Welcome to the Virtual Base Camp, the starting point for your exploration of the polar regions with PolarTREC teachers and researchers!

PolarTREC expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctica can be found here starting in 2007 to present. You can also access archived expeditions to the Arctic that took place through TREC in 2004-2006. Journals, photos, ask the team forums, and information about each expedition can be found by following the links to all the expeditions. Use the Expedition Search feature to narrow your choices or find a particular expedition or region. Use the Members feature to find teachers and researchers involved with PolarTREC expeditions.

Another interesting perspective for viewing expeditions are Projects. Projects are expeditions that had teachers for more than one year. You can learn more about the science and see all the teachers and researchers involved in the research project over two or more years. You can also access all the related project resources (presentations, lessons, PolarConnect events, etc.) related to the projects.

2019 Expedition Timeline

Expeditions

Carbon in the Arctic

Carbon in the Arctic
Dates
-
Location
Toolik Field Station, Alaska

What Are They Doing?

A C-OPS instrument (Compact-Optical Profiling System)
A C-OPS instrument (Compact-Optical Profiling System) is used by Dr. Rose Cory's lab to measure wavelengths of sunlight. Photo by Regina Brinker.
Understanding how microbes and sunlight interact is particularly important in the Arctic where thawing permafrost soils will release large amounts of carbon from land to water. Advancing our understanding of loss of this carbon to the atmosphere is critical to understanding the global carbon cycle. This project takes advantage of recent advances in microbial genomics and carbon chemistry to improve understanding of carbon cycling in Arctic freshwaters. The research team will be looking to answer three questions: 1) How is microbial metabolism controlled by dissolved organic carbon (DOC) chemistry? 2) How does DOC exposure to sunlight change how microbes convert DOC to carbon dioxide (CO2) 3) How does the longer-term adaptation of microbial communities affect the rate of DOC conversion to carbon dioxide?

David Walker
Educator
LASA High School

Austin, TX
United States

Expedition Map

Phenology and Vegetation in the Warming Arctic 2019

Phenology and Vegetation in the Warming Arctic 2019
Dates
-
Location
Utqiagvik, Toolik Field Station

What Are They Doing?

Ale Martinez and Jeremy May setting up the MISP tram.
Ale Martinez and Jeremy May setting up the MISP tram. Photo by Ale Martinez.
The goal of this expedition is to understand arctic terrestrial change by monitoring vegetation communities in northern Alaska associated with the International Tundra Experiment Arctic Observatory Network (ITEX-AON). The team will study environmental variability and increased temperature on tundra plant phenology, growth, species composition and ecosystem function. The ITEX network works collaboratively to study changes in tundra plant and ecosystem responses to experimental warming. The network monitoring sites are located across many major ecosystems of the Arctic. This project will provide urgently needed data critical to understanding the impact of multi-scale vegetation change on ecosystem function, namely land-atmosphere carbon and water fluxes and energy balance.

Alejandra Martinez
Educator
Memorial Junior High

Eagle Pass, TX
United States

Expedition Map

Fire and Carbon in Siberian Forests

Fire and Carbon in Siberian Forests
Dates
-
Location
Cherskii and Yakutsk, Russia

What Are They Doing?

The green needles of larch trees turn brownish-orange and fall to the ground. Cherskiy, Russia.
The green needles of larch trees turn brownish-orange and fall to the ground. Cherskiy, Russia.
Climate change is impacting Arctic regions at twice the rate as the rest of the globe and as a result, ecosystems in these regions are seeing an increase in frequency, intensity and severity of fires in many boreal forests. The primary objective of this research is to delineate the causes of varying post-fire tree regrowth within larch forests of eastern Siberia and determine consequences for climate feedbacks through changes in Carbon storage and albedo (light radiation). The team will be using a combination of field-based measurements, dendrochronological analysis, remotely-sensed data, and statistical modelling. The research will increase the understanding of how larch forests in the Arctic of Siberia respond to a changing fire regime and particularly identify the mechanisms of response.

Amanda Ruland
Educator
Saratoga Elementary School

Saratoga, WY
United States

Expedition Map

UTEP Arctic Change and Education

UTEP Arctic Change and Education
Dates
-
Location
Utqiagvik, Alaska

What Are They Doing?

Periphyton being collected at Cake Eater Lake. Utqiaġvik, Alaska. Photo by Ruth Rodriguez.
Periphyton being collected at Cake Eater Lake. Utqiaġvik, Alaska. Photo by Ruth Rodriguez.
The research team will maintain 6+ federally funded projects working across the Barrow Peninsula (NSF, NASA, NOAA, DHS). Collectively, these projects are helping to advance our knowledge of terrestrial, aquatic, coastal and marine ecosystem structure and function and how these systems are responding to arctic change. They will use observational, experimental, retrospective (i.e. resampling of historic sites), low- and high- tech approaches for our research. A typical day in the field is highly seasonally and weather dependent. On good weather days, we try and get out on the boat to work our coastal sites, on most days we visit our terrestrial and aquatic sites, and on bad weather days we catch up on equipment maintenance and data, cleaning, etc. in the lab.

Monica Nunez
Educator
Santa Teresa High School

Santa Teresa, NM
United States

Expedition Map

Shrubs Snow and Nitrogen in the Arctic 2019

Shrubs Snow and Nitrogen in the Arctic 2019
Dates
-
Location
Toolik Field Station, Alaska

What Are They Doing?

Petri dishes filled with moss and liverwort samples. Toolik Field Station, Alaska. Photo by Svea Anderson.
Petri dishes filled with moss and liverwort samples. Toolik Field Station, Alaska. Photo by Svea Anderson.
Ecosystems develop and change through interactions between living things and their physical environment. A shift in vegetation is one of the most important changes an ecosystem can experience, because it can alter exchanges of energy (originating from sunlight), water, and elements such as carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) between air, plants, and soil. In the Arctic, a widespread shift from tundra to deciduous shrub-dominated vegetation appears to be occurring.

This project will assess contributions of different shrub feedbacks to carbon and nitrogen cycling, and improve predictions of the consequences of shrub expansion in the Arctic for regional and global climate.

Kate Steeper
Educator
Lennox Academy

Inglewood, CA
United States

Expedition Map

Northern Chukchi Integrated Study

Northern Chukchi Integrated Study
Dates
-
Location
Ship-based, northern Bering and Chukchi Seas

What Are They Doing?

A CTD (conductivity, temperature, and depth) instrument comes up from the depths of the Chukchi Sea. Aboard the USCGC Healy.
A CTD (conductivity, temperature, and depth) instrument comes up from the depths of the Chukchi Sea. Aboard the USCGC Healy.
This is an observational research program evaluating changes in the Pacific Arctic ecosystem in response to sea ice declines and other climate related processes. The approach is to undertake repeat sampling of specific locations that are biologically diverse or rich in production to detect change, and also to use the capabilities aboard the USCGC Healy to undertake process oriented experiments that address specific issues such as ocean acidification, changes in biological productivity and other areas of sampling that can be addressed by shipboard sampling and experimentation.

Piper Bartlett-Browne
Educator
St. Thomas Aquinas High School

Dover, NH
United States

MOSAiC

MOSAiC
Dates
-
Location
Ship-based, Arctic Ocean

What Are They Doing?

A sunset reflected in a newly-frozen lead in the sea ice. Aboard the USCGC Healy at the Alpha Ridge in the Arctic Ocean. Photo by Bill Schmoker.
A sunset reflected in a newly-frozen lead in the sea ice. Aboard the USCGC Healy at the Alpha Ridge in the Arctic Ocean. Photo by Bill Schmoker.
The Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate (MOSAiC) will be the first year-round expedition into the central Arctic exploring the Arctic climate system. The project has been designed by an international consortium of leading polar research institutions, under the umbrella of the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC), led by the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI), Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute (AARI) and the University of Colorado, Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES).

MOSAiC will contribute to a quantum leap in our understanding of the coupled Arctic climate system and its representation in global climate models. The focus of MOSAiC lies on direct in-situ observations of the climate processes that couple the atmosphere, ocean, sea ice, bio-geochemistry and ecosystem. MOSAiC observations will be specifically designed to characterize the important processes within the atmosphere-ice-ocean system that impact the sea-ice mass and energy budgets. These include heat, moisture, and momentum fluxes in the atmosphere and ocean, water vapor, clouds and aerosols, biogeochemical cycles in the ocean and ice, and many others. The MOSAiC project has it's own website here.

Katie Gavenus
Program Director
Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies

Homer, AK
United States

Weddell Seals: Growing Up on Ice

Weddell Seals: Growing Up on Ice
Dates
-
Location
McMurdo Station

What Are They Doing?

A Weddell seal and pup out on the sea ice near McMurdo Station, Antarctica. Photo by Alex Eilers.
A Weddell seal and pup out on the sea ice near McMurdo Station, Antarctica. Photo by Alex Eilers.
Weddell seals are one of the best studied seals and a classic example of adaptation to the extreme Antarctic environment. A large body size and thick blubber layer help them to stay warm both on and under the ice. Their streamlined shape, body oxygen stores, and collapsible lungs allow them to reach dive depths of 600 meters (almost 2,000 feet!) and remain under water for over an hour. However, they do not begin life with these advantages. Weddell seal pups are born on the sea ice with a small body size and almost no blubber.

The question is: What does it take for a Weddell seal to survive and successfully make the transition between two extreme environments – above and below the Antarctic sea ice – in only a matter of weeks? To answer this, Cal Poly scientists and a marine mammal veterinarian will venture to Antarctica to study the development of thermoregulation and diving in Weddell seals.

Bridget Ward
Educator
Springfield Central High School

Springfield, MA
United States

Expedition Map

Thermal Sensitivity of Embryos and Larvae of Antarctic Marine Ectotherms

Thermal Sensitivity of Embryos and Larvae of Antarctic Marine Ectotherms
Dates
-
Location
McMurdo Field Station, Antarctica

What Are They Doing?

Scientific scuba divers use bright lights and cover lots of terrain in search for pycnogonids to collect. Turtle Rock, Antarctica. Photo by Timothy R. Dwyer.
Scientific scuba divers use bright lights and cover lots of terrain in search for pycnogonids to collect. Turtle Rock, Antarctica. Photo by Timothy R. Dwyer.
Cold-blooded animals in the Antarctic ocean have survived in near-constant, extreme cold conditions for millions of years and are very sensitive to even small changes in water temperature. However, the consequences of this extreme thermal sensitivity for the energetics, development, and survival of developing embryos is not well understood. This award will investigate the effect of temperature on the metabolism, growth rate, developmental rate, and developmental energetics of embryos and larvae of Antarctic marine ectotherms. The project will also measure annual variation in temperature and oxygen at different sites in McMurdo Sound, and compare embryonic and larval metabolism in winter and summer to determine the extent to which these life stages can acclimate to seasonal shifts. This research will provide insight into the ability of polar marine animals and ecosystems to withstand warming polar ocean conditions.

Amy Osborne
Educator
NatureBridge

Sausalito, CA
United States

Expedition Map

Antarctic Fish Development Under Future Ocean Conditions

Antarctic Fish Development Under Future Ocean Conditions
Dates
-
Location
McMurdo Field Station, Antarctica

What Are They Doing?

Adult Emerald Rockcod (Trematomus bernacchii) surrounded by seastars (Odontaster validus) at Cape Evans, McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. Photo Credit: Rob Robbins, ASC SCUBA Diver
Adult Emerald Rockcod (Trematomus bernacchii) surrounded by seastars (Odontaster validus) at Cape Evans, McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. Photo Credit: Rob Robbins, ASC SCUBA Diver
In the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica there is an extraordinary diversity of marine life. Much of our understanding of the biology of these animals comes from studies of the adaptations of these animals to sub-zero ocean conditions. Research to date on Antarctic fishes has focused on adult life stages with much less research on early life stages that likely prioritize growth and development and not physiological mechanisms of stress tolerance. This project addresses the mechanisms that early life stages (embryos, larvae and juveniles) of Antarctic fishes use to respond to changes in ocean conditions. Specifically, the project will examine energetic trade-offs between key developmental processes in the context of environmental change.

Denise Hardoy
Educator
San Antonio Elementary School

Lockwood, CA
United States

Expedition Map

IceCube and The Askaryan Radio Array 2019

IceCube and The Askaryan Radio Array 2019
Dates
-
Location
South Pole Station, Antarctica

What Are They Doing?

Group photo of all neutrino hunters currently at the ceremonial South Pole. Photo by Rishabh Khandelwal.
Group photo of all neutrino hunters currently at the ceremonial South Pole. Photo by Rishabh Khandelwal.
IceCube is located at the South Pole and records the interactions of a nearly massless sub-atomic messenger particle called the neutrino. IceCube searches for neutrinos from the most violent astrophysical sources: events like exploding stars, gamma ray bursts, and cataclysmic phenomena involving black holes and neutron stars. The IceCube Neutrino Observatory is a powerful tool to search for dark matter, and could reveal the new physical processes associated with the enigmatic origin of the highest energy particles in nature. In addition, IceCube studies the neutrinos themselves using the 100,000 neutrinos detected per year produced by cosmic rays in the atmosphere. Their energies far exceed those from accelerator beams. IceCube encompasses a cubic kilometer of instrumented ice, and is the largest detector by volume ever built.

The fully built ARA project, also located at the South Pole, will have an effective volume 100 times bigger than IceCube. The trade off is that it is only capable of observing radio waves from extremely high energy neutrinos, a million times more energetic than the neutrinos produced by cosmic rays in the atmosphere. This neutrinos are extremely rare, which is why such a large detector is needed to increase the chance of seeing one.

Jocelyn Argueta
Educator

Thwaites Offshore Research

Thwaites Offshore Research
Dates
-
Location
Ship-based, Amundsen Sea

What Are They Doing?

A sloped blue iceberg. Aboard the icebreaker Oden between the Amundsen and Ross seas. Photo by Lollie Garay.
A sloped blue iceberg. Aboard the icebreaker Oden between the Amundsen and Ross seas. Photo by Lollie Garay.
Satellite observations show that Thwaites Glacier, West Antarctica, has been thinning rapidly and its flow speed has been increasing. At the same time, its grounding line, the point at which the glacier starts to float over the sea, has retreated. Oceanographic studies show that the main driver of these changes is incursion of warm water in the deep ocean beneath the floating ice shelf that extends seaward from the glacier. An important factor affecting the flow of warm water towards the glacier and the stability of the ice shelf is the topography of the seafloor in the area, which is poorly known. The seafloor offshore from Thwaites Glacier and the records of glacial and ocean change contained in the sediments on it are the focus of the THOR project.

Sarah Slack
Educator
JHS 223 - The Montauk School

Brooklyn, NY
United States

Expedition Map