Field Notes: The Polar Field Services Newsletter

Measuring and Mentoring in Thule

Dr. Jeff Welker, Director of the Environment and Natural Resources Institute and professor of biology at University of Alaska, Anchorage, recently checked in from Thule, where he and his team, led by Claudia Green (Czimczik) are measuring CO2, water vapor, and methane fluxes. The research is part of a new collaboration between Welker and colleagues at the University of California.

Postdoctoral fellow Max Lapascu (UC Irvine) sets up a set of auto chambers that open and close in sequence to acquire CO2, water vapor, and CH4 fluxes every half hour. The data collected will help scientists predict how these landscapes will function in roughly 40 years, as well as the extent to which the changes will alter interactions between the biosphere and the atmosphere.

Mentorship on the Tundra

The team is using two facilities at Thule: an established, older building on the base with kitchen and living facilities; this spring, a sink was installed in a room that now serves as the “wet lab.”

“The combination of lab, kitchen, and lodging builds a great sense of cooperation and collaboration and a real chance for senior members like myself to have time and opportunities to mentor the next generation of scientists in many ways,” he says.

The team also has the use of a new mobile trailer at the study site to house a new Picarro laser. The new mobile lab greatly enhances the sampling and analyzing capability in the field, says Welker.

Matt O'Dell, a UAA undergraduate, inspects the new mobile lab. The experimental warming device (infra-red lamp) can be seen suspended above the plot with a tube of copper attached to deflect the infra-red radiation emitted by the heater. This ensures the warming on the soil surface is uniform.

The team also uses soil respiration chambers (pictured below) to quantify the rates of CO2 efflux from barren and vegetated areas (characteristics of polar semi-desert landscapes). The chambers remain in place for up to 12 hours to accumulate respired CO2, which can then be trapped on molecular sieves in U tubes. The tubes will go to the UC Irvine Radiocarbon lab for analysis to characterize the extent to which modern, old, or ancient carbon is being oxidized and emitted to the atmosphere under ambient and experimentally warmed conditions.

More than a plastic tube garden, these soil respiration chambers provide deep insight into carbon.

All told, the team is well-positioned for this current season of field work, says Welker.

“This May has been the warmest on record, we’ve been told by the weather folks here, but there is still ice in the bay,” he says. “The rivers are still at their winter base flow, so we should be able to capture the full hydrograph.”

Shane McDonald (UAA Research Assistant) and Beth Sharp (UAA Masters student) install soil temperature probes in the experimental areas.

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