Hi, My name is Ms. Price. Join me as I go to Churchill Canada to study Climate change.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Field Science in the Four Corners

It's been a busy time since I've returned from Churchill. Last week I went into 6 different classrooms and gave presentations ranging from Polar bear math to comparing soil samples from the Arctic and New Mexico. Today I took 5 teachers and about 120 8th grade students from Mesa Alta Junior High out to Hart Canyon where 3 BLM scientists worked with us as students had their own mini "field science" experience. Even in our small area we had a large diversity in plants, animals and soils. We found a pack rat nest, antlers, and various other "treasures" of the land. Now we will go back to the lab and conduct pH and conductivity tests on our soil samples and compare those with what we found in Churchill. Thank you Dale Wirth, John Hansen, and Barbara Whitmore from the Farmington BLM office for their expertise and help with answering all kinds of questions!

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Think Globally, Act Locally

Today we are winding down, cleaning up, organizing our work, and creating an original expedition song! We gathered and processed over 200 soil samples and about 500 seedlings and saplings. Dr. Kershaw will share some preliminary findings at his last presentation right before we leave.
So what, now what?
What a wonderful world we live in. Our Earth has so many beautiful sites and since this is the only home we have we need to be aware of our impact and what the future will hold.
An increasing body of observations gives a collective picture of a warming world and other changes in the climate system. I was a small part of a project in a long term study of climate change at the Arctic’s edge. Dr. Kershaw’s research on the Arctic environment provides important data to understand the implications of climate change for natural and human systems. Now it’s time I share what I learned with others. Upon returning I will be getting with students and teachers and we will be deciding on a community project for local action.

Meanwhile I encourage anyone with questions or ideas to please contact me at kathy_price@bsin.k12.nm.us. My next blog entry will be an update on my follow on project.

**Extra, Extra** – as we left the field yesterday to return to the Center we saw a red fox, two bald eagles, beluga whales and another Polar Bear climbing down the rocks to take a swim in Hudson Bay plus another wonderful night show of the Northern Lights. WOW!


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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Glaciers, Ice, and Snow

Think about this and share your ideas with others:

Is more snow pack good or bad for the Arctic? (or survey a group of students and graph your results)

As we were walking on rocks by Hudson Bay, Dr. Kershaw pointed out scratches in the rocks that were caused by glaciers that covered this area 8,000-9,000 years ago. As the glaciers melted the ground rebounded in a movement called isostatic rebound. When we were coring into the permafrost today with a hand drill we brought up marine animals that were about 1400 years old (and we were about 15 km from shore).

When water freezes it expands. When that ice wedges into the ground it can cause different types of land forms (such as my favorite to say really fast: polygon peat plateaus and palsas). In the winter sea ice on Hudson Bay can get over 2 meters thick and tides pay a role in breaking the ice into pressure ridges that can crack and stick up 10-12 meters high. Ice often stays on the bay until late June.

For a great glaciers site please click this URL:

The native Eskimos had over 100 words relating to snow because it was so important in their survival. Snow cover is important for several reasons. Think about what those reasons could be and check your predictions by reading information from the Natural Resources Canada web site.
At the Churchill Northern Studies center the wind blows a lot you can see that snow packs are an important part of the ecosystem. Other Earthwatch groups come here during the winter and do research on the snow pack. They will also have blogs that will be fun to follow

PS: We saw the Northern Lights last night! They were spectacular...a huge swath across the whole sky, slowly swirling and awe inspiring. Now it's time for our last day in the field...on goes the mud boots & bug nets, shovels in hand!

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Saturday, September 12, 2009

Interesting Inukshuks

Driving into the town of Churchill we passed a large stone structure. It’s a unique symbol that represents a traditional stone sculptures used by Canada’s Inuit people. In fact it is also part of the 2010 Winter Olympic design and can be found on lots of souvenirs and of all different sizes.

Inukshuk (singular), meaning "likeness of a person" in Inuktitut (the Inuit language) is a stone figure made by the Inuit. The plural is inuksuit. The Inuit make inuksuit in different forms and for different purposes: to show directions to travelers, to warn of impending danger, to mark a place of respect, or to act as helpers in the hunting of caribou. Similar stone figures were made all over the world in ancient times, but the Arctic is one of the few places where they still stand. An inukshuk can be small or large, a single rock, several rocks balanced on each other, round boulders or flat.

Our guide Paul said they usually use 7 stones to make them and he said when we traveled in the north a lot when he was young that it’s nice to come across them when you are feeling lonely.

Use the Flash link below to create your own quick Inukshuk!

Here's a slide show with more shots from our day off.

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Friday, September 11, 2009

The Wonders of Wildlife

Questions for the curious:

Why don't Polar Bears eat much in the summer? What does the term "beluga" mean? How are Grey wolves different from Arctic wolves?

We woke up this morning to view a big grey wolf outside our bedroom window, trotting across the parking lot, then stopping and looking toward us as we made a made scramble to try to get our cameras. He/she wasn’t willing to wait and trotted off into the surrounding rocks and willows. To see more pictures and even hear what they sound like check out the sites below.

The day just got better. We loaded up in a small tour bus with our tour guide Paul and had a fantastic day. YES, WE SAW POLAR BEARS! In fact we saw three of them! One walking across the tundra and two on rocks near the coast of Hudson Bay. Paul said the one lying closest to us could reach us in 5 seconds if he ran so we had to stay near the bus and not get closer. These bears grow their entire life and can get up to 1500 lbs. The ones we saw looked pretty big! Polar bears are the world's largest land predators. They top the food chain in the Arctic, where they prey primarily on seals. What I thought was interesting is that they hardly eat anything in the summer and sleep for about 80% of the day.

Can you imagine a job where you get up in the morning, jump into a helicopter and fly over arctic terrain looking for polar bears? When you find one you shoot a sleeping dart into them, land and then attach a GPS satellite collar on them, tag them, weigh them and then go and look for another? That is what Dr. Nick Lunn is doing daily at the CNSC while we are here. During breakfast today we told me yesterday he tagged 10 bears. Back at the University of Alberta graduate students gather and track the data on the location of the bears about every 4 days. They are wanting to see their travel paths and when they venture out onto the ice in Hudson Bay.

The main threat to polar bears today is the loss of their icy habitat due to climate change. Polar bears depend on the sea ice for hunting, breeding, and in some cases to den. The summer ice loss in the Arctic is now equal to an area the size of Alaska, Texas, and the state of Washington combined.

Watch this cool music videos of polar bears and then visit the home site which has a lot of interesting things to find out.

We also saw bald eagles, sand cranes, snow geese, several more species of birds, three baby red foxes, and about 75 Canadian Eskimo dogs as we drove around. But was was really great was seeing a large number of Beluga Whales. I found out Beluga is the Russian word for “white” and they are the “white bears of the sea”. The whales looked like white blobs coming out of the ocean, and we were close enough to even see their blow holes and 7 or 8 at any one time coming out of the water.

The weather was beautiful, no rain, no bugs, and not too cold nor too hot…just right for a great day off!
Tomorrow I’ll post more pictures, meanwhile here are a few thanks to Joe Green, photographer, extraordinaire!

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Learning in the Lab!

Questions for today:
Why do we test soil? What is a pH value? How do we measure conductivity?

This morning we stayed in the lab to work on all the soil samples we have collected from three different sites: the Fen, the Tundra and the Tree Island. We took samples from 3 depths: 1-10 cm, 10-20 cm and 20-30 cm deep. Will be soils be the same or different?

In each sample we want to find out 5 things for soil at the different depths we collected.
1. The amount of moisture each sample had. We weighed the soil before and after we dried it in an oven at 105°C for 12 hours.

2. Then we burned the sample in a Muffle oven (550°C for 3 hours) to figure out how much organic matter there was in the soil. This told us how much carbon was present in that sample . This is important because it tells us how much carbon can be released in the atmosphere if the permafrost melts and there is more decomposition of the peat around the world.

3. What the pH value of the soil it. We made a mud paste in a small beaker and put an electric probe into it. Soil pH is a measure of acidity or alkalinity. An acid solution has a pH value less than 7. Many plants and microorganisms prefer either alkaline or acidic conditions and the pH can affect the availability of nutrients in the soil. (There is a great game link at the bottom of this post)

4. What the conductivity is. This tells us how much salt is in the soil, thus again giving us another characteristic of the soil system. We put a mud paste in a test tube and put a probe into it.

5. The color of the soil based on the Munsell Soil identification chart. This is an internationally agreed upon table to describe the colors of different soils.

Math Connection for the day: Excel, Excel, Excel. This is an extremely important program to understand how to use and the younger you start the more you can learn all the different ways it can help gathering and looking at data.

Visit The Alien Juice Bar to learn more about pH while you play an interactive game! http://sv.berkeley.edu/showcase/flash/juicebar.html

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Penetrating the Permafrost

Questions to ponder:

What do you know about permafrost? How is permafrost defined? Where is permafrost located?
Rain, bugs, and wind didn't stop us from venturing out today to dig in the mud! Today I had a bug net over my head to prevent getting bitten by the swarms of insects that love the fens.
Permafrost, or permanently frozen ground, is soil, sediment, or rock that remains at or below 0°C for at least two years. It occurs both on land and beneath offshore Arctic continental shelves, and its thickness ranges from less than 1 meter to greater than 1,000 meters. Seasonally frozen ground is near-surface soil that freezes for more than 15 days per year. Intermittently frozen ground is near-surface soil that freezes from one to 15 days per year. Frozen ground data are critical to understanding environmental change, validating models, and building and maintaining structures in seasonal frost and permafrost regions. Climate models and observations have both pointed to likely permafrost thawing in the 21st century

Today our three teams gathered about 54 soil samples at three different depths. We took soil from 0-10 cm, 10-20 and 20-30 cm below the surface. Right now in the 3 months there is not snow here, the ground isn't frozen until several meters deep. For each sample we had to take a picture of the pit, label the bags correctly and input the data into the Palm Pilot. Then we weighed the samples when we got back and put them in the drying oven.
Here is a great link for more information on the various vocabulary terms we use up here at the Churchill Northern Science Center:

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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Importance of Tree Lines

Questions to think about:

What do you think will happen to trees if our climate gets warmer?

How can you tell how old a tree is?

What is the definition of a tree?

The tree line or timberline is the edge of the habitat at which trees are capable of growing. Beyond the tree line, they are unable to grow because of inappropriate environmental conditions (usually cold temperatures, insufficient air pressure, or lack of moisture).

At the tree line here in Churchill, tree growth is often very stunted, with the last trees forming low, densely matted bushes. If it is caused by wind, it is known as krumhotlz formation, from the German word for 'twisted wood'.

Extremely cold temperatures can result in freezing of the internal sap of trees, killing them. In addition, permafrost in the soil can prevent trees from getting their roots deep enough for the necessary structural support. The tree line is the northern point in the environment at which trees can no longer grow.

Today our team gathered data on seedlings near a natural tree island. We had to figure out how old each tree was by the number of whorls it had. In order to be called a tree, these saplings have to have just one main stem and be two meters above the mean winter snowpack.

All the data we gather on each sapling is kept in a large Excel file. Out in the field we load it into Palm Pilots then download and consolidate it back at the science center. We had to work together as a team to problem solve different issues. For example when it started raining today our marker wouldn't work and we had to figure out a way to keep track of a long list of centimeters to add up. The most important part is looking at our data and seeing if it makes sense. Are we all measuring the same thing the same way? Are we taking accurate measurements? Can we ignore all the bugs and still measure correctly?

Making sense of changes in our environment takes a lot of work by a lot of people in al ot of places. But it's extremely important for us to understand what is happening to our planet since it's the only home we have!
For more pictures please click below.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Data Collection in the Plantation!

A day off for workers in America. However we are busy at work in the Canadian north! We started off with clarification of recording our data collection in Excel. Whorls, laterals, Apical terminals (a new rap song beginning?) leading to the BIG QUESTION…

Why are we doing this?

Here is Twitter version of an answer:

The tree line will shift farther north as the climate changes. We are gathering data on seedlings to note test results if trees can survive on the Arctic tundra.

We loaded up with our rain gear, boots and tools and headed back to the plantation to continue the seedling sampling we started yesterday.

Polygonal Peat Plateaus to the right and ponds to the left…on to pursuing the prolific perfect plantation performances despite precipitation.

This time around you could hear “Good, another dead one!” as the teams ventured down the rows on hands, knees and even one blow up knee pad. A light sprinkle ensued just as we were all ready for a warm lunch and we headed back into Carley’s van for our luncheon date. An hour and 15 minutes later as the rain started coming down even harder we gathered umbrellas and headed out to finish the seedling sampling. In teams of three we measured live and dead height, and counted the number of whorls, length of terminals and laterals, if the tree had any terminal buds to indicate growth for next year and finally noted the quality of the needles and any other relevant comments. We ended this task by gathering some data points on our GPS and double checking a few of other groups initial findings (quality control in the field!).

Dr. Kershaw was spending the time problem solving and fixing a weather station that had been down since May and met us back in the classroom. We spent the rest of the afternoon consolidating our data and pictures, checking to make sure they made sense and labeling was consistent.

An evening lecture and discussion on Permafrost ended a great day! Please view the video below for a "Live in the Field" interview!


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Sunday, September 6, 2009

A Busy Arrival in Churchill!

Flying north I saw the green rectangular fields and straight roads give way to ponds, lakes and huge areas of flat forests. We circled over Hudson Bay and the town of Churchill where small white blips in the water signaled the presence of Beluga whales. It was spitting rain as we loaded our gear and the 9 of us in our group, along with lead scientist, Dr. Peter Kershaw, headed out to the Churchill Northern Science Center (CNSC). The land is flat with scraggly looking spruce trees here and there. We are at the edge of the line between the Arctic tundra and the boreal forest. Gray looking boulders line the coast but we didn't see the hoped for polar bears. Introductions from our group, scrumptious meals, and we've been on a quick learning curve on the major technology pieces we'll be using (GPS, Palm Pilot, Walkie Talkies, dry oven, Muffle ovens, and Peatmoss corers). We'll be taking soil samples to figure the carbon composition and measuring seedlings.

Question to discuss: Why do you think there are bars on the windows at the science center?

For more pictures of my first 20 hours here please try this link:

Friday, September 4, 2009

Arriving in Winnipeg, Canada

I flew into Winnipeg, Canada today to spend the night before venturing up to Churchill tomorrow. It's a beautiful day and I flew in over many flat green fields. This town is known as the "bread basket" of Canada and is the captitol of Manitoba. For more info here is a link to this city:

Questions to research:

What are the main languages spoken in Canada?

If I got $100 in Canadian dollars, how much in that in US currency?