Update

Now Archived! PolarConnect event with Jenn Baldacci and "Team Squirrel" from Toolik Field Station in Alaska. You can access this and other events on the PolarConnect Archives webpage.

What Are They Doing?

Photo by Andre Wille
An Arctic ground squirrel eating a carrot in a cage. Photo by Andre Wille.
The climate of the Arctic is extreme and characterized by long dark cold winters and short bright cool summers. Arctic ground squirrels avoid the long winters by spending 7-9 months below-ground hibernating, reaching body temperatures as low as -3°C as they supercool their tissues. But the onset of spring in the Arctic can be variable depending on the depth of the winter snowpack that needs to melt and the prevalence of late spring snowstorms. How do arctic ground squirrels know when to terminate hibernation and emerge to the surface?

Predicting how species might alter their annual timing in response to rapid environmental change, including climate change, is constrained by insufficient knowledge of the endogenous mechanisms animals use to keep time, the cues used to adjust timing, and the extent to which programmed seasonal cycles are physiologically plastic. This study will investigate the mechanisms that underlie plasticity in the seasonal induction of the neuroendocrine signals that trigger the termination of hibernation and onset of reproduction in ground squirrels.

Where Are They?

Photo by Andre Wille
A view of the Brooks Range near Toolik Lake, Alaska. Photo by Andre Wille.
From Fairbanks, Alaska the team will embark on an eight hour drive to Toolik Field Station, located in the northern foothills of the Brooks Range in northern Alaska. Toolik Field Station is operated by the Institute of Arctic Biology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and has hosted hundreds of researchers and students every year since 1975. The team's research sites around the Toolik Lake area will be accessed by pick-up truck or on foot.

Latest Journals

Jeanette dropped me off at the airport in Fairbanks and that double rainbow was a good way to end my day. I was not in the airport long before my flight boarded, and the flight was only 50 minutes to Anchorage. The views were beautiful along the way, and I sat next to an army medic expecting his…
As I get ready to head home, I wanted to share a couple more videos I made. The Cutest Squirrel This one was a squirrel we released and the whole thing took place while we were still exactly in position. Cory didn't even have time to close the trap before she came back out of her burrow. We just…
Meet Team Squirrel - Jeanette Moore You may remember Jeanette from orientation as the one who introduced me to my first arctic ground squirrel, though the squirrel may not remember, since it was still in hibernation. Jeanette picked me up at noon and we headed out to lunch. She took me to a…
Today we left Toolik. I woke up at 7am to finish cleaning my room and packing up sleeping bags, which is always harder than it looks. I borrowed one sleeping bag when I arrived to lay down on the bed as a bottom sheet, and then I had my fleece liner that I slept in with another sleeping bag on top…
Dates
-
Location
Toolik Field Station, Alaska
Project Funded Title
Collaborative Research: Neuroendocrine modulation of circannual rhythms in mammals
Jennifer Baldacci - Teacher
Teacher
International School of Basel

Jennifer Baldacci was born in Chicago and grew up in Florida, where she developed a love of nature. She studied Biology at Florida State University, followed by master's degrees in Entomology and Ecology from UC Davis and Boston University. Throughout her studies, she had amazing opportunities to do field research with excellent instructors in both temperate and tropical climates. She later worked as a zookeeper in Boston and as an endangered bat consultant.

After an inspiring year of traveling around the world, Ms. Baldacci decided to become a teacher to share her interests in science with others. She has been teaching for ten years and works at the International School of Basel in Switzerland, where she enjoys teaching 8th grade Science and high school Biology and Chemistry to students from over 50 nationalities. She works hard to be a positive role model for her students, and to encourage them to become passionate learners. Ms. Baldacci is excited to have the opportunity to work with Team Squirrel in the Arctic to remind her students that there are always new discoveries to be made.

Cory Williams - Researcher
Researcher
Northern Arizona University

Cory Williams is currently a research assistant professor at Northern Arizona University. His research examines the physiological and behavioral mechanisms that allow animals to cope with environmental change. Specifically, he is interested in the functional and ecological significance of circadian rhythms in arctic vertebrates and the factors underlying plasticity in the timing of annually recurring life-cycle events. Ultimately, the capacity of polar animals to adjust their timing in response to changing environmental conditions, either through phenotypic plasticity or microevolution, will be an important determinant of their resilience to climate change.

Arctic Ground Squirrel Studies 2017 Resources

Overview

In this activity, students will use IB-style data-based questions centered around graphs made from data collected about arctic ground squirrels by researchers at Toolik Field Station in northern Alaska. Activity levels of ground squirrels are analyzed in relation to solar radiation and ambient temperature. Students work individually or in pairs to answer the questions.

Lesson
Arctic
Less than 1 period
High school and Up
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Overview

In this activity, students will use data collected about two male arctic ground squirrels by researchers at Toolik Field Station in northern Alaska. Each squirrel had a lightlogger to record light intensity (lux) and an implanted data logger to record internal body temperature (°C). Students work individually or in pairs to analyze the data sets and interpret the results.

Lesson
Arctic
About 1 period
High school and Up
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Why should a teacher go on a science expedition?

Music teachers often play instruments in local orchestras. PE teachers are often involved in sports outside of school. Art teachers pursue their medium and drama teachers act in local performances. Science teachers talk about science, but we very rarely get an opportunity to do basic research.

Report
Arctic
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Article in NAU News about upcoming research expeditions with Northern Arizona University scientists and PolarTREC teachers

Article
Arctic
n/a

Teacher Jennifer Baldacci and researcher Cory Williams discuss this year's research on the Arctic Ground Squirrel research project at Toolik Field Station, Alaska. Broadcast on 27 April 2017.

Teacher Jennifer Baldacci discusses the research surrounding, and life in the field while working on the Arctic Ground Squirrel research project at Toolik Field Station, Alaska.