Friday, August 19, 2011

Science in the Arctic

Today dawned with fog and light rain, but neither lasted long. We had breakfast at Ilisagvik College where we also planned our day; we had much to do. Our first stop was the Barrow Arctic Science center (BARC) where Larry and I had scheduled team meetings with local community leaders. Our message was similar to that delivered earlier in the week in Nome; the NGEE project seeks to investigate how permafrost degradation and associated affects on hydrology, landscape evolution, and vegetation dynamics will drive important feedbacks to climate.

Participants in our meeting were engaged and discussions were both positive and lively. The Barrow community is a strong advocate for research and have been for many years. Barrow is often referred to as "Alaska's Arctic Science City". Like our meetings in Nome, people of this area have a lifetime of traditional ecological knowledge that they were quick to share. We heard many accounts of how the land has changed within the past 25 to 30 years. I find the insights conveyed through these life experiences both fascinating and informative. Our meeting was hosted by Glenn Sheehan, Director of the Barrow Arctic Science Consortium (BASC) and he too had suggestions for how scientists can benefit from local knowledge and thereby establish strong working relationships with local villages.

The rest of the day was spent touring the BARC facility and visiting the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) site operated by the Department of Energy, Office of Science, Biological and Environmental Research Program. This is a state-of-the-art facility for atmospheric science and cloud physics research. Walter Brower, local site manager for ARM, gave us the tour and provided a great overview of program goals and objectives. This included plans to install several new instruments at the site, one of which would allow scientists to track carbon dioxide and methane flux from the land surface. The NGEE project will benefit from this capability as well as the other data streams available from the ARM site.

Wednesday night we had the pleasure of having dinner with Craig Tweedie, University of Texas, El Paso. Craig has worked at Barrow for several decades and provided useful thoughts on conducting research in the Arctic. Thanks to Criag, we had the opportunity to meet several students of Robert Hollister, a professor at Grand Valley State University including Jenny Liebig and Kelseyann Kremers who have been working to understand the influence of warmer temperatures on plant productivity. They took time out of their busy day to show us their study and provide us their perspective on the Arctic. It looks like science is in good hands thanks to this new generation of Arctic scientists!

Friday we will continue to look for potential field sites on the Barrow Environmental Observatory (BEO). This is a 7,450 acre parcel of land that is dedicated to Arctic science research. It should be a great day to spend time with my colleagues in a truly unique field environment.

Quyanaqpak! Thank you very much!