Archive for the ‘Christine Urbanowicz’ Category

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.


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.


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.


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

Read Full Post »

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

1before b

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.


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.


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.


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


DURING: The flooded landscape produced some great scenery.

2before cropped

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

2 after b

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.


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


Ice deposited near our third study site.

becca ice

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.

Read Full Post »

“Hey hey hey.. Check it out, Hans! Someone left their tent just a little open.” Martin cackels.

“Dang – nice find! Let’s go in!”

“You don’t just GO IN, Hans. Entry requires a certain know-how. You have to open the zipper contraption just so. And I do believe I’m more qualified to handle that than you are.”

“Oh yeah? How so?”

“Well, for one, my raven IQ is 140 and yours is 123. Besides, your larger stature makes you a good look out.”

Hans on the look out.

Martin ducks under the vestibule and bustles about, dragging something across the ground and kicking out sand. One minute later he emerges, proudly holding one black winter boot as long as he. He reenters, grabs the other boot and brings it out.

“Gosh darn it, Martin!”  yells Hans. “I know you have a thing for practical footwear, but what are we going to do with those, genius? Anything else?””

“They were blocking the door. Now that the entry is clear, I will proceed,” Martin huffs as he goes back to the vestibule.

Hans hears some guttural grunting, the zipper opening slowly, and his comrade hopping on the tent floor. Marin then marches out of the tent with a box of dried hummus. They tear open the package, taste the yellow powder, and spit it out. Hans gives Martin a disgusted look. “What do you call that?! Rancid flour?”

“Hummus, Martin. Dried hummus. The migrating birds have told me about it.  But certainly not what I imagined. Let’s go see if there’s roadkill.”

With the flap of their wings, Hans and Martin head west, leaving the scene to be discovered first by the arctic fox and then Becca and Christine, returning from work.


The scene.

Or at least, that’s how I picture it going.

Hans, Martin, and their friends are becoming frequent visitors to our campsite. They circle each tent on foot, inspecting them, and  managing to enter mine that one time.  In addition to being obnoxiously loud and impressively large, ravens are highly intelligent. In fact, they belong to the most intelligent family of birds in the world, the corvids, which also includes jays and crows.  Problem solving is their forte. Expert juice thieves, they gulped down some orange juice after punching out the container’s spout.


Ravens got into the orange juice by  tearing out the spout.

We have now taken proper precautions to deter further unwanted behavior (don’t leave dried hummus in your tent!).


Raven and fox tracks leading to a securely closed cooler.

Photo credits: Becca Novello and Christine Urbanowicz

Read Full Post »

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.


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

Read Full Post »

It’s the dead of night. An investigator is working in the lab, trying to answer one simple question, one question that begins all good investigations: Who are you?

She examines the body, which has three bright white lights shining on it. The body is hairier than expected. The key, she thinks, is the unusual indentations on the side of his abdomen.

After taking notes and doing a final once-over, the investigator knows who this guy is. She feels like cueing some tv crime show theme song. Maybe the one from Bones, where scientists help solve an FBI case.

After a careful examination of the body, an identification was possible.

After a careful examination of the body, an identification was possible.

But the dead-of-night investigator isn’t done yet. She has 194 bodies to go. The ultimate goal is to create a network – like the kind you see on those tv crime shows. Who’s connected to whom? What were their usual hang-outs?

Making a network helps an investigator figure out who's connected to whom and what their usual hang-outs are.

Making a network helps an investigator figure out who’s connected to whom and what their usual hang-outs were. Credit:cityTV

The guy she just identified might have had a thing for hanging out at buttercups. Or maybe he visited gray willow, like many of the other guys and girls. The guy’s a fly.

Identifying fly specimens is a daunting task. She progresses to the next fly, and starts the process all over again. Antenna shape. Wing veins. Leg spikes. Hairs on the middle of the body near the legs. So many characters to pour over. So many possible identities. Each identification is helping to uncover the network, which will help us understand the importance of pollinators in Greenland.



A fly being identified under the microscope.

The pollen that was previously collected off the fly’s body will give the investigator insight into the fly’s hang outs –  flowers they were visiting.  Stay tuned as we collect these clues .

Read Full Post »

It’s easy to feel disconnected to nature when you spend all day in an office or lab and don’t leave until it’s dark. Today was another one of those days. I was inside all day, and yet, nature infiltrated those hours. I had a tasty peach during lunch thanks to pollinators. I drank lots of water thanks to clean waterways.  I worked on a wooden desk thanks to timber-supplying forests. These types of resources that ecosystems provide humans are called ecosystem services or nature’s benefits. Other ecosystem services include carbon sequestration, medicine, minerals, waste decomposition, and recreational opportunities, like hiking.

A bee pollinates a peach flower. Pollination is an important "ecosystem service."

A bee pollinates a peach flower. Pollination is an important “ecosystem service.”

In September I had the privilege of going to the “Third Conference for Sustainability IGERTs on Ecosystem Services for Sustainability.” Many people at the conference, including myself, were interested in how humans interact with their environment, and how we can conserve nature and sustain the benefits that nature provides us.

What was really neat about the conference was that, in true IGERT-style, there were fellows representing a range of disciplines. Ecologists, environmental psychologists, economists, earth scientists, geographers, and sociologists had various viewpoints about how ecosystem services were to be analyzed and valued. We spent a large amount of time work-shopping these ideas and talked about how we should communicate these ideas to the public.

I also presented my work on arctic pollination, which all of my fellow cohort members helped with. In short, I found that the national flower of Greenland, niviarsiaq, greatly depends on pollinators to produce seeds. My poster is below.

Does flower density affect pollination

A poster about my small project on niviarsiaq (Chamerion latifolium, dwarf fireweed) pollination. Click to enlarge

I would encourage everyone to attend a topic-based conference, like this ecosystem services conference, in addition to attending conferences based in your disciplines. It was productive and an excellent opportunity to discuss the values and challenges of interdisciplinary work.

Read Full Post »

The colorful houses, constant barking of chained up sled dogs, and the ever-present icebergs floating just off shore were just a few of the amazing things that the magical little town of Ilulissat has to offer. But for me, one of the biggest highlights of our stay in Ilulissat was visiting the vicarage where polar explorer and anthropologist Knud Rasmussen was born and raised. The building is now home of the Ilulissat Museum, which contains numerous exhibits on Inuit culture and history in addition to artifacts from the life of Knud Rasmussen. I have to admit that I had never heard of Knud before visiting Ilulissat, but it didn’t take long for me to become a full blown Knudist.

A typical view in Ilulissat.  Not too shabby!

A typical view in Ilulissat. Not too shabby!

Part of Knud’s success as an explorer and social scientist came from his ability to seamlessly interact with both Danish and Greenlandic cultures.  I think that’s probably why Knud’s story struck such a chord with me.  My wife is from Costa Rica and we are expecting our first child in less than a month. We worry that the child will feel more comfortable with one language and culture over the other, and therefore favor communication with one side of the family more than the other. Knud, who had a Danish father, the vicar Christian Rasmussen, and an Inuit-Danish Mother, Sophie Rasmussen (nee Fleicher), was not only able to integrate himself into both cultures, the embracement of both cultures is what made him so successful.

The man himself, Dr. Knud Rasmussen!

The man himself, Dr. Knud Rasmussen!

Knud spent most of his childhood in Ilulissat, but traveled to Denmark to study at the age of 12, which kicked off a lifetime of travel and exploration.  After graduating and working as a correspondent for several newspapers, he joined the Danish Literary Expedition to contact “the new people” of Thule – Inuit communities that had so far had very little contact with outside cultures. Knud collected a great deal of information about their way of living, myths, beliefs, and culture. The expedition was so successful that Knud was motivated to embark on further expeditions, including exploring more of Greenland and visiting the native peoples of Canada, Alaska, and Siberia. Through his travels he realized that the language and beliefs of many of the Inuit were similar. He was even able to easily communicate with the peoples he encountered in Canada and Siberia using his native Greenlandic language, Kalaallisut.

Ulu, or the "woman's knife" is used for cleaning and skinning animals.

Ulu, or the “woman’s knife” is used for cleaning and skinning animals.

Are the Inuit snow goggles not the coolest things ever?  I seriously love these.

Are the Inuit snow goggles not the coolest things ever? I seriously love these.

We never totally out what wound plugs are for exactly, but I was fascinated by them, nonetheless.

We never totally out what wound plugs are for exactly, but I was fascinated by them, nonetheless.

In addition to all the exploring and reporting, I was particularly impressed by the creative ways that Knud brought attention to the Inuit way of life, such as by making the film “Palo’s Wedding”.  It is a remarkable film and I encourage everybody out there to watch it! It can be hard to find, although you can buy it on Amazon, and there are a few short clips on youtube. Greenlandic filmmaking lives on, by the way, check out the recent horror flick Qaqqat alanngui. Not to be missed!

Knud’s adventures were not without their challenges (such as being deported from Siberia), but he nonetheless visited Inuit communities throughout the world and brought attention to their relatedness, migration patterns, complex belief system and the remarkable adaptations to polar life. As a reward for all his work Knud was awarded honorary doctorates from the universities of Copenhagen and Edinburgh.

Kristen points out some articles in the museum related to her research!

Kristen points out some articles in the museum related to her research!

In addition to the exhibits on Knud, the Ilulissat Museum had a number of exhibits on Inuit culture in the past and present.  A favorite of mine was a special exhibit on how climate change is perceived by the people of Greenland (link). Despite the fact that the arctic is experiencing climate change at about twice the rate of the rest of the world, the majority of Greenlanders see climate change as either a distant threat or of minimal consequence.  Doesn’t feel too far from home, to be honest!  Check out some of the photos from the exhibit below.  My favorite by far is the boy upset that climate change is affecting Christmas.


P1060513 P1060515


Hey Ruth, how do you feel about climate change?

Hey Ruth, how do you feel about climate change?

All in all the Ilulissat Museum was an excellent stop and very educational. Definitely worth a visit if you happen to find yourself in a majestic town of Ilulissat!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »