Carbon Balance in Warming and Drying Tundra 2013


Archived PolarConnect Event
Tuesday, 30 April 2013 PolarTREC teacher Tom Lane hosted a PolarConnect event LIVE from the field in Healy, Alaska.The event is now available in the PolarConnect Archives.

What Are They Doing?

Experimental drying plots on the tundraExperimental drying plots on the tundra 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 methods in hopes of finding the best way to measure how much carbon is being released from northern ecosystems in the winter. Measuring winter respiration directly from experimentally warmed plots and understanding the drivers of wintertime tundra respiration will have the added benefit of being able to improve global arctic carbon models. More information about the project can be found here.

Where Are They?

Walking to work over tundra hummocksWalking to work over tundra hummocks The research team was based at a remote cabin near the small town of Healy, Alaska, about 100 miles south of Fairbanks, Alaska. The cabin functioned as both a research base and living quarters. There was no running water and all supplies had to be brought in either by snow machine or on foot, depending on conditions. The sampling site, (Carbon in Permafrost Experimental Heating Research—CiPEHR) is a tundra ecosystem warming experiment located in Alaska's discontinuous permafrost zone.


Kusawa Lake, Yukon
Kusawa Lake, Yukon Yukon The Yukon Territory is vaste and relatively un-peopled, by city standards. The land, lakes and mountains engulf my senses, with miles going by without seeing settlements. What must this place look like in winter? The BIg Yukon Kluane Kluane National Park covers over 220,000 hectares with 80% covered in snow and ice all year! With 2000 glaciers, Kluane is surrounded by the U.S. National Park, St. Elias-Wrangell. Together these two parks help protect habitat for rare and endangered species like the Dall Sheep. Dall Sheep From Afar Cooperation to Preserve...
The snow has finally cleared off the research plots! John Krapek (field tech. at CiPEHR) fixes air leaks on the summer CO2 collection chambers at Plot B on the warming side at CiPEHR on May 20, 2013. (Photo taken by Kirsten K. Coe) A view looking northeast of Plot B on the warming side at CiPEHR on May 29, 2013. (Photo taken by John Krapek) Panoramic view looking southeast towards the Hayes Range from Plot B at CiPEHR. Here’s a picture of one of the winter warming plots. In it you can finally see after being buried in the snow the past six months some of the equipment for the...
Isabelli Coal CiPEHR
The Expedition came to a close on Friday May 3, 2013. I decided to travel through Chugiak, AK to stop and visit my mom over the weekend prior to going back to Vermont. Skiing on the trails at Chugiak High School the evening before I left Alaska. View of Mount Foraker, Mount Hunter (where PolarTREC teacher Ken Williams is currently located) and Mount McKinley from Bald Mtn. in Chugiak, AK. Reflections: CiPEHR etched into the sandy bank along the north side of Healy Creek at Isabelli Coal Mine. During this past 6 weeks I’ve had many experiences. During the week of polarTREC...
Field Cabin Trail
I’ve spent 5 weeks here in Healy, AK. at the University of Florida Schuur Lab Research Site. Time has gone by quickly. As you can see…little has changed. Here I am on my first day at the University of Florida field cabin in Healy. Here I am on my last day at the University of Florida field cabin in Healy. This last week was supposed to have been spent setting up CiPEHR for summer season data collection. However, winter has decided to stick around awhile. We did manage to pull the solar panels, computers that run the chambers, air compressors and pneumatic lines out of storage and...
The global concern over rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere and subsequent effects of climate change we are seeing particularly in the Arctic can be attributed to the burning of fossil fuels. The burning of coal is the main contributor to electrical generation in the U. S. as well as many other places in the world. Graph showing importance of coal in electricity generation. In Alaska most of that coal comes from the Usibelli Coal Mine located 5 miles away across the George Parks Highway from the University of Florida Research Station on the Stampede Road. This is an interesting...

Expedition Resources

Project Information

1 April 2013 to 3 May 2013
Location: Approximately 8 miles off the Parks highway, near Healy, Alaska
Project Funded Title: Effects of warming and drying on tundra carbon balance

Meet the Team

Tom Lane's picture
Bellows Free Academy
Fairfax, VT
United States

Thomas Lane is a high school science teacher at Bellows Free Academy in Fairfax, Vermont. Mr. Lane grew up in Chugiak, Alaska and has a B.S. in General Science and a M.Ed. in Special Education. He brings a range of experiences to his teaching, including those of an athlete and coach in Nordic skiing and biathlon, a building contractor, and an Army Officer. Through his work on the steering committee of Polar Educators International he hopes to promote polar education globally and assist in communicating science. Mr. Lane strives to instill in his students a strong curiosity for the world around them and believes making connections in education is essential to learning.

As a part of his experience with the PolarTREC program and his work with researchers, Mr. Lane hopes to contribute directly to the knowledge we have regarding the Polar Regions. He is excited to be able to emphasize the scientific process and communicate scientific findings directly to his students and community. When not in his classroom Mr. Lane can be found spending time with his family in Westford, VT, Nordic ski training and racing, coaching biathlon, mountaineering or building something.

Elizabeth Webb's picture
University of Florida
Gainesville, FL
United States

Elizabeth Webb is a Master's student at the University of Florida. Her research in Alaska focuses on wintertime soil respiration. Specifically, she is looking at what factors drive wintertime respiration (temperature, moisture, etc.), how much carbon is coming out of the tundra during the winter, and how this will change with climate warming. More generally, Ms. Webb is interested in large-scale problems such as how land-use change is impacting global rivers and oceans, and how climate change is impacting the biosphere.

Susan Natali's picture
University of Florida
Gainesville, FL
United States

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's picture
University of Florida
Gainesville, FL
United States

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.

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