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).

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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

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.

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“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

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