Now Archived! PolarConnect Event with Nell Kemp and the Deep Roots Research Team from Alaska on 31 August 2016. You can access this and other events on the PolarConnect Archives site: https://www.polartrec.com/polar-connect/archive

What Are They Doing?

A crack in the soil amid tundra plants near a thermokarst. Photo by Regina Brinker.A crack in the soil amid tundra plants near a thermokarst. Photo by Regina Brinker. Below the surface of arctic tundra is a matrix of soil, roots, and fungal hyphae that may play a critical role in the trajectory of future climate change. For millennia arctic plants have persisted in cold, wet, and shallow soils underlain with permafrost, permanently frozen ground, in many regions of the Arctic. However, with unprecedented warming in the last century, these plants may see the amelioration of their harsh, belowground environment. With a warming climate, the depths to which permafrost soils thaw each summer increase, potentially providing greater access to drier and more nutrient rich soil resources. Yet, whether arctic plants and their obligate, fungal root-symbionts have the capacity to respond rapidly and exploit soil resources as frozen, high-latitude soils thaw is unknown. Our research investigates the opportunistic capacity of arctic plants and their fungal symbionts to explore a newly available soil environment. Our goal is to uncover the role that the belowground response to a warming world may play in mitigating feedbacks between thawing permafrost and the atmosphere.

Where Are They?

An aerial view of Toollk Field Station with the Brooks Range in the background. Photo by Regina Brinker.An aerial view of Toollk Field Station with the Brooks Range in the background. Photo by Regina Brinker. The research is based out of Toolik Field Station, an 8-10 hour drive north from Fairbanks, Alaska. Toolik Field Station is operated by the Institute of Arctic Biology (IAB) at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) and has hosted hundreds of researchers and students every year since 1975. We will also conduct research at the Eight Mile Lake watershed on the North Slope of the Alaska Range near Healy, Alaska. The Eight Mile Lake site has been affiliated with the Bonanza Creek LTER and IAB at UAF since 2008. From the field station, the team will travel to their sites by foot and truck. The weather near EML and Toolik Lake can be wet, cold, snowy, muddy, buggy, and occasionally sunny and beautiful with spectacular views of the Alaska Range and the Brooks Range, respectively.

Expedition Map

Expedition Resources

Project Information

Dates: 12 August 2016 to 6 September 2016
Location: Toolik Field Station, Alaska (and Healy, Alaska)
Project Funded Title: The role of plant roots, mycorrhizal fungi, and uptake of deep nitrogen in the permafrost carbon feedback to warming climate




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Meet the Team

Nell Kemp's picture
Lindblom Math & Science Academy
Chicago, IL
United States

Nell Kemp is a middle school life science teacher at Lindblom Math & Science Academy in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood. Ms. Kemp has a bachelor's degree in behavioral neuroscience from Lehigh University and a master's degree in education from DePaul University. The enthusiasm and creativity of the middle grades is one of the most rewarding aspects of her job, but also the most challenging. Students of this age group tend to have trouble thinking independently, so Ms. Kemp pushes students to participate in project-based learning activities and inquiry investigations.

This is Ms. Kemp’s second expedition with PolarTREC, having previously worked with Dr. Amanda Koltz studying the role of predatory spiders in high Arctic food webs. Just like last time, she anticipates that her experience with PolarTREC will show her students that "real" scientists complete their work in much the same way as they do, collecting evidence to support their initial research questions and hypotheses. Ms. Kemp’s goal on this expedition is to expose her students to accredited scientific research and researchers, and help them to recognize that they are capable of becoming the next generation of scientists themselves. Oh…and also to see that there is more to the Polar Regions than reindeer and polar bears…and Santa Claus.

Michelle Mack's picture
Northern Arizona University
Flagstaff, AZ
United States

Michelle Mack is a professor in the Center for Ecosystem Science and Society at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, AZ. She has studied the plants and soils of arctic terrestrial ecosystems for 17 years. Her research focuses on understanding how warming climate is impacting the cycling of carbon and nutrients among plants, microbes, soils and the the atmosphere.

Rebecca Hewitt's picture
Northern Arizona University
Flagstaff, AZ
United States

Rebecca Hewitt is a postdoctoral researcher at the Center for Ecosystem Science and Society at Northern Arizona University with Dr. Michelle Mack. Her research investigates the role of plant-fungal interactions on the acquisition of deep nitrogen from thawing permafrost soils, post-fire seedling recruitment at treeline, and landscape patterns of arctic vegetation change. She earned her B.A. in Environmental Studies and Biology from Middlebury College in 2005 and her Ph.D. in Biological Sciences from University of Alaska Fairbanks in 2014.

Latest Comments

In addition to what Lepra asked, I also would like to know if the Arctic Blueberries were always in acidic environments, or have they adapted to live in those kind of conditions?
So since some of the plants can grow in two very different temperatures and conditions does that mean they grow anywhere regardless? Because if the sedges can grow all over the world including the...
I had never knew that blueberries lived in acidic environments. Did they always live in acidic?
How come the nitrogen has to travel through the roots ? Why is it a 24 hour period and then a 1 year harvest after injection ?
1. Why do you use nitrogen to travel through the roots? 2. How deep does the isotope usually travel into the soil?