Forest Response to Arctic Environmental Change

What Are They Doing?

Growth rings, also known as trees rings or annual rings, are annual layers of tree growth that can be seen when looking at the cross section of a tree trunk. Looking at the rings, you can determine the age of the tree by counting the rings. By looking at rings, you can also study the response of the tree to environmental conditions like a really dry or wet year. The study of tree rings is called dendrochronology.

The research team studied mostly white spruce trees on the North Slope of Alaska. They collected samples from the boreal forest and further north around the tree line (the place too far north for trees to grow). They collected samples by coring trees, taking tree measurements, and recording observations about the environment around the trees.

Using this study, the research team looked at environmental conditions of the past and tried to determine which conditions have the greatest impacts on tree growth. The records were compared to similar data from around the entire arctic to better understand the response of boreal forests to changes in seasonality.

Where Are They?

The team camped and conducted their research in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in the Firth River area, in northeastern Alaska. The Arctic Refuge is the largest National Wildlife Refuge, consisting of around 19,000,000 acres. It was established for many reasons, including the conservation and preservation of over 300 wildlife species, to fulfill international treaty obligations, and to provide opportunities for continued subsistence uses. Inupiat Eskimo and Gwich’in Indian peoples primarily inhabit the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. To arrive at their field site, the research team chartered a flight on a small plane into their field site.


Tree cores
It’s been 9 ½ months since we sampled the White Spruce trees near Mancha Creek. During that time the samples have been stored at the Tree Ring Lab at the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory near New York City. The cores taken from live trees and the ‘cookies’, slabs taken from ‘sub-fossilized’ (aka downed and dead) trees, were planed and sanded so that the rings and ring patterns were easily discerned under the microscope. A technician spent countless hours counting the rings and measuring the width of each ring, compiling an extensive database from all of our samples. This week I visited to...
What does a PolarTREC teacher do when they have 10 days to fill in Alaska between expeditions? The hardest part of this question is deciding just where to spend those days. I chose to explore South-Central Alaska and headed down to the Kenai Peninsula with my husband to explore the world of glacier and ocean--two environments that are non-existent in Colorado. The perfect Alaska view; fireweed, mountains, and snowfields. The trip began with a long drive to Seward, almost 400 miles south of Fairbanks. Seward was named after William H. Seward, who was Lincoln's secretary of State and was...
Our weather has taken a decided change for the wetter, with occasional rain showers and gray clouds replacing our searingly sunny days. So, what can you do on grey days? If you're a dendrochronologist, like we are (well, two of us are dendrochronologists-in-training), you make cookies. Now, these are not some kind of special tundra chip wonder made from some crazy blend of flour, sugar, butter, and eggs. These cookies are made from trees using sharp folding saws and a little bit of upper bodywork. Kevin Anchukaitis and his special japanese folding cookie cutter. We are cutting our...
camp view
It's a beautiful evening as I sit on here on the gravel at the edge of Mancha Creek. I'd include a picture for you, but it takes too many of those precious electrons to download pictures from my camera, sort and prepare them, and send them off through the ether. So you'll have to use your own imagination tonight. Don't worry--I'll add lots of images once we return to Fairbanks next week. (NOTE: somehow this journal didn't post while I was in the field, so I am re-posting it with all the bonus pictures I promised!) Here's the view from my creekside writing perch. The light is beautiful...
circuit city 2
We're back in Fairbanks where the electrons flow like water (or, perhaps, just like electrons!) from that funny little thing that is attached to the wall of my dormitory room here at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks campus. Today is a day for drying and re-packing gear, catching up and updating journals and photographs (I will be adding some pictures and 'new and improved' text to some of the journals), and relaxing. The electrons flow like water! The transition from the field to what some call the civilized world is often a bit abrupt. It is even more abrupt when you are magically...

Expedition Resources

Project Information

3 July 2011 to 15 July 2011
Location: ANWR, Alaska

Meet the Team

Susy Ellison's picture
Yampah Mountain High School
Carbondale, CO
United States

Susy Ellison has taught science at the small, public alternative Yampah Mountain High School in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, for many years. Ms. Ellison's days are filled with designing and teaching physical, earth, and life science classes that engage the minds and hearts of her students. In 2010, the National Environmental Education Foundation honored Ms. Ellison as the recipient of their Richard C. Bartlett Environmental Education Award. Ms. Ellison's students have been and continue to be challenged to include environmental literacy into their lives. Her students have worked on many projects to meet this demand, including helping to design and build an energy-efficient strawbale building, installing solar panels on the school's roof, and building a greenhouse. Her students have also studied snow science in the Colorado backcountry and backpacked in the canyons of Utah studying desert ecology. In her free time, Ms. Ellison can be found outside, exploring the nooks and crannies of mountain, desert, and river environments. She resides in Carbondale, Colorado in a solar-powered home that she built with her husband.

Rosanne DArrigo's picture
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Palisades, NY
United States

Rosanne D'Arrigo is a Lamont Research Professor and Associate Director of the Biology and Paleo Environment Department at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Her current research is in the Tree-Ring Research Laboratory, where scientists are dedicated to expanding the use and application of tree-ring research around the world to improve understanding of past climate and environmental history. Dr. D'Arrigo has been involved with educational outreach for many years via annual open houses, exhibits, and seminars. Learn more about Dr. D'Arrigo and her work at her faculty webpage.

Kevin Anchukaitis's picture
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Palisades, NY
United States

Kevin Anchukaitis is an Assistant Research Professor in the Biology and Paleo Environment Department at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. He works in the Tree-Ring Laboratory, and his research focuses on developing and interpreting high-resolution proxy records of climate variability. To learn more about Dr. Anchukaitis, please visit his webpage.