Friday, July 15, 2011

SNRAS student takes to the field with high schoolers

Six students from the Rural Alaska Honors Institute will be living the life of an arctic field scientist at the Institute of Arctic Biology Toolik Field Station on the North Slope next week as part of a special research course hosted by scientists from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the National Science Foundation’s Arctic Systems Science thermokarst project.

“We want to expose high school students to different types of ongoing biology and wildlife research and to inspire them to pursue careers in science,” said Kimberley Maher, a UAF research assistant and a coordinator of the arctic field trip. “RAHI has a great reputation for working with high school students and Toolik Field Station is a perfect venue.” Maher is a SNRAS doctoral candidate.

The students, selected because of their interest in science and willingness to camp for a week without a shower, will have the opportunity to hear, see, feel and smell what it’s like to do research in the field.

“I understand things best when I’m outside, actively learning – not sitting in a chair,” Maher said, who is also an outreach coordinator for the thermokarst project.

The six students, who recently completed RAHI’s six-week program at UAF, are from the Alaska communities of Noatak, Kwethluk, Palmer, Sand Point and Unalakleet.

With rubber boots and head nets donned and an ample supply of bug dope applied, the students will spend a day exploring tundra landscapes that have collapsed and formed slumps and huge open holes, called thermokarsts, as the result of thawing permafrost. They will learn how scientists determine the age of thermokarsts, how to drill deep soil cores into permafrost, how to identify and describe the plants affected by the slumping soils and what these activities tell scientists about a changing arctic landscape.

Another day will be spent along the Kuparuk River helping scientists collect and sort aquatic insects called macroinvertebrates. They will learn about watershed and witness how the river and the surrounding tundra interact.

The students will meet with an undergraduate student from North Carolina who works as a research assistant at Toolik Field Station and learn about what she does and how she got her arctic science job. They will also attend the weekly science lecture at Toolik Field Station where they can mingle with scientists and students from around the world.

"I am delighted for this special opportunity for RAHI students, after six weeks of learning in the classroom, to now get out into the field and experience real live research," said Denise Wartes, RAHI program manager.

Story courtesy Marie Gilbert, IAB

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