Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Tundra Vegetation Coming to Life

Most of my research thus far has been conducted during the winter months; geophysical surveys in September; collection of permafrost samples in April; and installation of water samplers in May. The snow is now gone, however, and our team is getting to see the first signs of Spring in the North Slope.  Interestingly, the first signs are subtle. On closer examination, however, there is a lot taking place. The low-growing willows are flowering, as are other plants on the tundra. The sedges and grasses are beginning to appear in wet areas like the troughs around low- and high-centered polygons. Members of our team have commented that one of our goals (that of documenting how water, nutrients, and carbon are all inter-connected in these Arctic landscapes) is already apparent. You can imagine the differences between wet and dry areas, each with unique nitrogen dynamics, and the resulting impact on vegetation patterns and flux of CO2 and CH4.

Rich Norby, Alistair Rogers, Margaret Torn, Jessie Cable, and two post-docs Victoria Sloan and Melanie Hahn are studying this cascade of processes. This team has been busy this week taking measurements and samples, and installing nutrient exchange resins, all for accessing the dynamic interplay between water, nitrogen, and biogeochemical cycling of carbon. Only a limited amount of data have been collected so far, but more will be collected as the summer progresses.