Monday, April 9, 2012

North to Alaska

Science has, for me, always been exciting. This was true as an inquisitive PhD candidate and it continues today after 25 years as a plant biologist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). I guess that’s one of the many rewards of being a scientist.

The last year has been an especially exciting and busy one for me and for all the participants in the Next-Generation Ecosystem Experiments (NGEE Arctic) project. Our team has taken on the challenge of better understanding Arctic ecosystems with the goal of using that knowledge to improve climate prediction. In addressing that challenge we have spent months working to make this project a successful one not only for our sponsor at the Department of Energy, Office of Science, but for our colleagues at Los Alamos, Lawrence Berkeley, and Brookhaven National Laboratory, and our partners at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Tomorrow we begin to reap the rewards of our hard work as we depart for a field research trip to the North Slope of Alaska. David Graham, Ken Lowe, and I will fly to Fairbanks on Tuesday and then to Barrow on Wednesday where we plan to collect cores of frozen soil from the Arctic tundra.

Barrow is an Inupiat Eskimo village located at the northernmost point in the United States, approximately 330 miles north of the Arctic Circle. It was the home of the Naval Arctic Research Laboratory for many years and like Oak Ridge is a community that is a keen supporter of science. Barrow is also home to the DOE Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) Climate Research Facility. Building upon this history, we chose to focus our research in this region because of our interest in tundra ecosystems and because of the Barrow Environmental Observatory (BEO). This unique preserve consists of 7,466 acres of ice-rich tundra that was set aside by the Ukpeagvik Inupiat Corporation (UIC) for scientific research. Our team has visited Barrow and the BEO several times in recent years. We have worked with the North Slope Borough to identify field sites, have our research plans approved, and we are now ready to conduct a suite of field and laboratory experiments that will inform computer models used in climate prediction.

Our team will spend the next week in Barrow working with colleagues from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of Alaska Fairbanks to sample permafrost soils, install wells for sampling water later in the spring, and generally prepare the field site for additional research activities that will take place in May and throughout the coming summer. We expect a lot of research to occur in the Barrow area this year as we address topics in hydrology, biogeochemistry, vegetation dynamics, geophysics, and then integration of these efforts into models.

We have teamed with UMIAQ as a provider of logistical support to our team. They will provide housing and vehicles, plus they can recruit specific expertise from the community who can then advise our team based on local knowledge, skills, and cultural understanding of the arctic environment.

Follow us this week as we post daily updates of our trip to Fairbanks and then north of the Arctic Circle to the science city of Barrow.

Additional Information:

NGEE Arctic (
Barrow Bulletin (