Posts Tagged ‘Science’

Southern migration.

After four days of bouncing through airport terminals, Ruth, myself, and the members of the LTER soils team (http://www.mcmlter.org/) have come to our southernmost Antarctic destination at last!

Now, truly seasoned travelers (i.e., polar scientists…and Arctic terns) have come to find such a commute pretty standard fare. Yet for an Antarctic newbie like myself, this level of perpetual motion left me feeling as though we had traveled to the bottom of the earth. Fittingly, we’ve ended up just there. A mere 30+ hours in the air has landed us at McMurdo Station, Antarctica.

Route Boston to McMurdo

But let’s backup for a moment.

Up until leaving New Zealand, our travels had all been standard commercial airlines. But for NSF funded projects such as the McMurdo LTER in which we’re participating, travel to the field happens on Air National Guard LC-130 cargo planes. So in preparation for this we all spend a day in Christchurch, NZ at the CDC (Clothing Distribution Center), where we are briefed with orientation videos, our computers are security checked, and we are outfitted with our polar gear.


When we arrive at the CDC, we step into a large changing room where two orange duffle bags sit waiting for each person.

Gradually we pull out piece after piece of cold weather clothing. This ranges from giant puffy jackets and white rubber “bunny boots”, to silky long underwear and wool socks. The warehouse here is impressive and fully stocked.

gloves comp


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After all of our gear preparation is finished, Ruth and I take to the streets of Christchurch. Walking downtown it’s immediately evident that the city is still in recovery, even three years after their devastating earthquake. Piles of rubble are fenced off on city blocks, and large open spaces are left where hotels, restaurants, and apartment complexes used to stand.



We walk through the city’s new “shipping container-chic” shopping centers, where fallen buildings have bee replaced by funky colored shipping containers selling street food, clothing, books, and jewelry.

In the evening, we walked to nearby Hagley Park to bring in the New Year. Crowds of people sat in the grass swaying to the sounds of local cover-bands singing Jonny Cash in Kiwi accents. Finally, per New Zealand tradition, we were all enchanted by the Arch Wizard of Canterbury as he casts an explosive (fireworks were involved…) spell on the crowd for coming year.


The Arch Wizard is projected onto a giant screen as he casts his spell.


The next day, we go back to the CDC to don our polar gear, check our bags, and get briefed by the ANG on flight to the ice. It’s a toasty ride for those 8 hours to McMurdo, as we have to wear our big red jackets, snow pants, and bunny boots on the plane.20150101_112747



Soon enough, we feel the plane glide onto the ice and we step out into a blindingly white world. The team has officially arrived in Antarctica.

Photo credit: Ruth Heindel

Stay tuned for updates on the science we are now preparing to do!


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During the 2012 IGERT Field Seminar in Greenland, the all-female cohort 3 was introduced to this promotional video, put out by the European Commission as a part of a campaign to inspire more young women to get involved in science.

The controversial video has since been taken off the European Commission campaign website, but not before sparking some lively debate.  The discussion in Greenland amongst cohort 3 about the video and the role of women in science inspired us to make our own version of Science: It’s a girl thing!.

And so we proudly present:  Science in Greenland: It’s a Girl Thing

What do you think about the European Commission video and our take on women in science?  Despite the controversy surrounding the video, the European Commission has a really cool website for their Science: It’s a girl thing!  campaign.  Check it out: http://science-girl-thing.eu/en.

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What am I doing in Greenland this summer? I’m analyzing gas, pretty much. No, dehydrated camp food is not the most digestively soothing, but that’s not what I’m getting at (this time). I’m talking about my field research, measuring the carbon dioxide gas that is released from ground. To do this, we use a “gas analyzer” that looks like this:

The analyzer has two main parts: the white hat-like chamber, which we place on top of the ground to collect air that is being released from ground, and the analyzer bench, protected by a bright yellow plastic case, which measures the carbon dioxide in the gas that flows through tubes from the chamber.

When we put the chamber on the surface we can measure an accumulation of carbon dioxide gas as it is released from the ground. Image

Effectively, we are watching and measuring the breath of the critters, microscopic organisms and roots in the soil. As shown above, during a two minute observation we see the CO2 levels rise from the concentrations in air (about 390 parts per million, or ppm) to nearly 500 ppm. The slope of the line represents how quickly the gas is being released from the ground. If we were to captured the breath that you exhale we would also see an increase in carbon dioxide!

In ecosystem ecology, this release of carbon dioxide from the soil is called “soil respiration”. It is particularly interesting to study soil respiration in the Arctic because the cold climate limits decomposition so lots of carbon has accumulated in Arctic soil over time. Furthermore, there are still a lot of questions about how this stored carbon will respond to climate warming — will the amount of stored carbon increase? or will soil respiration increase and perhaps cause an overall decrease in the amount of carbon in the soils? One way or another, this process has the potential to influence the global carbon cycle and future climate.

Did you know that soils breaths? There is a lot of life churning below our feet and we can measure it with a gas analyzer. Plus, the Arctic is a hot spot, so you can be sure that I will be busy all summer. Pretty cool, right? Bring up soil respiration at the next cocktail party, it will be a huge hit, I swear ;).

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IGERT students from the University of Kansas C-CHANGE program were in Kangerlussuaq last week as part of 10-day field course on Climate Change in Greenland and the Arctic. We were fortunate to spend time with them in the field and at a poster session at the research station.

KU IGERT visits the sea tomatoes
[Danny explaining the mystery of the sea tomatoes to students and faculty from KU. Read their excellent take on the project here.]

KU poster session at KISS

[Poster session at Kangerlussuaq International Science Support.]

Many thanks to KU for stimulating many informative and productive conversations. We really enjoyed sharing our experiences and perceptions of Arctic change.

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I am back in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland to continue my studies of the Arctic mosquito. Last year I arrived on May 18th to an unusually cold Arctic spring. The tundra was brown, the lakes were locked in ice and the mosquitoes were just starting to hatch. This year I arrived on May 7th. Folks have been telling me this year is more typical. It’s certainly warmer- and wetter- and the biology of the plants and lakes is much farther along than last year. The mosquitoes are about to pupate- last year that didn’t happen until June.  I expect the adults to emerge before the end of May. Last year they emerged in the middle of June.

mosquito larvae

[Mosquito larvae (Aedes nigripes, Diptera: Culicidae) collected on May 11th, 2012.]

Studying the timing of biological events (e.g. mosquito emergence, plant flowering) is known as phenology, and is a critical component of understanding ecological response to climate change. 2011 and 2012 have provided a perfect framework for understanding a key factor that influences phenology, i.e., temperature, because 2011 was so cold and 2012 is much warmer.

mosquito pond

[Mosquito pond, free of ice by May 11th- last year this pond was partially frozen until June.]

Given the ongoing and future warming of the Arctic, cold springs such as in 2011 will become more rare, and warm springs such as in 2012 will be the norm. Changes to the phenology of plants and animals are occurring- describing and communicating these changes and the consequences for residents of the Arctic is one of the goals of our IGERT program at Dartmouth.

As always, stay tuned for updates about the mosquitoes, sea tomatoes, and other happenings in the world of Polar Science at Dartmouth.

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You’ve seen the Arctic once, that vast, white nothingness, so you’ve seen it all, right?  Not quite.  After spending 6 months in the Arctic, transitioning from Greenland to Alaska half way through, I realized how different various parts of the Arctic could be from one another.

White Tundra
A view of the tundra just outside of Barrow, Alaska from a helicopter.

In Greenland this summer, IGERT Fellow Julia Bradley-Cook and I trekked and camped in the stunning mountainous region of tundra bordering the Greenland ice sheet near Kangerlussuaq (67° 01’ N, 50° 42’ W), collecting samples for her research on soil carbon dynamics in the area.  Kangerlussuaq is more of an outpost than a town; mainly existing to support the international airport located there, the scientific community, and a growing tourist economy.

Russel glacier
One of our many stunning lunch spots, at Russell Glacier near Kangerlussuaq, Greenland.

Barrow, Alaska (71° 18’ N, 156° 44’ W), on the other hand, is a booming city compared to Kangerlussuaq.  The city is the seat of the North Slope Borough’s government and has a population of around 5,000 people, approximately 60% of whom are Alaskan Native Iñupiaq Eskimo.

Barrow by helicopter

Barrow, Alaska

When I arrived in Barrow I was stunned to see a completely flat horizon line in all directions, the Ocean to the North, and the openness of the “slope” to the South.

The community also seemed improbable: hundreds of houses built on stilts, plopped down on a dirt patch.  There are no paved roads in Barrow (due to permafrost), but there are a number of stoplights and no shortage of cars, ATVs and snowmobiles.

My street in Barrow
My street in Barrow.

During my three-month stay in Barrow I worked as a community outreach intern for the Barrow Arctic Science Consortium (BASC) through the Dartmouth Stefansson Fellowship program.  Up until very recently BASC provided logistical support for researchers visiting Barrow and functioned as a bridge between the scientific community and the local community through weekly outreach events.  I came onboard to start up a new outreach effort targeting local k-12 students.

A researcher heading out into the large patch of tundra that makes up the Barrow Environmental Observatory.

What really surprised me in my work with students was the lack of awareness for the wealth of research taking place in Barrow (since Barrow is one of the major hotspots for Arctic research). With the support of the school district, I was able to connect students to visiting scientists and local science organizations via small group field trips and class visits. In the three months we organized and ran 33 field trips and set up a framework to continue the program throughout the school year and into the summer. It is my hope that this internship will continue either with BASC or with another local logistics organization so that teachers and students can take advantage of all the special opportunities and resources in their community.

Field trip with Archaeologist Anne Jensen
Middle School Students on a field trip with local Archaeologist Anne Jensen.

While my experiences in Greenland and Alaska felt like polar opposites, together they gave me a bigger and better picture of Arctic life!

Two Foxes
A couple Arctic Foxes enjoying the first snow of the season in Barrow.

If you would like to see more of what I was up to in Barrow, you can check out the blog I was keeping during my time there: http://above66degreesnorth.wordpress.com/

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