Archive for the ‘Laura Levy’ Category

Ciao from Roma

This year I have a NSF GK-12 fellowship and spend one day per week teaching science to 7th graders in Newport, NH. Below is a letter I sent them from a workshop in Rome:
Ciao Newport 7th graders!

I’m here in Rome, Italy, for a week-long meeting for scientists who study how sea levels have changed over thousands of years. (Think of how the height of the ocean changes during high and low tides during the day, but much larger changes in height and longer time periods.) Folks here at the meeting all study some aspect of how the oceans have raised and lowered over time due to melting and re-growing of the ice sheets over past ice ages. (Trivia question: Do you remember the 3 ice sheets in the world??? Answer: Greenland, East Antarctic and West Antarctic).

There are a wide range of participants at the meeting. Some, like me, study how ice sheets and glaciers change, others study past sea levels using the height of coral reefs in tropical areas, and many people here use our data to create these fancy computer programs, called models, that they use to understand how sea-level changed over tens of thousands of years. We can then use these models to predict how sea-level will change in the future. This is especially important for many people who live in low-lying areas of the world. For example, New York City is very low-lying (that is, not very high above the ocean height) and is home to 8.3 million people. If you remember last year during Hurricane Sandy, many people’s homes were flooded in New York City and there were millions of dollars of damage to homes and infrastructure (good vocabulary word!?!)

It is very important that we understand how sea-level is going to change in the future due to the melting ice sheets because millions of people all over the world will be affected by changes in the sea-level. The scientists at this meeting all study how sea-level has changed in the past and we need to understand how it changed in the past before we can determine how it may change in the future.

Besides learning a lot from other scientists, I’ve also been eating a lot of good food (homemade pasta and pizza!), walking around the city of Rome and catching up with good friends. All in all a great trip!

Looking forward to seeing you all next week when I’m back in the U.S.

ciao! Laura

View of the outskirts of Rome from my hotel.

View of the outskirts of Rome from my hotel.

Scientists presenting and discussing data from their posters.

Scientists presenting and discussing data from their posters.

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This past week six Dartmouth IGERT Fellows presented their work at the 2012 International Polar Year Conference in Montreal.  The five students who gave poster presentations spent time in front of their posters chatting with fellow researchers, educators, media and policy makers about their work and findings.

Check out the videos below to see Lauren Culler, Laura Levy and Ben Kopec giving a shortened version of their poster talk for the camera!

Laura Levy and her poster “Holocene glacier fluctuations, Scoresby Sund, eastern Greenland”

Ben Kopec and his poster “Lake water balance near Kangerlussuaq, Greenland and their interannual variability”

Lauren Culler and her poster “Temperature alters interactions between Arctic mosquitoes and their predators in snowmelt ponds in West Greenland”

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Ethnobiology is the study of humans and their relationship to things biological, from plants to animals to nature itself. Sessions ranged from “Archeological methods” to “Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Ethnobiology in the 21st Century (and Beyond): Changes, Innovations, and Issues of Justice” to an entire session dedicated to Acai. The Archeological Methods session was fascinating — Linda Scott Cummings presented a chemical analysis of residues found on ceramic sherds (in this circle they are called sherds and not shards) as support for the use of a plant in the Euphorbia family (same family as your Christmas friend, the pointsettia) in Samoa over 2000 years ago. Another presenter, Caroline A. Dezendorf, used her master’s research to recreate various processes of preparing maize. Using heirloom varieties of maize, she found that those kernels which underwent a lyme treatment match those found by archaeologists. Steve Wolverton used skeletal remains of white-tailed deer to determine that increased hunting pressure resulted in larger deer (due to increased forage).

While there I presented my results from my 2011 field season in South Greenland (see previous post). I was happy to share with the audience that plant knowledge is not disappeared from Greenland, but instead is shared among a small community of enthusiasts. I am working with my collaborator, Lenore Grenoble at the University of Chicago, to pull our results into a manuscript for submission to a journal. Unlike ecology journals, ethnobotanical journals favor including all the data within a paper. So far our manuscript is 4 pages long and the table with the results of our interviews is 10 pages long.  I’ve never seen more table than paper in an ecology journal!


Every talk about the Arctic requires acclimating the audience to a different perspective of the globe, one where the North Pole is the center of our perspective.

We found that knowledge varies from merely knowing who is knowledgeable about plants within the community to extensive knowledge about collection, preparation, storage and use of plants. We documented 171 uses of plants, divided into 7 categories: beverage, craft, food, medicine, fuel, spice or condiment, and ritual. The majority of uses were as medicine (~25%), food (~23%), beverages (~14%), and craft (~12%). Beverages include mostly teas and three instances of fermented drink. The craft category includes funeral wreaths and decorative bouquets of dried and fresh materials, including fabrication of Christmas trees from Juniperus communis. Medicines are topical and internal. Fuel includes material for fire and candlewicks. Spices are those plants used during cooking; condiments are those that are added to food once cooked. Ritual describes uses connected with spiritual practices, in this case to cleanse the home of bad energy or ghosts. Our work indicates that while few individuals hold knowledge, it does persist within the community and plants are used today both traditionally and with Danish influence.


A stormy day in the Rocky Mountains.

One of the highlights of the trip was a field trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. The four hour bus ride allowed plenty of time to get to know other conference participants, including Steve Weber, the founder of SoE, and a paleoethnobotanist. His research investigates how and why people adopt subsistence strategies. What I appreciated most about our conversation was to learn that he uses techniques with which I am familiar thanks to my IGERT connection with Earth Scientists, but to ask very different questions. My IGERT colleague, Laura Levy, uses lake core samples to measure the past extent of the Greenland ice sheet. Steve uses them to understand climate and agricultural practices in Pakistan. It was empowering to jump right into a conversation with the founder of an esteemed society with full understanding of his methods. Thanks, IGERT!

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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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Laura Levy was here in Kangerlussuaq for a two-week field stint and took a moment to chat with me about her research!  Check it out:

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Inuugujaq from Kangerlussuaq, Greenland! We arrived yesterday afternoon after smooth travels thanks to the 109th Air National Guard. This is the third year in a row I’ve been to Kangerlussuaq and I feel incredibly grateful to be here. This is the earliest in the season that I’ve been here and the biggest difference (besides the presences of mosquitoes!) is that many of the tundra plants are flowering! During the past two trips to the region, I learned how to identify many of the tundra plants from Simone Whitecloud, IGERT fellow and botanist extraordinaire. Today I put on my interdisciplinary “hat” and tried to remember everything she taught me! Below are some of the beautiful flowers I saw today.

Rhododendron lapponicum. Much smaller than rhododendrons found in New England!

Moss campion. A tiny cushion plant!

Monchhichi (for scale) amongst the Dryas octopetala.

Stay tuned for more posts as our stay here continues!

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Laura, Courtney and I are making our way to Greenland for what we hope will be an exciting summer of fieldwork. With empty field notebooks, data loggers and sample bags, we know we have a lot ahead of us, but we can’t help but reflect on everything we’ve done to get to this point. Here’s our list of the top 5 things you need to do for expedition planning:

1) Identify your purpose: To start at the very beginning, you have to have an idea or goal or objective to motivate the expedition/adventure/trip. Laura, Courtney and I are in Greenland to help get things organized for the IGERT summer field seminar , when the new cohort of IGERT fellows will be taking to the field. Yet, the fun doesn’t end there because each of us has our own personal goals to the trip. I am investigating how temperature affects soil carbon storage. To do this, I will dig soil pits and collect lots and lots of soil samples to bring back to Hanover for analysis. Courtney is assisting me in my research and using her experience in photography and interest in photojournalism to explore the area and culture of Kangerlussuaq, including the researchers and scientific community. Each of us will also have the chance to explain our research to Greenlandic, Danish and American high school students who are participating in a local summer science education program.

Greenland landscape, outside Kangerlussuaq

2) Plan, scheme and strategize: This is a tough one to check off the list, because it is more of an evolving cycle than a single step. In this process we hope to find a creative and realistic way to achieve our purpose. I started planning for this trip last November, when I wrote and submitted a research proposal. Since then I have reworked and refined the plan numerous times. Courtney came on board a little over a month ago to help with prepping and packing. We will be in Kangerlussuaq for a total of 6 weeks, and our plan is to spend 5-6 days stints doing fieldwork and camping out in the field. In between we will come back to the research base, the Kangerlussuaq International Science Station (nicknamed “KISS”), where we will recharge our batteries, check email, eat pizza and shower, in that order.

Julia scheming pre-departure

Courtney packing the essentials

3) Food: Since we will be camping for 40 days we have spent a lot of time thinking about food. There is a grocery store in Kangerlussuaq, in case we have forgotten any of the essentials, but we have brought most of the supplies with us. There is nothing gourmet about camp food, but you can be sure that everything tastes 10 times better after a long day of digging soil pits! Our camp food menu consists of hot cereal and dried fruit for breakfast, peanut butter or tuna/sausage and cheese with Wasa crackers and trail mix for lunch, lots of morale boosting granola bars and chocolate throughout, and delicacies such as Gado-gado (a thai-styled peanut sauce with noodles) and bean burritos for dinner.

Food for the field!

4) Travel logistics: You can’t have an adventure if you don’t get yourself there. As for our adventure, the Arctic is becoming more accessible, but there are no direct commercial flights from the U.S. to Greenland. The IGERT program, however, is funded by the National Science Foundation, which works with a logistics contractor and the 109th Air National Guard Unit to support to a substantial amount research in Greenland. The 109th Air National Guard Unit flies researchers from the air base near Schenectady, NY directly to Greenland. The wonderful logistics support folks lead us through the ropes.

C-130, our plane for the trip

5) Inspiration: Digging in the dirt is quite inspiring for some of us, but just to be sure we keep that motivation high, we are bringing along some essential items such as books, yoga mats, playing cards, bright colored clothing and our little friend Monchichi.

Monchichi's ready for the flight!

So here we are, moving on to the next phase of the project, where our planning thus far gets put to test. While it is a notable transition, there are some parallels between what we have done and what we have in store. Afterall, the inevitable unexpected complications are sure to require a lot of scheming and strategizing.

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