples was for isotopes and anions; 125mL of snow was sampled once from each 5cm layer from the surface to 1m depth (see Sam and I in action below).  Next we used the 4L nalgenes to sample each 10cm layer three times from the surface to 50cm. In addition to sampling once with the 4Ls, we brought the bottles inside, put them into the sink (we were on dish duty so it was no big deal), and melted the snow in bottles.  We then consolidated the water from the different 10cm increments and different sampling locations into one of the three bottles. Once we had two empty containers for each 10cm increment we went back out to the pits and resampled the layers, so as to increase our total amount of water collected.  The huge amounts of water from each layer and pit was needed so as to detect the very low levels of radiation, which may or may not be present in the snow at Summit.

You may ask why we only sampled the top 50cm with the 4L bottles – well the answer is that the annual precipitation at Summit is approximately 60cm, therefore sampling the top 50cm is more than enough to capture the precipitation that may contain the radioactive fallout from Fukushima.

Marcus Welker and Sam Fey digging sampling for Fukushima fallout

Overall the sampling for Fukushima was a huge success.  In addition to our sampling for radioactive fallout, we observed the stratigraphy of the first ~2m, took a firn sample, and conducted permeability and density tests.  Stay tuned for the results of this work.

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One of the main objectives of our 10-day stay in Nuuk was to connect with people and institutions to build a better understanding of the social context of our scientific research. Basically, we wanted to hear what Greenlanders think foreign scientists should know about Greenland.

Thanks to a well cultivated academic partnership, the University of Greenland graciously hosted a 4-part lecture series for us. The series gave us a really rich way to explore social and cultural issues from a Greenlandic perspective. The  lecture topics were: “History of Greenland” taught by Professor Thorkild Kjaergaard in the History Department, “Living Conditions in the Arctic” presented by Professor Birger Poppel, an Economist, “Greenlandic Literature and Oral Tradition” by Professor Karen Langgard of the Language, Literature and Media Studies Department, and “Ghost Stories in Greenlandic Culture” by Professor Birgit Kleist Pedersen, also from the Language, Literature and Media Studies Department.

A clear take-home message, which tied these lectures together, is that Greenlandic, the indigenous language, is the language of power within Greenland. Greenlandic is an Inuit language that came to Greenland with the Inuit migration from Canada and it has a rich history of survival through the colonial era and into the present. Today, a majority of Greenlanders speak Greenlandic at home, and Greenlandic is the official language of the government. Coming from America, where English is so pervasive that we rarely think about the importance of language at all, I could not help but be struck by how closely Greenlandic is tied to personal identity and is seriously discussed in relation to national political and social issues, such as industrial development and immigration policy.  We covered a lot of ground during the lecture series and, even though we could only skim the surface of some very complicated topics, the new material has undoubtedly given us a richer understanding of how our research–and even just our presence in Greenland–fits into the bigger picture.

We are extremely grateful to the University of Greenland faculty members for putting together such an informative lecture series! We are particularly appreciative that it could happen despite the fact that our visit coincided with the summer break. The University facilities are brand new, spectacularly beautiful, and technologically top-notch (whoa, Smartboards!). It left me hoping that I will be able to return during the school year to meet more students and get a better sense of the student body.

While it might seem to make a lot of sense to partner with the local academic institution, the background of the series development is not entirely straight forward. The challenge that the program coordinators faced in negotiating the academic partnership stems from the absence of science programs at the University of Greenland. Why no science? The University is growing, but the main student body still only has 150 students, which is not enough to generate the student demand or resources required for the upfront and long-term investment in sciences. Lenore Grenoble and Ross Virginia, the IGERT faculty who have been cultivating Dartmouth’s relationship with the University, entered the discussions knowing that the expertise amongst the faculty does not directly overlap with our fields of research. As I understand it, Ross and Lenore simply ask the University faculty what they might be able to contribute that could inform our understanding of Greenland. The great advantage of the 4-part lecture series was that it took advantage of their expertise and did a lot to broaden our understanding of social-cultural dimensions of Greenland. We owe many thanks to the University of Greenland and Lenore and Ross for coordinating such a valuable opportunity–Thanks so much!

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Yesterday, Dr. Eric Post was kind enough to give us a tour of his field site near Kangerlussuaq. It was a beautiful day for the 45 minute drive and 1 hour tundra hike to the site.
7-20-10 Hiking to EP site
This is Eric’s 11th summer of doing fieldwork in Greenland, so it was an honor to talk science with him in the very setting of his research. How about this for a scenic spot for a casual seminar and stimulating discussion?:
Dr. Eric Post Discussion
Eric researches tundra plants and the animals that eat them. He is particularly interested in how the relationship between plants and animals are affected by climate change.

Eric has large plots in the tundra that are fenced off to keep out plant-eating animals (called herbivores). He installed these exclosures in 2004 so, after 6 years he has a good idea of what the vegetation looks like when there are no caribou and muskox roaming about and chowing down.

He is also interested by how animal and plant relationships (because we all have a relationship with our food, right?) are affected by climate change. For instance, do plants respond differently to warming if there are animals around? At his field site Eric has set up plastic open-top cone warming chambers. The chambers trap solar energy to warm a small area by 2-4 degrees above air temperature, which reflects the warming that we expect with climate change.

It turns out that when the caribou and muskox are around the plants don’t change with warming, but without the caribou small increase in temperature make the land shrubbier. Why is this important? Well Eric also told us that he has seen a drop in the number of caribou since he first arrived. He doesn’t know if they are moving to a different area, or just not reproducing as much, or what, but he does know that there are fewer in his research area and clearly this has to be accounted for when we think about how the environment and landscape are changing.

During our tour we also got to hear about the research that Eric’s graduate students are doing. Mike Avery has been roughing it in the field since May (!!), doing research on land-based insects. He samples insects every day with pitfall traps, which are are empty plastic cups planted into the ground. He says that the high-frequency sampling is important because there can be insect outbreaks that will come and go in a matter of days! Sean Cahoon is starting some research to understand use, flow and release of carbon below the surface of the ground. As a group we talked a lot about the challenge of studying things that are happening below the ground, where you can’t see them. It was cool to hear some of Sean’s ideas about how he plans to tackle these complications, you know, until someone invents hyper-accurate-soil-penetrating-carbon-detector-laser-vision goggles.

The afternoon was stimulating to us all, and made an impression on us about the power of long-term research efforts, particularly to understand environmental change. We are so grateful to Eric, Mike and Sean for taking the time to share their knowledge, experience and thoughts with us!

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The flight on the C-130 left me pondering scientific community. These voyages seem like a reunion for most of the established scientists. They share stories, updates on research. Those who are new to the journey are eager to learn from the seasoned adventurers. The media and documentarians are looking for new possible stories. It’s a warm and inviting space, all of us excited to get into the field.

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