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 rotting organic material in the soils. This very slowly decaying organic material has caused carbon to build up in the arctic during the past thousands of years. Now warming in the arctic is slowly causing the tundra to become warmer and dryer. As a result, the trapped carbon leaves the soil as carbon dioxide and goes into the atmosphere.

The research team studied changes to the carbon cycle in northern forests by setting up experiments that copy the setting of warmer and dryer tundra. When they arrived at the field site they first removed snow from the research sites, constructed new warming chambers, installed water wells, and set up a carbon dioxide measuring system. After the set-up, the team began taking field measurements of carbon dioxide exchange between the soil and atmosphere, permafrost thaw depth, and water table depth. In addition, they took samples of plant and soil and studied the plant life cycles, also known as phenology.

The experiment is part of the Carbon in Permafrost Experimental Heating Research (CiPEHR) project. The results of their research will be helpful in predicting how the warming and drying tundra will affect the carbon balance, and how the release of additional carbon dioxide will affect global climate change.

Where Are They?

The research team was based at a remote cabin near the small town of Healy, Alaska, about 100 miles south of Fairbanks, Alaska. They traveled via four-wheel drive roads to various sample sites in the boreal forest and foothills of the Alaska Range. The research sites are within the framework of the Carbon in Permafrost Experimental Heating Research (CiPEHR), an ecosystem warming experiment located in Alaska’s discontinuous permafrost zone.

Latest Journals

I received a big welcome home from my girls! The flight home yesterday was long but well worth the time. I arrived back in Orange County a few minutes late and was met by my wife Mary and my youngest daughter Lauren. Natalie was still working so we had to go by her work to see her. It was…
This has been a wonderful expedtition! Mr. Wood waving goodbye from Point Barrow in the Arctic Ocean. This is my last day here in Alaska. I have spent most of the day running around getting all the little things that need to be done. It has been a very great experience for me being up here.…
Mr. Wood is standing next to the welcome sign for the town of Barrow, Alaska. Barrow is a pretty unique place. It reminds me of a scientific outpost, except that it is a town with stores and businesses and one gas station. There are people walking and kids playing and lots of trucks doing…
After getting up this morning I repacked my bag, went for a run and got ready to go to the airport for my flight to Barrow. It only takes an hour and fifteen minutes to fly from Fairbanks so it doesn't seem like you're traveling that far. But by the time you get off the plane, you feel as if you…
Healy, Alaska
John Wood - Teacher
Talbert Middle School

John Wood teaches middle school science at Talbert Middle School in Fountain Valley, California. I am so happy and proud of our district and students. I have been given the opportunity to visit and speak at every school in our district and I continue to be amazed at the positive response from the kids! They are excited to learn about the polar regions and the science that is being conducted there. I feel it is critical to our future that these children become motivated in understanding how the world works and the challenges they will face in the near future. The students have the imaginations and the energy needed to tackle STEM issues in an ever shrinking world. My goal is to connect my district and community with the current issues in cryosphere research that already affects us all.

Being able to teach children current, real-life science and make those connections between education and research has been a wonderful experience for me. By sharing the Erebus expedition while actually living and working on an active volcano has excited my teaching and my students. And then being fortunate enough to skype with students from the IPY Oslo Conference the following year really started a continuous dialog around our community that I am working to expand.

When I'm not teaching, I enjoy competing in triathlons and marathons and spending time with my wife and two daughters.

Susan Natali - Researcher
University of Florida

Sue Natali is an assistant scientist at Wood Hole Research Center (WHRC). Her research focuses on the interactions and feedbacks between plant and soil communities and their environment and seeks to better understand the impacts of environmental change on ecological processes and biogeochemical cycles. Dr. Natali conducts her research in boreal and tundra ecosystems in Alaska and Siberia. Learn more about Dr. Natali and her work at the WHRC webpage.

Ted Schuur - Researcher
University of Florida

Ted Schuur is an Associate Professor of Ecosystem Ecology within the Department of Botany and Zoology at the University of Florida. His research focuses on the interaction between carbon cycling in terrestrial ecosystems and climate change. Dr. Schuur is particularly interested in the exchange of carbon between plants, soils, and the atmosphere, and the response to changes in climate and disturbance regimes.

Carbon Balance in Warming and Drying Tundra Resources

Researcher Elizabeth Webb discusses her experiences working in the field with a PolarTREC teacher. She worked with John Wood in 2011 and 2012, and Tom Lane in 2013, on the Carbon Balance in Warming and Drying Tundra expedition near Healy, Alaska. (She primarily discusses her time with John Wood since this interview was taken in 2013, before Tom Lane's expedition.)

How a PolarTREC Teacher Makes a HUGE impact with Polar Day! PolarTREC alumni teacher John Wood organized a Polar Day at his school and it was a great success. This event is part of his ongoing commitment to sharing polar science with his students, many years after his expedition! Here is John's synopsis of the events, with some photos and

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Soil decomposers, such as some bacteria and fungi, obtain energy needed for life from dead and decomposing plant and animal remains, known as soil organic matter. Soil organic matter is important to local ecosystems because it affects soil structure, regulates soil moisture and temperature, and provides energy and nutrients to soil organisms. It is also important globally, because

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The local on-line newsletter interviewed Mr. Wood over the phone and talks about the upcoming expedition to the interior tundra of Alaska and how it will involve the students at Talbert Middle School in Fountain Valley.

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PolarConnect event with John Wood and Dr. Sue Natali participating in the Carbon Balance in Warming and Drying Tundra expedition in Healy Alaska. There were some technical difficulties in the archive, so you can access Part 1 of the archive here and Part 2 of the archive is here.