Tuesday, September 27, 2011

TUESDAY, September 27, 2011

A big "hello" to Mrs. Roberts and her third grade students at Karns Elementary school in Knoxville!

Here's an update of my trip so far...

Susan Hubbard and her team of scientists from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory arrived in Barrow on Saturday. They have been sorting gear, purchasing supplies, and have started to take a few initial measurements in the field. The weather has been cold and windy with some snow and freezing rain. Temperatures dipped into the twenties last night. These are typical conditions in Barrow for late September. Staying warm and dry will be our challenge this week!

Last night I checked into the dormitory-style housing that scientists use when in Barrow. There are three hotels in town, but those are almost always filled by tourists and oil company employees. Tourists come to see rare and endangered birds that live in the area and in hopes of spotting polar bears that come ashore from the Arctic ocean. Maybe I will see a polar bear this week! One did come ashore during my last visit and it created some excitement, with many local residents coming down to see the bear as it swam onto the beach. Because of its proximity to the National Petroleum Reserve, oil and natural gas exploration are also important activities in the Barrow area.

Our research team visited Barrow in August and had a photographer with us who took some really neat pictures. Wooden boardwalks are often used by scientists as they walk to and from their field sites in the tundra. These ecosystems are sensitive and damage due to repeated walking on the tundra can take years to recover. No vehicles are allowed on the tundra during the summer. In the winter, snow machines and other vehicles with big, spongy tires can be used on the tundra because the ground is frozen and covered by snow.

Although the Arctic tundra looks really different than the forests of eastern Tennessee, ecologists are finding that plants and animals in Alaska have many ways of coping with the extreme climate. Plants grow close to the surface of the ground, for example, to avoid the harsh influence of high wind and blowing snow. Animals like the snowy owl, fox, caribou, and reindeer also make their home in the tundra. Although it looks like a harsh environment, these animals get everything they need from the tundra.


1. You notice that there are no trees in the tundra. The nearest trees to Barrow are hundreds of miles to the south. Locate north, south, east, and west on a map of Alaska. What ocean is north of Barrow and what country is to the west?

2. Where do birds like the snowy owl live on the tundra and how do they stay safe from other animals?

3. Plants are adapted to the cold temperatures and short growing seasons in the Arctic. Animals are too. Can you think of ways that animals use to protect themselves in the winter?