Stories From the Field - Environment

Aug 8, 2014
Chelsea Vario Petrenko

Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Arctic soils contain more than half of the soil carbon that is stored worldwide. Because microorganisms are more active at higher temperatures, warming temperatures in the Arctic could cause a significant release of carbon from soils to the atmosphere, creating a positive feedback to climate change.

Chelsea is measuring the sensitivity of Greenlandic soils to warming temperatures and determining if and how vegetative cover (shrub versus grass-dominated) influences belowground soil carbon dynamics.

During the summer of 2012, Chelsea and...

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Aug 8, 2014
Thomas Overly

Earth Sciences

Combining a background in remote-sensing, glaciology, and cultural geography, Thomas examines how people can integrate knowledge to best understand and prepare for polar environmental change.

Thomas is interested in the future of the Greenland Ice Sheet by understanding rates of snow accumulation and loss to determine rates of mass balance change through time. He uses methods from satellite remote sensing and the direct measurement of snow accumulation on the ice sheet made during ground traverse expeditions from the northwest coast of Greenland to Summit...

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Aug 8, 2014
Laura Levy

Earth Sciences

The future of the Greenland Ice Sheet is uncertain due to modern day climate change. Laura looks at how the Greenland Ice Sheet and glaciers in Greenland have responded to climate changes during the past 11,500 years in order to help understand how it will change in the future. She uses detailed mapping and surface exposure dating of glacier deposits and analyses of glacial lake sediments.

Laura’s research shows that the western margin of the Greenland Ice Sheet, near Kangerlussuaq, was behind its present limit from 6,500 years ago to the mid-19th century. She...

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Aug 8, 2014
Benjamin Kopec

Earth Sciences

Ben studies the current state of the hydrologic cycle across Greenland and surrounding regions and how it might change with a warming climate. In 2011 and 2012, Ben traveled to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, to measure water chemistry in lakes and water vapor concentrations in the air.

Together with his colleagues, they ultimately found that many of the lakes are declining in size as a result of very high evaporation rates and low precipitation. He also found that a strong interaction in the coastal regions between glacial air masses over the ice sheet and marine...

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Aug 8, 2014
Kaitlin Keegan

Engineering Sciences

Kaitlin Keegan, PhD, studies firn, the top 100 meters of an ice sheet that contains snow layers that are compacting are undergoing the process of becoming glacial ice. Firn is where climate information gets recorded into the ice sheet. If we understand how climate information gets recorded then we can understand how climate has changed naturally in the past.

In 2009, Kaitlin and colleagues drilled an 80-meter deep core of firn layers at NEEM camp, in Northern Greenland. The core was shipped to a lab in the U.S. where they’ve studied the various layers and...

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Aug 8, 2014
Ruth Heindel

Ruth Heindel, Ph.D. Student, Earth Sciences

Ruth Heindel studies soils, a valuable resource for Greenland that supports natural ecosystems and also agricultural activity in South Greenland. Specifically, she studies past and present wind-driven soil erosion, a process that threatens soil resources by removing soil and disturbing vegetation.

During the summers of 2012 and 2013, Ruth collected spatial data describing eroded areas in the Kangerlussuaq region. Additionally, she measured lichen diameters in order to estimate past and present rates of soil erosion. In the spatial...

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Aug 8, 2014
Alexandra Giese

Earth Sciences

Alexandra's glaciology research has focused on understanding properties of Greenland's snow, the historical stability of the West Antarctic ice sheet, and, currently, the amount of melt from the largely enigmatic debris-covered glaciers in the Nepalese Himalayas. 

The steep sides of Himalayan mountains deposit substantial rock covers on the glaciers in their valleys. While these debris-covered glaciers are generally shrinking in response to a warming climate, the mechanisms, patterns, and timescales of their melt differ from those of their better-understood...

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Aug 8, 2014
Zak Gezon

Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

As the climate changes, spring is arriving earlier and earlier across the globe. The migration of birds, mating of amphibians, and emergence of insects and flowers is happening earlier than it historically has due to the warming climate and early arrival of spring.  The timing of these natural history events (known as “phenology”) can have dramatic consequences for species reproduction and survival.

For example, when flowering plants bloom too early, the probability of experiencing frost damage and drought increases. Furthermore, approximately...

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Aug 8, 2014
Sam Fey

Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Sam is an ecologist broadly interested in how environmental temperatures influence the composition and structure of interactive biological communities. His research focuses on understanding the consequences of asymmetric responses of organisms to changes in environmental temperature (e.g., what happens when temperature has different affects on organisms that interact with each other), the consequences of thermal spatial heterogeneity, and how temperature influences the integration of ecological subsidies (energy and materials that move across...

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Aug 8, 2014
Lauren Culler

Lauren Culler, Ph.D., Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Dickey Center Arctic Fellow and Outreach Coordinator

Climate change is causing temperatures to rise in the Arctic and Lauren is studying how these changes in temperature affect mosquito emergence from freshwater ponds.

During the summers of 2011 and 2012, Lauren Culler counted the number of mosquitoes in several ponds near Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, every few days and measured how many mosquitoes emerged from each pond. (See picture of individually wrapper mosquitoes.) She also used lab studies at Kangerlussuaq...

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