Hi! My name is Ms. Harsh. Please join me as I travel to Churchill Canada to study climate change.

Monday, September 14, 2009

See Ya Soon!

Well today is our last day. We have processed all the samples as far as pH and conductivity- well over 200 total samples. Some of the samples have to be finished by the next Earthwatch group as far as the drying and loss on ignition test, the size of the muffle oven was the limiting factor on those tests. It has been a great experience. This is a very unique place. There are not any roads connecting it to other towns. All goods have to be brought in by boat, train or flown in. All the water here at the study center has to be pumped up- so water conservation is strictly enforced. The center here, along with the whole town also recycles, which is very important.
I have had many unique experiences here, belugas, bears, bugs, food and people. I have not been able to watch TV or use my cell phone at all and I have realized that many times people get so caught up in their own whole that we forget to stop and look around and experience life. Even though we were busy from 7 am until 9 pm every evening, I had a chance to stop and realize what a great world we live in and how much we often miss or take for grated. I want to challenge you to take a day- go for a hike, boat ride, or even just take a moment to sit outside and really take a close look at the world around you and ask yourself the question: am I doing my part to preserve and protect this great planet? or what can I do to help? Dr. Kershaw said it best; it is the individuals that will make the difference in this world- one person is the first step.

See you soon and enjoy the show.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Dancing Sky

Late last night , our friend Bill was dutifully the muffle oven and happened to poke his head out the door and looked up and saw the aurora The news quickly spread and soon everyone was outside looking up at the sky. Swirls of light danced across the sky. You could actually see the ribbons move. We watched in awe as one ribbon made a circle and continued to move until the circle closed. We watched the lights for about a half an hour until the clouds moved in and covered them. We then retreated back to our rooms with our check list complete. We saw the belugas, the polar bears and the now the northern lights. The phenomenon of aurora is an interaction between the Earth's magnetic field and solar wind.
Auroras are produced by the collision of charged particles from Earth's magnetosphere, mostly electrons but also protons and heavier particles, with atoms and molecules of Earth's upper atmosphere. These particles get trapped in the Earth's magnetic field . The collisions in the atmosphere electrically excite electrons to take quantum leaps (a mechanism in which the electron's kinetic energy is converted to visible light); and molecules in the upper atmosphere. Watch the video for an explanation of how the lights are created.

Today we spent another day doing basically the same procedures, except by now each team has a distinct plan and everyone has their own job. We are really getting pretty efficient now. Tomorrow is lab day. We will continue to check pH and conductivity. This information can give some indication about the climate in which it was formed. Today we took samples as deep as 2 meters! We hit permafrost at about 50 cm, then we had to drill down until we hit rock or mineral. This depth varies with the site. Today the last core sample contained shells. Think about this. We are not near the bay where we are. This section of the continent is rebounding. As you drive away from the bay, you will drive over many differenty beach ridges that were formed when that area was the coastline in the past. The ice was very heavy and pushed the continent down to the asthenosphere. Now that the ice is gone the continent is rising thus the coastline is changing also. This is called isostatic rebound.

Today I talked to a scientist who studies polar bears. He told me that the population here is doing fine, even though the population is down about 25 percent. He has been studying bears here for 35 years. The health of the bears will vary with from year to year depending on the thickness of the sea ice, the amount of food available. etc. He and his partner fly out in a helicopter and search for bears. When the find them they will tranquilize them, then drop down and take measurements and blood samples. The bear really do not migrate
except in the winter when they go out on the ice looking for food. A preganate bear will almost double her weight in the winter. We saw another bear today. It walked around on the rocks before it decided to go for a swim. The people here say that they often see bear swimming - like they are playing! .

Saturday, September 12, 2009


Today we collected more samples- we did our peat pits,seedling samples but today we also did a permafrost core sample. I have learned alot about permafrost on this little adventure. Before I thought that permafrost was always the top layer of soil- but I have learned that the layer of permafrost can be just a few centimeters to several meters below the surface. Today we dug down to the permafrost layer- it was so hard that you couldn't break it with the shovel. We had to dig down 50 cm in one are and only 30 cm in another are. Of course we took soil samples and surveyed for seedlings. The upper layer that thaws in the summer is called the active layer. The thicker the active layer the larger the trees - the soil is thicker and warmer and more nutrients are available.

What is permafrost? (answer in your journal) What is the difference between continuous and discontinuous permafrost?

The thickness of permafrost can be altered by changes in the climate or disturbance of the surface. Permafrost thins and the active layer thickens when ground temperatures increase. Some 24 percent of land area in the Northern Hemisphere is underlain by perennially frozen ground. Another 57 percent -- extending down into much of the United States and Europe -- freezes seasonally. But the permafrost in some areas is declining and this is affecting the structures on the surface. Sometimes ponds will form when the ice melts and the soil above it collapses, roads have been damaged to name a couple. The effect is not just in the far north. Some 80 percent of U.S. soil freezes every winter. Change to the cycle will affect crops, native plants and even how much carbon is exchanged between Earth's surface and atmosphere. This is why research like Dr. Kershaw's is so important.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Guess what - saw a wolf outside my bedroom and I didn't have a single camera handy- neither did the other three people in the room! This picture is almost a perfect example of what I saw out the window. It was just walking by and stopped and continued on it's way down a small hill. This was going to be a great day. Well today is our day off and we are on our way, hopefully I will have some pictures to post for you tonight. We have a guide, Paul, who is going to take us around and hopefully show us some of the local wildlife. He has beening guiding here for many a years and knows all the local hangouts for animals.
We walked along a couple of beaches all the while Paul was pointing out the local fauna and describing some of its uses. We saw blueberries, gooseberries, dew berries and soap berries. Paul told us that you could take a batch and work them into a lather. I have tasted many of the local berries and they are great. Right over the next hill we saw our first bear. It was far away but you could see it great with binoculars. Paul knows alot about polar bears. I didn't know that male bears never quit growing, that they only ate the fat off the seals and that the mother bears doesn't eat for 8 months.

See what else you can find out about polar bears at http://www.polarbearsinternational.org/. Write 3 facts in your journal.
Down the next road we stopped to see some Canadian Eskimo Sled dogs. These dogs are not treated like pets- they are work animals. Notice they're legs- they are pigeon toed- just like polar bears. It helps with traction on the snowy grounds. While watching the dogs, we noticed not one but 2 bears sunning on the rocks. This was great. We didn't go to far because Paul told us that they could reach us in just 5 seconds.
We also saw arctic foxes (what adaptation do these animals have for living in this environment?), peregrine falcons, bald eagles, sandhill cranes and other shore birds. I even collected a couple of rocks that contained fossils!
Next on to beluga whales! (what does beluga mean?) We climbed the rocks at Cape Mary and there they were, swimming at the mouth of the Churchill River. We even saw baby belugas. Baby belugas are gray and will turn white as they mature.
Then we went to town-- take a look at the next slideshow.

Good luck on your tests!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Day In The Lab

We spent the morning doing lab work. We have collected approximately 67 samples from the FEN (wetland), TIS (tree island), BFR (burned forest) and the TUN (tundra). We divided up into teams. One team was in charge of determing the moisture and organic matter content of each sample and the other team was in charge of determing the color, pH, and conductivity. Each of these tests can tell the scientist relys different information about the properties of the soil.

Working in a lab can be very difficult if there is not good communication between the workers. So first we had to develope a system for all the testing and a way to record all the data.

Team 1- moved to the back lab to work on moisture content and organic matter content. To determine the amount of moisture each sample had to be weighed before and after it was dried it in an oven at 105°C for 12 hours. Then a small sample of it was transferred to a crucible and 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 tolwill help us to determine much carbon was present in each sample . Dr. Kershaw can then use this information to determine the "carbon pool". This is important because it tells us how much carbon can be released in the atmosphere if the permafrost melts because when organic matter decomposes it releases carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.

Team 2- stayed in the classroom and set up an area to test pH, conductivity and soil color. A sample was removed from the bag and was made into a paste, then we used electric probe to measure conductivity. This tells us how much salt is in the soil, again giving us another characteristic of the soil system. Generally soils closer to the coast have a higher salt content, therefore a higher conductivity. 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. Next, a small sample was placed on white paper and the color was identified using the Munsell Soil identification chart. This is an internationally agreed upon table to describe the colors of different soils and can give a person information about the quality of the soil.

After lunch we set out with our bear monitor, Carley, and went to the burned forest. The forest has burned twice in the past, once in the 1980's and once in the 1990's. Each group dug three more pits and collected samples from the soil profile. Then once again looked for new seedlings. The bugs were aweful!!! Even in full bug gear one managed to find its way to my nose!

Well tomorrow is our day off! We have a guide who will hopefully be able to guide us to the polar bears and beluga whales!

Please use the comment section to post questions about the research. I know we will be able to answer them.

http://nsidc.org/cgi-bin/words/glossary.pl use this to define a PALSA, PINGO, HUMMOCK (please post the answer in the comment section)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

FENS and Tree Islands

Hey guys,

The weather here is highly variable. The last couple of days were cold and rainy and then today it was warm and rainy. I decided that I like the cold and windy better! When it is cold and windy the mosquitos and black flies don't bother you, but as soon as the wind stops - here they come. We had to wear bug nets all day today! They obscure your vision somewhat and make it a little harder to get your work done.

Today we had our morning meeting and we discussed the days protocols and procedures. Our task was to go to several sites and collect organic matter samples and do a seedling survey of the areas as well. Our first site was called a FEN or wetland. As we exited the van we were immediately greeted by swarms of bugs-- black bugs, mosquitos, and bulldogs so we all donned our bug nets and proceeded with the days assignment. After a short walk through a stand of trees, we proceed through the standing water and you could see bubbles coming up in the water. Where do you think these bubbles came from? This were methane bubbles produced by anaerobic decompostion. We scattered out to pick random plots to sample.

We had a unique way of selecting our plots. You take your shovel and throw it as far as you can and where ever it lands that is where you dig. Our team dug three pits and took soil samples from 0-10 cm, 10-20 and 20-30 cm below the surface. We had to be very careful and make sure that everyone was following the same protocols. We had special way that we have to label each sample- site name, group, date, and pit number depth. It is very hard to do all of this in the rain. We also have to take pictures with the information on a board. DATA, lots and and lots of DATA. We repeated this same procedure at another site called TIS- tree island. We acutally found some seedlings here, they were but a mere 1 cm and they were 2 years old.

After getting the samples back to the station, they were weighed and placed in a drying oven to remove the moisture, then they will be weighed again. Next we will take a small sample and place it in a muffle oven and heat it to 675* essentially burning it. The ashes will be removed and then weighed and the carbon content can be determined. Dr. Kershaw wants to try to determine the amount of carbon in the peatlands that can possibly decompose and release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. We are studying the trees to see if there is any type of shift in the treeline- that could be an indication that the climate is changing. He did note that a tree found here, the poplar, is increasing in number which could also indicate that something is going on.

We had a great lecture tonight on Glacial Geomorphology- Extra credit if you can tell me what palsas, pingos and polygonal peat plateaus are.

This is a great place- it has an observation dome in the roof! I haven't been able to see anything out of it but it was still neat to look through.

Website Resources

For those of you closely following my journey to northern Canada:If you would like more information about Churchill, Manitoba,Please visit the following websites:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Churchill,_Manitobahttp://www.churchill.ca/

The Churchill Northern Studies Centre (CNSC) will be the outpost for our research team. The CNSC offers many different wildlife viewing and ecological adventure study programs throughout the arctic seasons. More information visit http://www.churchillscience.ca/index.php?page=about

For Churchill’s current weather conditions click on:http://www.wunderground.com/global/stations/71913.html

Want to see if the bugs are biting? Check out the Bug Report: Churchill, Manitoba at:http://www.theweathernetwork.com/bugreport/camb0033

Do you like polar bears? Ursus International http://www.ursusinternational.org/ is a non-profit organization dedicated to environmental education and global conservation of all species of bears

And finally, if you want the best tips on how to view the Aurora Borealis, see http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/pmap/

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

No Polar Bears Yet!


We haven't seen any polar bears yet but our bear monitor Carley has seen them near her home. That is why we have the bars on the windows and all the doors open out- it makes it harder for the bears to get in.!We have been told that the chances are good that we will see them while we are here. I have seen the beluga whales from the airplane, but mainly I have seen the mosquitos and the black bugs. I haven't seen the northern lights yet because it has been cloudy and rainy- but we are assured that this is good weather for Churchill. Our day off is Friday and we are going to go on a tour so hopefully I will see something then. We have some really interesting people working here with us. They work for Shell Oil Company and as I go along I will introduce you to them. I have learned so much. Every night we have a lecture - last night it was on Permafrost and climate change.

Today we learned the importance of everyone needing to know the proper defintions and proper way to measure certain aspects of plants. We were looking over our data and it didn't match up. So we had tutorials!!!!! We each discussed our methods and we discovered that we were not doing it all the same. So ...... we discussed the methods and everyone agreed on the same definitions. We went out into the rain to make some more measurements. This time we were measuring a natural stand of trees. It is fascinating to see all the different species of lichens and nonvascluar plants growing on the surface. Once we arrived in the field, we had a second tutorial!!! Feeling confident we set out to measure the apical, laterals and buds of each seedling in the field. One thing that was very interesting is that most of the trees are missing limbs from the upwind side- this is called flagging.
The wind is so strong and abrasive that it damages the tissue and it dies. All of the seedlings are on the downwind side where they are protected by the tree stand. Tree stands have several layers- a skirt that get covers with snow, the saltation area- where all the limbs are dead, the flagging layer- where there are branches on one side then the top- when it is above the abrasive snow it becomes symmetrical again.

In the afternoon we finished up the plants and dug pits. The rain stopped but so did the wind, that is when the bugs came out!! In swarms!!! But science goes on rain or bugs!
When I get back we are going to work on measuring and proper units. That is all I have done for days. We measured the length of all the branches on trees, the mass of our soil, the pH, conductivity and we have many many more. We have alot of work ahead of us yet. We are drying our soil samples then we will weigh them to find the moisture content then we are going to put them in a muffle oven to burn off the organic matter (define). We want to find out how much carbon can potentially be released if the permafrost thaws.
We did see a bladderwort- it is an insectivorus plant.
I hope you are working hard-hopefully I will get to talk to some of you soon.


Austral's Message

Monday, September 7, 2009

Rainy Day in the Field

Hello Everyone,
Today we woke up to a chilly 4*C, class what is the temperature in Fahrenheit? It has been overcast the last couple of days but today it decide to actually rain. We were told that this is good weather for Churchill. Science doesn't stop for the rain. We put on our rain suits and headed out to finish the work that we started yesterday.
Yesterday we went out to the "plantation" to measure about 350 seedlings white spruce that Dr. Kershaw and his team planted about 3 years ago. He planted the trees in the tundra to see how well they would grow. Tree advancement can occur if the changes occur in the climate that allow them to grow and reproduce. Dr. Kershaw is trying to determine the limiting factors on tree growth in the Arctic. He wants to determine whether the seedlings can grow up to produce viable seeds. Some of the seedlings were protected by wind shelters built from sticks. This provided a different microclimate for that particular seeding. The seedlings were very small and sometimes very hard to measure. Most of them were damaged by the wind and snow and many did not survive. Did you know you could tell the age of a seedling by the number of whorls it had? We had to have tutorials today, because we were still unsure about what exactly we were measuring. We used our standard metric ruler to measure the seedlings, palm pilots to record data, and boards and cameras to record a picture of each tree. Then the data will be compiled using EXCEL. Recording the data in the field can be rather difficult- we had issues with the palm pilots, the cameras and the pens used in the field. So this afternoon we were brainstorming ideas that we could try to tag specimens in the field. Poor tree growth on the tundra is really not a bad thing--- they are not suppose to be there, the seedling grow well in the forest. View the video to see Dr. Kershaw explaing what we should be measurings.
Last night we had a lecture on the Cryosphere. What were we talking about?


more pictures

Check out the rest of my team!!!! They are a great group to work with.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

First Day In The Field

Today was our first day in the field. When we woke up it was overcast and cold, 6*C. We spent the morning learning how to use equipment such as GPS units, Palm pilots to log data, and walkie talkies. In addition to this technology we were also instructed on how to use Permafrost corers, Muffle ovens, and drying ovens. We are going to use these to determine the water content and the organ matter content in the peat. Because of the high variability of the area we will have to collect many samples from many places. Dr. Kershaw is also using automated stations to gather information on air and soil temperatures, precipation, wind, and snowpack. So we spent the morning in the classroom learning how to use the tools and the purpose of the project.

In additon to monitoring organic matter, we will help gather is information on white spruce seedling that they planted three years ago. We had to learn about apical meristems, terminal buds, lateral buds, and lateral branches. It is not as easy as it sounds.

Later in the day, we loaded up the van with our gear and headed out to the plantation armed with cameras, metric rulers, palm pilots, photo boards and markers. We had to measure the several parameters on hundreds of small seedlings, so we divided up into teams of three. We found that some of the parts were hard to identify and we had to ask for a lot of help. The trees here are much smaller than the trees in our area. The tundra is amazing. The ground is soft and gives under your feet because the ground cover are lichens. (find out what a lichen is and record it in your journal) There were several different species of lichens, rhododendron, and even a variety of blueberries (I tasted one of these as well as dewberries) The area is similiar to our areas in that they both have large areas of wetlands (called FENs here) but the ground cover and the trees are very different.

This evening we had a great lecture on climate change- and went out to see a great sunset. We went to Birdcove to see a sunken ship- the Ithica.

What two animals are the main draw for the town of Churchill?

What is global climate change?
What are lichens?
for more pics


At the research station

Well I have finally arrived in Churchill. We flew in over Hudson Bay. Peering out the window I could see some large white objects in the water. Guess what they were- beluga whales. I couldn't see them well enough to take a picture- hopefully I can get closer on our day off. Carley picked us up at the air port and took us to the research station. The building was once used to test rockets. Some of the rockets can still be seen in the ponds around the area. The tall buildings here were used to launch the rockets.

We were welcomed by our great chef Audrey. She always has the greatest meals prepared for us. We have to pass through the Arctic Hallway to get to the dorms (and it is properly named by the way. It is the coldest place in the building). The windows all have bars on them. Can you guess why?

I will be working with a great bunch of people. We have four people working with Shell Oil with us and 4 other teachers from all over the US. After being here only for a very short time I feel like we are all old friends.

http://picasaweb.google.com/sharsh17/EarthwatchSept5?authkey=Gv1sRgCJHNwczy2ZyODQ#5378573467330087650 more pics

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Hello Everyone,

It is has been quite an experience and I am not even there yet! I arrived in Canada yesterday and will traveling to Churchill today. I have been told that it will be quite an experience. I have been told that if I want to see polar bears, then I need to go to the dump? Why would this be the best place to see polar bears? It is really interesting to hear everything in french and in english. All announcements are made in both languages. I also realized that I need to learn metrics!! I know what we will be working on when I get back. If the swimming pool here is 1.4m deep- how deep is it in feet? What is the temperature if it is 17* celcius?

Use the online to convertor to help you out and record it in your journal.