Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Seeing is Believing

The NGEE team has talked for many months about conducting research at sites on the Seward Peninsula. Trouble is that we had never visited those sites. That all changed in a matter of hours today and I must admit that we were not disappointed. The landscape near Council, Alaska represents an exciting collection of ecosystems that by all measures looks to be a perfect environment to examine the role of permafrost degradation on vegetation change, carbon cycle processes, and other land-atmosphere feedbacks. It was satisfying to see the landscape so alive with surface and subsurface interactions. Thermokarst features were abundant across the tundra and in what looked to be various stages of development. This opens many doors for achieving our goal of studying these complex systems in a statistically robust manner.

Also satisfying was seeing the way our team interacted with each other throughout the day. It is one thing to listen as colleagues from different disciplines exchange ideas or debate alternative hypotheses on a conference call. I have done this for months. But there is something quite rewarding to see this play out spontaneously in a field environment. Today I watched as a hydrologist discussed possible scenarios of soil moisture with a microbiologist, and as a geophysicist talked to an ecologist about how subsurface processes potentially control the large-scale distribution of plant functional types. This is an encouraging sign that we are taking strides to having an engaged and integrated team that is ready to tackle the demands of the NGEE project.