From the Field

Benjamin Kopec, Ph.D. Student

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 air masses is an important feature of the local climate.

Ice Core Research Is History Lesson

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 their properties. One significant finding was a layer in the firn that formed in 1889 and indicated a widespread melt event over the entire surface of the Greenland Ice Sheet.

Soils Biologist Studies Past and Present Erosion in South Greenland

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 analysis lab at Dartmouth, Ruth has developed a land cover classification for the Kangerlussuaq region that identifies eroded areas from satellite imagery. She has found that eroded areas generally occur on steep south-facing slopes, and are much more common closer to the Greenland Ice Sheet.

Alexandra Giese, Ph.D. Student

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 clean counterparts.  

Zak Gezon, Ph.D. Student

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 90% of flowering plants require pollination by bees or other organisms for reproduction, but the phenology of bees might not respond to climate change at the same rate as flowering phenology. Therefore, plants and bees could emerge at different times, and experience a “phenological mismatch,” which is hypothesized to have negative consequences for both plants and bees. Although we know that plant reproduction tends to decrease when plants bloom too early, we do not know why, specifically. 

Sam Fey, Ph.D.

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 ecosystems) into recipient ecosystems. Most of his research takes place in aquatic ecosystems, and focuses on lake and pond food webs.

Rising Temperatures Affect the Number of Mosquitoes in the Arctic

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 International Science Support to measure how temperature affects the number of days it takes a mosquito larva to grow into an adult.

So far, she has leaned that warmer temperatures are likely to increase the number of mosquitoes that emerge because the larvae grow much faster when it’s warmer and thus spend fewer days exposed to predators. She has also discovered that the amount of rainfall in the spring is a crucial factor because very dry weather leads to the death of mosquito larvae as their habitat dries.

How Climate Warming Alters Soil Carbon Content

Julia Bradley-Cook, Ph.D. Student, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Julia Bradley-Cook is studying how climate warming is altering the biological processes that control carbon flow through natural ecosystems. She investigates microbial decomposition in tundra soils where permafrost and cold soil temperatures have allowed for the buildup of large stores of carbon.

In 2011 and 2012, Julia collected samples from soil pits to measure soil carbon content across two spatial scales:  the local area near Kangerlussuaq and the regional area of western Greenland (Kangerlussuaq, Sisimiut, and Nuuk). She used a combination of field experiments and laboratory studies to measure how decomposition rates vary with moisture and temperature.

Soil organic carbon storage varies substantially at local and regional scales and she will soon be able to describe how the “quality” of carbon varies as well. This determines the biological availability of the carbon and how sensitive it is to warming.

Alden Adolph, Ph.D. Student

Engineering Sciences

Alden is studying how the Greenland Ice Sheet keeps records of historical atmospheric composition in the tiny bubbles of air trapped within the ice.

She focuses on understanding how the gases in the atmosphere travel through the snow and firn (snow that is more than one year old) so that we know how long the air has been trapped within the ice.

In 2007, Alden and her colleagues collected a firn core from Summit Station on the Greenland Ice Sheet and have since been studying how gas travels through the firn. The first step has been determining the best method to measure gas transport, which is important for correctly reconstructing the history of atmospheric composition and relating that to past temperature.

Once Alden and her colleagues understand the way that the earth has behaved in the past, they can hopefully improve predictions about what might happen with regards to future changes in the atmosphere, as well as the implications for the Greenland Ice Sheet, ecosystems, and people.

Helping Orphans in Korea

Kathleen Herring ’14, Holt International Children's Services

Kathleen did a Dickey Center internship at Holt International Children’s Services in South Korea. Holt helps orphaned, abandoned, and vulnerable children to thrive by finding them loving families.

The Republic of Korea Special Adoption Act, which went into effect in August of 2012, reduced the number of international adoptions and prioritized domestic adoption. All inter-country adoptions now require the approval of Korean’s Family Court. As a result, it is now harder for Holt to find families for the orphans.

Kathleen was based in Ilsan Town Center, which housed 270 residents. She provided schooling and therapy for the residents, which included many children with a disability. 

Kathleen is not sure how long it will take for domestic adoption in Korea to increase or for international adoption to be accepted so that more children can be placed with families. She believes change will only occur when society prioritizes the needs of the children over cultural differences and disparities in intellectual and physical capacity.


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