Thursday, January 21, 2016

NASA ABoVE Hosts Second Science Team Meeting in Anchorage

Members of the NASA-sponsored Arctic-Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE) travelled this week to Anchorage, Alaska to host the second of its Science Team meetings. ABoVE ( is a large-scale study of environmental change and its implications for social-ecological systems. It selected 21 projects last fall with a diversity of field, remote sensing, and modeling studies slated to begin this year in Alaska and western Canada.

NGEE Arctic is a core project in the ABoVE field campaign. Last November, at their first Science Team meeting in Minnesota, there was great interaction among the project participants. Working groups were formed to ensure integration across the various projects. NGEE Arctic is contributing to several working groups including the Hydrology and Permafrost Working Group led by John Kimball. We are currently in the process of developing an implementation plan that describes how the various field activities will be coordinated to achieve goals of the ABoVE project. This involves discussions of field sites, measurements to be taken, modeling activities, and data sets and derived-products to be developed. The NGEE Arctic project is quite interested in helping to define the airborne remote sensing needs of ABoVE as our project needs these products in order to effectively implement our scaling strategy for global climate models.

While the meeting in Minnesota was to coordinate PIs funded through ABoVE, the Science Team meeting in Anchorage is designed to bring together the many stakeholders in Alaska and Canada who share a common interest in climate change, ecosystem services, resource management, and interactions between social and ecological systems. We have heard a number of excellent presentations in the last two days, mostly from representatives of state and federal agencies, and native organizations. It has been helpful to learn about all the relevant research being conducted throughout the Arctic-boreal region, and to consider how those data-rich resources, including traditional knowledge, can be brought to bear on topics of interest to ABoVE. Presentations from native communities have been especially interesting as they bring a unique perspective to the topic of climate change given their close association with the environment.

Our plan in the NGEE Arctic project is to continue our interaction with NASA and share information derived from our studies on the North Slope and Seward Peninsula with others on the ABoVE Science Team. Our sponsors at the Department of Energy, Biological and Environmental Research (BER) program are highly supportive of this inter-agency collaboration. We share many goals and objectives with ABoVE, and it is clear that we have the opportunity to develop strong and complementary interactions in the coming years.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Another Year Comes to a Close…

It has been a great year for the NGEE Arctic team. We travelled to the Seward Peninsula in western Alaska and selected a set of southern field sites for 2016; we were reviewed by our sponsors at the Department of Energy and approved for another three years of field, laboratory, and modeling studies; and as of this week we closed down much of the field research in Barrow, Alaska.

I flew into Anchorage last Monday and enjoyed the winter scenery from my window, before making the additional 3 hour flight north to Barrow. Bryan and Alex, both from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory joined me on Tuesday. Knowing that we would have limited daylight and possible cold temperatures we allocated 5 days to disassembling the NGEE Arctic tram and transporting other instruments back to Barrow for winter storage.

The bulk of our time was spent taking down the tram which consisted of removing the instrumented cart along with 65 meters of rail and supporting posts. Because of its design the tram was quickly disassembled and, once secured on sleds, everything was transported back to storage facilities in Barrow. We did the same for instruments on the eddy covariance tower, the geophysical ERT array, and then miscellaneous bits and pieces of equipment that we have in the field. This included several solar panels that we use during the field season to trickle-charge batteries used in the micro-warming experiment.

An extra day was spent working with Bob Busey back in Fairbanks to measure data transmission rates from various locations on the Barrow Environmental Observatory (BEO) back to computers at the Barrow Arctic Research Center (BARC). Every year we find ourselves transmitting more and more data and we want to be sure that we are being efficient in getting data from the field to investigators at our partner institutions in New York, Nebraska, and California. We will analyze transmission rates in the weeks to come and make decisions as to whether we should upgrade wireless capabilities at our field sites in the spring.

For now, 2015 comes to a close. I expect to return to Barrow in January or February and then the larger team will probably return in April or early May to reinstall the tram and other instruments. Those activities will mark the beginning of our fifth year of research in the Arctic.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Another Season Nearly Complete for NGEE Arctic Tram…

Bryan Curtis (LBNL) told me earlier this week that, according to plan, the NGEE Arctic tram has performed admirably since it went operational in May, 2015. The automated cart has made hundreds of trips down the 65 meter track, once every 3 hours in fact, around the clock. During that time a suite of sensors have monitored albedo, NDVI, and multiple components of the surface energy balance as snow melted in the spring, low-lying area became inundated with water, vegetation grew throughout the summer and senesced in autumn, and then the onset of snow this winter. Throughout this time additional measurements of soil temperature and moisture, chamber-based and eddy covariance CO2 and CH4 flux, active layer thickness, geophysics, and phenology were made either along the tram or within the tram footprint. The co-location of so many high-resolution measurements, once analyzed together, should yield an unprecedented dataset to inform scaling and modeling. The NGEE Arctic team anticipates letting the tram operate for another few weeks and then disassembling the system in early November.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

NEON in the Neighborhood…

The Barrow Environmental Observatory (BEO) is home to many research projects. In 2012, NGEE Arctic joined a distinguished list of projects being funded by multiple state and federal agencies. Now that list expands to include the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON). NEON is sponsored by the National Science Foundation and is a continental-scale initiative that provides long-term infrastructure for examining ecological change over time. We have known for several years that NEON would deploy a monitoring site in Barrow (and elsewhere in Alaska) and we are finally beginning to see evidence of that deployment. Monitoring plots have been established, equipment and supplies have arrived and are being assembled in Barrow, and trail mat is being strategically placed to support scientists who will be coming and going from the field site throughout the season.

Having laid several kilometers of trail mat over the last 4 years, I was intrigued by the sled-based system that NEON personnel have devised to minimize the physical requirements of laying meter after meter of walk way. Although I have not seen it in operation, I am told that staff can connect the trail mat sections while standing up rather than bending or kneeling down to place and secure cable ties that will hold the sections together. Pretty creative…

Monday, October 19, 2015

Raising Temperatures on the Tundra…

The NGEE Arctic project is interested in the fate of active layer soils and permafrost as it potentially warms in the coming century. So far, however, few manipulative studies have experimentally controlled in situ temperatures in the tundra. Intended to address specific hypotheses, scientists working on the NGEE Arctic project from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) have developed a small linear heater that once inserted into the active layer can be monitored and controlled to warm soils and permafrost to 4-5 oC above ambient. The approach was deployed at our Barrow field sites in early 2015 and evaluated throughout the season. Ori Chaffe and Bryan Curtis are busy this week monitoring system performance and conducting flux measurements. The team has a lot of data to analyze, but preliminary results look encouraging both in terms of magnitude of warming, temperature profiles with depth, and the monitored consequences of warming for CO2 and CH4 flux.

Margaret Torn, soil ecologist at LBNL will be talking about the technique and its impact of greenhouse gas emissions at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San Francisco, CA.