Friday, August 19, 2011

Posted by Sam Wright on behalf of Larry Hinzman

Today was another good day for site selection and team building for the NGEE program. We met today with community leaders from Barrow, who not only welcomed our request to conduct research near their community, but also encouraged the initiation of this project by telling us of more evidence of warming in the Arctic. The Barrow community leaders spoke of willows, ground squirrels and salmon berries all thriving where they had never existed in living memory. They suggested numerous sites where we could conduct research to document and understand these changes. We discussed the goals of the NGEE project and our approach of integrating the science of many disciplines in Council to Barrow, and eventually in a transect between the two.

The community leaders and the many researchers who are already working here have been very welcoming and helpful in sharing their knowledge and ideas. Many have encouraged us to incorporate traditional or local knowledge into our studies. They have also asked that we present our reports and findings in formats that are understandable and useful for community members. It is often difficult for researchers, who are accustomed to analyzing measurements collected over periodic time series or spatial grids to incorporate observations of changes in species, stocks or fluxes, but these observations can provide key information in deciding what to monitor and where to establish our research sites.

Barrow offers no limitations in selecting sites that could provide valuable information. On the contrary, it will be difficult to settle on one area, as many of the places we visited today appear prime to experience substantial permafrost degradation in coming years. The amount of thermokarsting was somewhat surprising to me, but perhaps I have never been searching so diligently for thermokarst before. Barrow is quite cold and I expected the permafrost to be stable with signs of degradation only in areas that have experienced disturbance. It will be necessary to acquire aerial photography from the 1950s and 1980s to see if these are new features and/or to determine how quickly they are changing. Many sites could satisfy our scientific objectives, so we also have the opportunity to consider other factors such as availability of historic data, previous studies, logistical demands, opportunity to collaborate with on-going research, and availability of electricity and telemetry. The ARM site was particularly attractive due to the tremendous amount of historical observations and on-going measurements of very relevant meteorological variables.  Plus, there is a mix of low-centered and high-centered polygonal ground in the area, indicating both stable and degrading permafrost.  It is nice to be in a position where we have so many good options.