Thursday, July 19, 2012

Neighbors on the tundra...

The Barrow Environmental Observatory (BEO) is a great place to conduct research. However, it is easy to be so focused on your own work that you forget other scientists and students are also working within the area. Today, while locating sites for a collaborator (Ken Williams) who is adding a series of new microbial measurements to our field plots, I counted six other researchers on the horizon. I later learned that two were conducting vegetation surveys, two were preparing to collect LiDAR images using a large hand-held kite, and two others were collecting CO2 and CH4 flux estimates from an area near a thaw lake basin.
Because not all our packages had arrived in Barrow due to fog, I took the opportunity to visit with the one set of scientists working in the nearby thaw lake basin. It was a short walk and, within 15 minutes, we were talking about greenhouse gas emissions and the geochemical and microbial mechanisms responsible for CO2 and CH4 emissions from the tundra.

I learned that this group of investigators (Kim, Elliot, and Cristina) were all working with project PI David Lipson from San Diego State University. David has worked in Barrow for several years now. Kim and Elliot are PhD students at SDSU and Cornell University, respectively. Both are apparently close to completing their dissertation research. Neither of these two had a problem with walking 2 km to their "office on the tundra" every day and both were really excited to talk about their research. It was nice to see that level of enthusiasm in young scientists.

In talking with the two students, I came to understand that Kim is conducting small manipulative experiments where she adds humics or iron to small "micro" plots defined by PVC collars.  She then measures gas exchange from these treatments, comparing flux rates to those of the controls. Kim is interested in learning more about how electron donors/acceptors affect microbial processes and the cascade of consequences that ultimately lead to greenhouse gas emissions. Small samplers inserted into the soil allow Kim to withdraw a sample of pore water for later geochemical analysis.

Elliot is doing something similar to that of Kim, but rather than add different compounds to soils, he is using electrodes to create a variable electron environment for microbes and then measuring impacts on CO2 and CH4 fluxes. The instruments that he was using were fairly sophisticated and I could only imagine the challenges he faces in keeping everything running.

Today, Kim and Elliot were assisted by Christina. Christina is a PolarTREC teacher from Los Angeles, having been selected to participate in a science project for the summer in hopes that she will take some of that experience back to her class of 8th grade students. TREC stands for 'Teachers and Researchers Exploring and Collaborating'.  The PolarTREC program requires that the teacher develop a direct connection with a particular faculty member and write a proposal outlining how knowledge gained will be transferred back to students in the classroom. I am sure that Christina's students will enjoy hearing stories about her Arctic experiences.

Thirty minutes later, I found myself walking back to our NGEE Arctic field site having introduced myself to three interesting people. The informal setting of the tundra made it possible to meet others working in the area. It reminds me that various groups share the BEO and there are definite benefits to be gained by asking others about their research. Now if only those two students from Craig Tweedie's laboratory (at the University of Texas, El Paso) would just fly their that would be cool.