From the Field

Preserving Traditional Ecological Knowledge in Greenland

Simone Whitecloud, PhD student, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Simone Whitecloud documents plant names and uses in order to preserve traditional knowledge. Plant ranges are changing in response to a changing climate, and her data will preserve knowledge that would otherwise be lost as plant ranges shift and practitioners lose access to the same plants.

During the summer of 2011, Simone worked with her collaborator, Lenore Grenoble from the University of Chicago, to document plant uses in southern Greenland (Qassiarsuk and Nanortalik) by interviewing community-recognized plant experts. She used fresh and dry plant samples, as well as photos, to speak via an interpreter with nine women and one man about names, uses, and to document pronunciation.

How Do Salmon Find Their Way Home?

Marcus Welker, PhD Student, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Marcus Welker studies salmon and how they find their way home. Salmon are born in rivers, migrate to the ocean or lakes, and return again years later to the place they were born with incredible precision.

Specifically, Marcus is measuring amino acids in rivers that are believed to give each river a unique chemical fingerprint that salmon learn as juveniles, remember as adults, and use to discriminate their home streams. Marcus wants to know if these chemical fingerprints are unique to ever river and if they are stable over time – the two criteria necessary for salmon to use them as a signal.

Additionally, Marcus is conducting an experiment in a hatchery to determine if salmon can learn amino acid patterns as juveniles and use these to remember patterns as adults to make decisions in a large fish-maze. While doing the experiment, Marcus is also measuring the genetics of amino acid sensing receptors in salmon noses – the sensory system believed to be critical for home stream selection.

"Cool Robot" Uses Ground Penetrating Radar To Save Lives

Benjamin Walker, PhD Student, Engineering Sciences

Ben Walker studies ways in which to conduct safe crevasse detection for sup¬ply traverse personnel through robotics research. Each year a heavy equipment resupply is conducted between Thule, NEEM and Summit Camp, Greenland, and this resupply must traverse heavily crevassed sections of the Greenland Ice Sheet to complete the job. Ben’s research is developing a robot and instrument combination that will automatically collect and interpret this data.

During his fieldwork season at Summit Camp in June of 2013, Ben increased the reliability of the solar power system of a robot—the “Cool Robot.” This robot tows the Ground Penetration Radar, which is used to detect crevasses. Ben and his colleagues performed multiple long-distance runs in order to determine the solar power available and the daily range of the system.

Temperature and Pollination in Greenland

Christine Urbanowicz, Ph.D. Student, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Christine Urbanowicz studies the pollinators and plant-pollinator interactions that are beneficial for flowing plants in Greenland’s tundra ecosystem. She is interested in how variation in plant density and temperature influence the number of pollinators that visit flowers and the number of fruits a plant produces. She is also collecting data on parasites of bumblebees in Greenland.

In 2013, Christine counted the numbers of insects visiting flowers in six sites around Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, that were subjected to different wind conditions. She collected and identified insects at these sites, and collected and identified pollen off their bodies to determine the plants that each insect visits.

During the summer of 2014, Christine is determining how variation in temperature in Kangerlussuaq affects the pollination and fruit set of blueberry as well as a few other plants. Climate change is expected to cause drastic changes in vegetation in Greenland, and many of these changes will be mediated by the availability and composition of pollinators.

How Does Climate Change Affect High Latitude Aquatic Ecosystems?

Jessica Trout-Haney, Ph.D. Student, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Jess Trout-Haney studies how climate change affects high latitude aquatic ecosystems, specifically their physical, biochemical, and biological properties. She studies how differences in lake chemistry and morphometry of low-nutrient Arctic lakes affect the abundance of cyanobacteria and cyanotoxins in southwestern Greenland.

In the summer of 2013, Jess surveyed 19 lakes of varying size and depth between Kangerlussuaq and the Greenland Ice Sheet in southwestern Greenland. She ran sonar transects across each lake in order to generate maps of lake basins. Additionally, she collected lake water, phytoplankton, and zooplankton samples in order to examine how nutrients, species composition and cyanobacterial toxins vary among lakes.

Kristin Schild, Ph.D. Student

Earth Sciences

Kristin is studying specific environmental controls, such as warming temperatures that are driving an increase in ice mass loss through Greenland’s tidewater glaciers. She uses remote sensing (satellite imagery and time lapse cameras taking pictures of the glacier terminus) to determine how much of the glacier is experiencing melt and when meltwater exits the glacier and enters the fjord. The timing between melt onset and when the meltwater emerges gives her an idea as to how the meltwater travels through and below the glacier.

Kristin and her colleagues have found that the fastest flowing glaciers episodically release meltwater rather than con¬stantly discharging water through efficient subglacial networks. A buildup of water beneath the glacier creates pressure and causes these glaciers to move faster.

Chris Polashenski, Ph.D.

Engineering Sciences

Chris studies the Greenland Ice Sheet (GIS), which is the second largest ice cap in the world and contains 10% of Earth’s glacial ice. In the past several years, melt on the GIS has been increasing and contributing to sea level rise, but understanding how rapidly the ice sheet will melt in the future remains fairly limited.

Chris has executed two long traverses on the GIS to determine what controls the amount of sunlight absorption, and thus melt, on the surface of the ice. In 2012, a number of major wildfires in the Northern Hemisphere during late spring and early summer resulted in large depositions of black carbon onto the GIS, darkening the ice in a way that may have increased sunlight absorption and thus the amount of melt.

Chelsea Vario Petrenko, Ph.D. Student

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 her colleagues collected 20 deep soil cores from two locations near Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, a near-ice zone and a zone further away from the ice sheet. They are measuring soil texture, pH, carbon and nitrogen content, and doing sequential carbon extractions.

Thomas Overly, Ph.D. Student

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 Station in the deep interior.

Laura Levy, Ph.D.

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 has also developed a climate record along the margin of the ice sheet near Scoresby Sund, in eastern Greenland, which shows that over the last 10,000 years, glaciers responded to long-term (for example, changes in the intensity of incoming solar radiation) and also to short-term climate changes that have occurred over the past few thousand years.


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