Friday, August 12, 2011

This weekend a team of scientists from several Department of Energy (DOE) national labs and the University of Alaska Fairbanks will travel to Anchorage and then to Nome, Council, and Barrow, Alaska. Our goal is to gain an appreciation for the diversity of terrestrial ecosystems that stretch across the landscape from the boreal forests and shrub lands of the Seward Peninsula to the high-Arctic tundra of the North Slope. These ice-rich and permafrost-dominated ecosystems are sensitive to environmental change, especially warming, and this trip will provide our team a great opportunity to see how climate, permafrost, hydrology, and ecology interact to shape these complex systems. Our interests lie in how climate change may impact carbon and energy cycles associated with warmer temperatures, permafrost degradation, and vegetation dynamics. Gaining a first-hand appreciation for Arctic landscapes during this trip will help us refine our research questions and identify potential field sites for the NGEE project. It will be at these sites that our multi-disciplinary team will collect data required to better understand chemical, physical, and biological processes that underlie important ecosystem-climate feedbacks and how to represent those in climate models. Models must couple process-level knowledge with rapid evolution of the Arctic landscape due to permafrost degradation if we are to predict the consequences for regional and global climate. This is an exciting but daunting task. During our trip we also look forward to sharing our plans with community leaders and listening to their thoughts. Local citizens understand and in many instances can document changes that have occurred in the lands surrounding their communities. This can benefit and inform our science and aid in understanding the challenges likely to be faced by our team as we seek to work safely and productively in remote locations of Alaska.