Monday, July 8, 2013

Heading back to Alaska – Activities for the coming days

Having just recovered from my trip to Toolik Lake, Barrow and the Seward Peninsula two weeks ago, I am stepping back on an airplane bound this time for Fairbanks and then onward to Barrow.  My objectives for this trip are two-fold.  First, I will be taking part in discussions related to the NASA-sponsored ABoVE or Arctic and Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (  The Science Definition Team (SDT) is composed of 20 or more scientists who are working together to develop a concise science plan for this activity. As many of us know, climate change in the Arctic and Boreal region is unfolding faster than anywhere else on Earth, resulting in reduced Arctic sea ice, thawing of permafrost soils, decomposition of long-frozen organic matter, widespread changes to lakes, rivers, coastlines, and alterations of ecosystem structure and function. In tackling this multi-disciplinary challenge, NASA’s Terrestrial Ecology Program (led by Diane Wickland) is in the process of planning a major field campaign which will take place in Alaska and western Canada during the next 5 to 8 years. ABoVE seeks a better understanding of the vulnerability and resilience of ecosystems and society to this changing environment.

Although the full scope of the ABoVE project as yet to be defined, research carried out as part of ABoVE will integrate geospatial data collected by airborne and satellite platforms with information obtained from field studies and ground-based monitoring across high-latitude ecosystems. Dan Hayes (Oak Ridge National Laboratory) and Eric Kasischke (University of Maryland) has the distinction of serving as the two co-Chairs for the ABoVE SDT. It is envisioned that through a series of conference calls and face-to-face meetings the SDT will, over the next 12 months, refine the science questions and issues to be addressed in ABoVE and then develop a detailed study design for the ABoVE field campaign. The work of the SDT will culminate in a concise experiment plan that NASA will use to guide its implementation of the field campaign. This plan will include the science questions to be addressed; a compelling rationale explaining the scientific and societal importance of the study; the research approach/strategy; and a reasonably detailed study design and description of required field and remote sensing observations, required field infrastructure, logistics, and data management capabilities.  The SDT has already met once and is well-prepared for their second meeting in Fairbanks.

A group photograph of the NASA ABoVE Science Definition Team (SDT) at a recent meeting in La Jolla, California.
In addition to contributing to the ABoVE SDT discussions, I will also be traveling to Barrow where I will (1) conduct field work as part of the NGEE Arctic project and (2) host five NASA program staff as they continue to learn more about the Arctic and how they might leverage established field sites in Alaska and western Canada. Prior to their arrival in Barrow, these five will have visited Toolik Lake.  I look forward to hearing about their experiences and comparing notes since I was there just a couple of weeks ago.  We have a great schedule of activities planned for NASA staff in Barrow with tours of the DOE-sponsored Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) Facility, the Barrow Environmental Observatory (BEO) and the NGEE Arctic field sites.  I will be posting updates on that portion of our trip beginning Monday, July 15.