Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Traveling Back to the Seward Peninsula…Time Flies for the NGEE Arctic Project

Three years ago members of the NGEE Arctic project traveled to Alaska for what then was an introduction to high-latitude ecosystems. There were nine of us from four Department of Energy national laboratories, and the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Our study of Arctic ecosystems had not yet been formally approved, but we were nonetheless quickly coming up to speed by visiting possible field research sites on the Seward Peninsula and the North Slope of Alaska. We spent time in Nome, Council, and flew northward stopping at Kougarok, Kotzebue, Ivotuk, and Atqasuk, before reaching Barrow, Alaska. It was a great trip that served to strengthen the team and clarify the overall direction of our field and laboratory science in support of climate models.

Now three years later, and having successfully launched the NGEE Arctic project with our first series of field sites on the Barrow Environmental Observatory (BEO) outside Barrow, our team is returning to the Seward Peninsula. Our goal for the coming week is to locate a southern site where we can expand the scope of field research to include warmer, discontinuous permafrost.  We expect that such conditions will be much different from that of Barrow, with implications for hydrology, biogeochemistry, vegetation dynamics, and surface-subsurface interactions. Once this site is identified we will have a south-to-north latitudinal transect across which we can study ecosystem-climate feedbacks in a warming Arctic. Finding a suitable site will involve driving each of the three roads leading out of Nome into the tundra to the north and tall shrub/boreal forest to the east. This area is defined by strong ecosystem transitions or ecotone and provides a landscape where we can potentially study climate feedbacks in a variety of ecosystems. Our plans are to drive out the Council, Kougarok, and Teller roads. All three roads are roughly 75 to 80 miles in length and traverse remote areas of Alaska. Other groups have used these roads to access research areas in the past and we are confident that we can find sites that will meet our scientific and logistical requirements. 
In addition to finding one or more research sites, our team will also be involved in a number of meetings with local residents and land managers during our week in Nome. The NGEE Arctic project has enjoyed great logistical support from UMIAQ in Barrow and, although it will be different, we hope to have similar acceptance and support in Nome from the local community, staff at the UAF Northwest campus, Bureau of Land Management, and other state and native organizations. We begin this interaction with the local community on Thursday evening thanks to an invitation to present a talk at the Strait Science Series. It will be a great opportunity to highlight how the NGEE Arctic project, with support from our sponsor at the DOE Biological and Environmental Research (BER) program, is working to better measure and model climate change in the Arctic. Stop by if you are in Nome!