Student Story

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.

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.

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.

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.

Shooting a Film in Chile on Women in Prison

Jenna van de Ruit '15, International Internship, Chile

While on a Dickey International Internship during Winter term 2014, Jenna van de Ruit ’15 filmed a documentary in Chile in collaboration with Fundación Mujer Levántate, an organization that provides halfway housing, job networking, and other services to inmates and ex-inmates.

Jenna originally planned to focus her documentary on the stories of three or four women living there. However, most of the women were working long hours during the week and Jenna was only allowed there during limited hours.

But Jenna managed to interview Raquel, an ex-inmate who had been out for five months but who also was the janitor of Fundación Mujer Levántate. Raquel poured out her story to Jenna, who recognized it was a compelling story that could stand on its own.

“I had never undertaken a project this challenging before,” says Jenna. “I was new at a language, in a foreign country, learning a technical skill while working with a topic of a difficult nature.”

Student Learns About Poverty Working on Microfinance in the Dominican Republic

by Elliot Sandborn ‘14, International Internship, Dominican Republic

I lived in the barrios of East Santo Domingo and worked at a Banco ADEMI, the largest private, for-profit microfinance bank in the Dominican Republic, and one of the largest and most successful microfinance banks in Latin America. I lived with a local Dominican friend, Sam, whom I had met in the summer of 2009 as a high school volunteer in rural community in San Juan, DR.

At ADEMI, I worked alongside loan officers, visiting clients and following up on loans. I did research on ADEMI's history, their model of microfinance, and tried to tap into what was it that made them so successful. Drawing on my experiences in the field with the loan officers, executive interviews and a 1997 World Bank case study on ADEMI, I compiled a 13,000-word report for the president of the bank that reflected on what I - and my informants - considered to be key aspects of the ADEMI model, including the continuity of leadership and vision the bank has experienced and the strong commitment to a "business-like approach" to service.

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