Virtual Base Camp

Expeditions by Year

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 2015. 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.

A new feature to the Virtual Base Camp 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.

Current Expeditions

Melissa Lau
Educator

Organization
Piedmont Intermediate
Oklahoma City, OK
United States
Dates:
6 June 2018 to 7 July 2018
Location:
Toolik Field Station, Alaska
What Are They Doing?
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.
Joanna Chierici
Educator

Organization
Melvin H. Kreps Middle School
Roebling, NJ
United States
Dates:
24 June 2018 to 4 July 2018
Location:
Ship-based, Eastern Bering Sea
What Are They Doing?
Eastern Bering Sea (EBS) jellyfish populations have fluctuated dramatically during the past three decades. When jellyfish populations are high, they likely have major impacts on the Bering Sea food web. This project will estimate the age structure and age-specific abundances of the predominant jellyfish in the Bering Sea, Chrysaora melanaster, in order to understand how their population size changes with time. The ultimate goal is to estimate the reproductive capacity and success of this jellyfish in relation to climate variability and to investigate the potential for jellyfish population increases to become a recurring pattern in the Bering Sea under future climate scenarios. This will in turn enable forecasting of jellyfish abundance and their predatory impacts in the Bering Sea ecosystem.

2013 Expeditions

Tom Lane
Teacher

Organization
Bellows Free Academy
Fairfax, VT
United States
Dates:
1 April 2013 to 3 May 2013
Location:
Approximately 8 miles off the Parks highway, near Healy, Alaska
What Are They Doing?
The carbon cycle is the means by which carbon is moved between the world's soils, oceans, atmosphere, and living organisms. Northern tundra ecosystems play a key role in the carbon cycle because the cold, moist, and frozen soils trap organic material and slow their decomposition. This very slowly decaying organic material has caused carbon to build up in the Arctic during the past thousands of years. Historically, the tundra has stored large amounts of carbon. Now warming in the Arctic is slowly causing the permafrost to thaw and the tundra to become warmer and dryer. As the earth warms and permafrost thaws, this previously frozen carbon is released as carbon dioxide and goes into the atmosphere, turning the tundra into a source of carbon, rather than a sink. Because carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, this additional carbon dioxide creates a positive feedback that leads to even further warming. Little is known about respiration in the arctic winter. The team used five different...
Mark Buesing
Teacher

Organization
Libertyville High School
Libertyville, IL
United States
Dates:
1 April 2013 to 18 April 2013
Location:
Kangerlussuaq, Greenland
What Are They Doing?
IceBridge, a six-year NASA mission, is the largest airborne survey of Earth's polar ice ever conducted. IceBridge uses a highly specialized fleet of research aircraft and the most sophisticated science instruments ever assembled to characterize yearly changes in thickness of sea ice, glaciers, and ice sheets in the Arctic and Antarctic. The research team experienced first-hand the excitement of flying a large research aircraft over the Greenland Ice Sheet. While in the air they recorded data on the thickness, depth, and movement of ice features, resulting in an unprecedented three-dimensional view of ice sheets, ice shelves, and sea ice. Operation IceBridge began in 2009 to bridge the gap in data collection after NASA's ICESat satellite stopped functioning and when the ICESat-2 satellite becomes operational in 2016, making IceBridge critical for ensuring a continuous series of observations of polar ice. IceBridge flies over the Arctic and Antarctic every year—in the Arctic from March...
Ken Williams
Teacher

Organization
Nobleboro Central School
Damariscotta, ME
United States
Dates:
29 April 2013 to 19 June 2013
Location:
Kahiltna Glacier and Mount Hunter Ice Divide. Denali National Park and Preserve, AK
What Are They Doing?
The goal of the team's research was to develop a past climate and precipitation record of Central Alaska over the past 1000 years. In order to accomplish this task, the team extracted and analyzed a series of three ice cores from an ice divide between the North and South Peaks of Mount Hunter within Denali National Park and Preserve. They also continued ice depth and surface velocity surveying of major glaciers within Denali National Park and have plans for using this information to develop improved ice volume estimates and historical glaciological reconstructions of Central Alaska. Research at this site is important as it completes the development of a spatial ice core array (a range of data) in the North Pacific that has been underway since the early 2000s, including climate records from the St. Elias Mountains, Coast Range, Brooks Range, and Wrangell Mountains. Mt. Hunter in central Alaska lies in a different precipitation and climate regime from these regions, and thus...
Carol Scott
Teacher

Organization
Randy Smith Middle School
Fairbanks, AK
United States
Dates:
18 May 2013 to 22 June 2013
Location:
Kevo Research Station, Finland
What Are They Doing?
This project examined the poorly-understood interaction of climate change and microbial methane production in wetland soils in the Lapland region of Finland. The research team conducted field and lab experiments to determine the role of arctic wetlands in global carbon cycling. Similar experiments have also been completed by the research group in the Alaskan arctic, making this project part of an investigation into the potential global-scale response of arctic wetlands to impending climate changes. The Arctic is experiencing the most dramatic warming due to climate change of all global systems. As arctic soils warm, the resulting rise in microbial activity increases emissions of carbon dioxide and methane, further accelerating global climate change. Because the vast majority of global carbon is stored in soils, and soil carbon is in flux with atmospheric carbon, soil microbes can either alter or exacerbate climate changes. Methane is a powerful, carbon-based greenhouse gas,...
Paula Dell
Teacher

Organization
Lindblom Math and Science Academy
Chicago, IL
United States
Dates:
29 May 2013 to 7 July 2013
Location:
Palmer Station and R/V Laurence M. Gould
What Are They Doing?
Antarctic notothenioid fishes are uniquely adapted to life in the extreme conditions of the Southern Ocean. Waters surrounding Antarctica are unlike any other. The Southern Ocean is isolated from other oceans by the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, it is very cold with temperatures at or near -1.8 degrees Celsius, and the water is rich in oxygen. Notothenioids have evolved many physiological traits that enable them to survive in this remarkable environment. They lack a swim bladder and have antifreeze proteins that prevent their bodies from freezing. Members of one family of notothenioids, the Channichthyidae (icefishes), are unique among all vertebrates because they lack the circulating oxygen-binding protein, hemoglobin. The loss of hemoglobin is considered a neutral mutation; one that neither enhances nor reduces fitness. However, the team hypothesizes that the loss of hemoglobin may be an advantage because hemoglobin promotes the formation of reactive oxygen species that damage...
Alicia Gillean
Teacher

Organization
Jenks West Intermediate School
Jenks, OK
United States
Dates:
29 May 2013 to 4 July 2013
Location:
Toolik Field Station, Alaska
What Are They Doing?
In the Arctic, bright summers and dark winters are a fact of life and can lead humans to rely on clocks and routines to tell them when to eat or sleep, but how do animals function under these conditions? Circadian rhythms refer to the "internal body clock" that regulates the approximately 24-hour cycle of biological processes in animals and plants. Rhythms in body temperature, brain wave activity, hormone production, and other biological activities are linked to this 24-hour cycle. The Earth's light-dark cycle provides the strongest influence on circadian rhythms and is thought to be the primary driver for the emergence and evolution of internal clocks. In the Polar Regions, however, photoperiod exhibits extreme annual variation because of near 24 hour sunlight in the summer and 24 hour darkness in the winter. In the absence of a well-defined light-dark cycle, some arctic residents lose their daily organization of behavior and physiology, and it is thought that the molecular...
Bruce Taterka
Teacher

Organization
West Morris Mendham High School
Mendham, NJ
United States
Dates:
24 June 2013 to 31 July 2013
Location:
Toolik Field Station, Alaska
What Are They Doing?
Tremendous stores of organic carbon frozen in permafrost soils have the potential to greatly increase the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Permafrost soils may thaw sporadically, and melting ground ice can cause land-surface subsidence called "thermokarst failures". These failures change the rate and amount of carbon released with the unanticipated outcome being that soil carbon can be mixed-up from a depth and exposed to sunlight as the land surface fails. Sunlight can photo-degrade organic carbon and alter the carbon's ability to support bacterial respiration to produce carbon dioxide. Whether UV exposure will enhance or retard the conversion of newly exposed carbon to carbon dioxide is currently unknown—in this study team is providing the first evidence that this alteration will be amplified by photochemical processes and their effects on microbes. The research team is trying to understanding exactly how sunlight and bacteria degrade dissolved organic matter by...
Nell Kemp
Teacher

Organization
Lindblom Math & Science Academy
Chicago, IL
United States
Dates:
27 June 2013 to 3 August 2013
Location:
Toolik Field Station, Alaska
What Are They Doing?
The Arctic is warming faster than any other biome on the planet, which makes it critically important to understand the influence of warming on ecosystem processes in this region. While arctic species are all well adapted to living in extreme environments, it is unclear how different species will respond to the environmental shifts that accompany climate change (e.g. longer growing seasons and warmer temperatures). Stronger responses by some species within a community could lead to changes in the structure of the food web and its role in arctic ecosystems. In the Alaskan Arctic, wolf spiders are the largest and most abundant invertebrate predators. A shift in their ecological role could therefore have an important impact on the entire food web. This project explored the role of wolf spiders within arctic communities and specifically, whether climate change is stimulating changes in these predators that could influence the structure and function of food webs. In particular,...
Lynn Reed
Einstein Educator Fellow

Organization
Division of Polar Programs, National Science Foundation
Chester, VA
United States
Dates:
28 June 2013 to 19 July 2013
Location:
Kangerlussauq and Summit Station, Greenland
What Are They Doing?
The expedition members visited several research sites in Greenland as part of an initiative to foster enhanced international scientific cooperation between the countries of United States, Denmark, and Greenland. The expedition members spent several days learning about the research conducted in Greenland, the logistics involved in supporting the research, and gain first-hand experience conducting experiments and developing inquiry-based educational activities. In 2013, the work built on past expeditions and was supported by the National Science Foundation. The project was developed through cooperation with the U.S.-Denmark-Greenland Joint Committee, which was established in 2004 to broaden and deepen cooperation among the United States, the Kingdom of Denmark, and Greenland. **The program had two components** Kangerlussuaq Science Field School: 28 June - 10 July 2013 Science Education Week: 11- 18 July 2013
Hollis Yenna
Teacher

Organization
Nenana City School
Nenana, AK
United States
Dates:
14 July 2013 to 27 July 2013
Location:
Barrow, Alaska
What Are They Doing?
Applied Research in Environmental Sciences Nonprofit, Inc., [ARIES](http://www.ariesnonprofit.com/), the Barrow Arctic Science Consortium, BASC, and the North Slope Borough of Risk Management are collaborating to plan, develop and implement a historical ecology model for the North Slope Coastal Region of Alaska. Historical ecology is an applied research program that focuses on interactions of people and their environments. Research applications involve studying and understanding this relationship in both time and space to gain a full picture of all of its accumulated effects. The research program can be applied to understanding changes among community landscapes that can assist strategies for the future. For this proposal the emphases align with the ARIES mission that combines research, education, and community outreach. The emphases are 1) a bibliographic database of relevant historical resources, 2) an examination of the shoreline to provide a time-series baseline 3)...
Andrea Skloss
Teacher

Organization
Brundrett Middle School
Dates:
25 July 2013 to 15 August 2013
Location:
USCGC Healy
What Are They Doing?
This project attempted to understand the role of carbon resources to the food webs of the Chukchi Sea, off the northwest coast of Alaska. The northern Chukchi Shelf receives large inputs of organic matter transported from the highly productive shelf regions of the North Pacific and from existing sources of primary production, including ice algae, sediment microalgae and phytoplankton. These contributions of highly changing organic carbon, together with potential benthic (from the bottom of the sea) sources of nutrients, likely contribute to the enormous secondary production (production of living material by organisms) of this region. In particular, the relatively shallow depths (40-55 m) and high bottom flow have created "hotspots" of biological productivity found in the vicinity of the Hanna Shoal region of the Chukchi Sea. The research team included scientists from seven institutions and two federal agencies. The work took place over dozens of existing sampling stations and...
Jamie Esler
Teacher

Organization
Lake City High School
Coeur d'Alene, ID
United States
Dates:
28 July 2013 to 21 August 2013
Location:
Central Iceland
What Are They Doing?
This project sought to understand the formation of drumlins, some of the most mysterious and poorly understood of glacial landforms. Drumlins are elongated, aligned hills that form hidden from view beneath glaciers. The first modern drumlin field has recently been exposed by the retreat of Múlajökul. Previously this kind of landform could be studied only by focusing on drumlin fields that formed long ago in the Pleistocene, so this study provided a unique opportunity to understand drumlin formation better. The research team collected intact till (rocks and finely ground material picked up by a glacier, and deposited as sediment along its path) samples from the drumlins and the surrounding area. The samples were taken back to Iowa State University and the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee and subjected to geotechnical tests and magnetic fabric analyses. This testing determined the former distribution of stresses on the till and patterns of subglacial till deformation that were...
Jill Smith
Teacher

Organization
Port Aransas High School
Port Aransas, TX
United States
Dates:
7 August 2013 to 26 August 2013
Location:
Kaktovik, Alaska
What Are They Doing?
Coastal ecosystems of the Arctic receive extraordinarily large quantities of terrestrial organic matter through river discharge and shoreline erosion. The fate of this organic matter is of both local and global interest as it relates to biological production in the coastal ocean as well as the global biogeochemical cycle. Terrestrial organic matter has the potential to provide an important source of carbon and energy to support and maintain organisms and food webs in coastal waters during much of the year. The goal of this research was to determine how seasonally distinct terrestrial inputs of water and organic matter influence microbial and animal communities in coastal waters of the Alaskan Beaufort Sea. Research sites ranged from lagoons to open coastal systems and each site was used to examine linkages between biological communities and organic matter inputs from land. Measurements of water and sediment chemistry, and benthic and water column community characteristics were...
Brian DuBay
Teacher

Organization
Grissom Middle School
Warren, MI
United States
Dates:
4 November 2013 to 16 December 2013
Location:
McMurdo and Mario Zuchelli Station, Antarctica
What Are They Doing?
Antarctica plays a central role in global tectonic evolution. Competing theories have been put forward to explain the formation of the Transantarctic Mountains (TAMs) and the Wilkes Subglacial Basin (WSB), primarily due to a lack of information on the crustal thickness and seismic velocity of these areas. The research team has attempted to resolve how the TAMs and WSB originated and how their formation relates to Antarctica's geologic history. Since most of Antarctica is covered by large ice sheets, direct geologic observations could not be made; therefore, "remote sensing" methods like seismology had to be used to determine details about the earth structure. The goal of this project, funded by the National Science Foundation, was to broaden our knowledge of the geology in this region with a new seismic array; the Transantarctic Mountains Northern Network (TAMNNET), a 15-station array across the northern TAMs and the WSB that helped fill a major gap in seismic coverage....
Justin Kendhammer
Teacher

Organization
Alpine Leadership Academy
Flagstaff, AZ
United States
Dates:
6 November 2013 to 11 December 2013
Location:
Wright and Taylor Valleys in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica
What Are They Doing?
It's hard to imagine that anything could live in the cold, dry soils of Antarctica. Early investigations of the soil bacterial communities of the McMurdo Dry Valley found only a handful of bacteria, leading to the conclusion that these soils were essentially sterile. The idea that microorganisms can grow at all in the very dry soils of the McMurdo Dry Valleys seems astounding but the recent use of advanced molecular biology techniques to investigate soil biodiversity, has revealed a surprising bacterial richness in the area. The goal of this project was to identify active members of the McMurdo Dry Valley soil microbial community and determine their ecological role. Little is known about bacterial populations in the Dry Valley soils, but until it is understood which populations are active and what they do, it is impossible to understand the ecological role that bacteria play in ecosystem function.
Obed Fulcar
Teacher

Organization
Maria Teresa Mirabal Middle School
New York City, NY
United States
Dates:
5 January 2014 to 7 January 2014
Location:
South Pole Station
What Are They Doing?
How do you find something that isn't directly visible? That's the challenge faced by the team who developed the IceCube neutrino detector under the ice at the South Pole. Just as X-rays allow us to see bone fractures, and MRIs help doctors find damage to soft tissue, neutrinos will reveal new information about the Universe that can't be seen directly. The in-ice particle detector at the South Pole records the interactions of neutrinos which are nearly massless sub-atomic messenger particles. Neutrinos are incredibly common (about 100 trillion pass through your body as you read this) subatomic particles that have no electric charge and almost no mass. They are created by radioactive decay and nuclear reactions, such as those in the Sun and other stars. Neutrinos rarely react with other particles; in fact, most of them pass through objects (like the earth) without any interaction. This makes them ideal for carrying information from distant parts of the universe, but it also makes them...