Friday, July 5, 2013

Terrestrial vegetation takes center stage at science camp - Day 4

Alessio continues to demonstrate a great ability to engage others in the science camp activities. A few days ago he enlisted the assistance of Liyuan and Beth, and that was a success. Today he was able to coordinate with two other NGEE Arctic investigators – Victoria and Jenny – to talk with the kids about plants. These two plant ecologists have spent several years working in the Arctic, especially in Barrow, and they know their plant communities extremely well. Victoria writes “This afternoon we printed off copies of the Alaska vegetation map and distributed those to the kids. We then asked them to introduce themselves by saying their name, age, where they lived, and their vegetation type. The kids had a fun time trying to decide if they were moist acidic tundra or a tall shrub.” Victoria mentioned that “one boy was from a location much further south than the others and wasn't on the map, so our discussion was briefly diverted to the difference between tundra and boreal forests and why there are no trees in the Barrow area.”


Victoria and Jenny picked a great topic since Alessio and Skye had the kids collect and draw plants earlier in the day. Given that activity, each child had a question for Victoria and Jenny - some easier than others. There were very good ones relating to fungi and shrubs, the nutritional content of lichens, and plant reproduction. Victoria wrote that “the kids really liked the description of tillering in sedges - the 'mothers' and 'daughters', and the idea of huge patches of vegetation being one large family of tillers.” Earlier in the week our NGEE Arctic team had seen evidence for this just south of the Barrow Environmental Observatory (BEO) in a series of drained thaw lake basins and Victoria and Jenny were able to use this experience to reinforce their botany lesson.

After discussions of plant communities, Jenny showed off the ASD spectrometer and together she and Victoria explained that the vegetation map was derived using a satellite that collected similar types of data. This led to a broad range of questions about light, wavelengths, and spectra; and to all sorts of related topics, including how insects see different patterns on flowers (in the UV) and some basic philosophy about whether wavelengths outside the visible spectrum can legitimately be described as 'undiscovered colors'.


Victoria and Jenny then shared with the kids a copy of the Flora of Alaska and explained about Eric Hulten and the detailed work he did to compile his vegetation surveys. Hulten was a Swedish botanist, plant geographer, and 20th century explorer of the Arctic. Jenny apparently had just read his biography and suggested that the kids keep an eye open for the poppy named after him as they drive around Barrow - Papaver Hultenii. 

Allessio writes that the topic of plants sparked an excellent conversation. The kids were very enthusiastic and engaged, and the initial planned twenty minutes ended up lasting nearly two hours. Thanks Victoria and Jenny!