Now Archived! PolarConnect event with Karen Temple-Beamish and Marguerite Mauritz from Healy, Alaska. You can access this and other events on the PolarConnect Archives site: https://www.polartrec.com/polar-connect/archive
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, permafrost, 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 because soil decomposition in permafrost was very slow. Now, warming in the Arctic is 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. We are using carbon isotope techniques to measure how much carbon comes directly from soil decomposition and how much comes from plant respiration. This will help us understand more about the source/sink dynamics of the tundra. Little is known about respiration in the arctic winter, but our winter sampling is improving. With more data we will have a better idea of how much carbon is lost during the long, dark winter. Together our summer and winter data will help improve global carbon models by adding a more realistic representation of the Arctic. Because carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, any additional carbon dioxide lost from permafrost ecosystems creates a positive feedback that leads to even further warming.
More information about the project can be found here: https://www2.nau.edu/schuurlab-p/index.html
Where Are They?
The research team is based at a remote cabin near the small town of Healy, Alaska, about 100 miles south of Fairbanks, Alaska. The cabin functiones as both a research base and living quarters. There is no running water and all supplies have to be brought in either by snow machine or on foot, depending on conditions. The cabin is also home to a team of sled dogs, so things get pretty noisy around meal times. The sampling site, (Carbon in Permafrost Experimental Heating Research—CiPEHR) is a tundra ecosystem warming experiment located in Alaska's discontinuous permafrost zone.
Marguerite's research is focused on understanding how warmer temperatures and permafrost thaw will affect carbon losses from arctic tundra. Arctic permafrost soils store large amounts of carbon, which could be released to the atmosphere, in a warmer climate. We expect an increase in carbon losses as warmer conditions promote decomposition of carbon stored in permafrost soils. However, warming and thaw also promote plant growth, which can increase short-term carbon storage. The experiments at the Carbon in Permafrost Experimental Heating Research project (CiPEHR) were established in 2009 to disentangle these opposing factors, and gain a better understanding of arctic tundra carbon dynamics.