Kuril Islands Biocomplexity
What Are They Doing?
An international team of American, Japanese, and Russian researchers and students examined the 5,000-year history of human-environmental interactions in the Kuril Island chain of Russia. The team combined studies of archaeology, geology, paleoecology, oceanography, and climatology to investigate the records of human settlement and abandonment on the Islands. They also surveyed the geologic evidence of volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunamis, past vegetation and marine conditions, and climatological evidence of past temperature, sea ice, and storminess. The research team traveled by boat to a number of islands to dig archaeological pits, sample soils, and search for buried artifacts and clues to past activity on the islands. The objectives of the project include understanding the environmental conditions of the past and estimating the degree of human vulnerability and resilience to both sudden and gradual environmental changes.
Where Are They?
The research team traveled by boat to several islands in the Kuril Island archipelago. The Kuril Islands lie between the Kamchatka peninsula of Russia and northern Japan, in the northwest Pacific Ocean.
Meet the Team
Misty Nikula has taught math and science at Whatcom Day Academy in Bellingham, Washington for nine years and in 2004 was awarded two Science Teacher of the Year awards. Ms. Nikula considers herself a scientist first, then a teacher, and encourages her students to see themselves as scientists as well. Ms. Nikula worked as a chemical engineer for five years before returning to school to get her Masters of Education. Ms. Nikula’s own high school science teachers helped her develop a love for learning—a curiosity that inspired her to seek out programs like PolarTREC where she can work in the field with scientists and bring her experiences back to her school and community. Ms. Nikula was a TREC teacher in 2004 (Barrow, Alaska) and 2006 (Kuril Islands, Russia).
Ben Fitzhugh is a Professor of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Washington in Seattle. Dr. Fitzhugh’s research focuses on maritime/coastal hunter-gatherers in the North Pacific and addresses questions of cultural evolution and human-environmental dynamics. Dr. Fitzhugh teaches classes on Archaeological Method and Theory, North and South American Archaeology, Arctic Archaeology, and the Evolution of Inequality.
Michael Etnier received his Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Washington in 2002. A zooarchaeologist by training, he uses bones and teeth from archaeological sites to study changes in the ecology of marine ecosystems over the past several thousand years in the North Pacific. Dr. Etnier lives and works in Bellingham, Washington, where he operates a small business that combines his interests in archaeology, marine ecology, and science education.
Joanne Bourgeois is a Professor in the Earth and Space Sciences Department at the University of Washington. Her main research interests include sedimentary structures and tectonics. Dr. Bourgeois also teaches and researches the history of geology, believing that exploration of how science is done leads to better science. Dr. Bourgeois has also served a two-year term as a Program Director in the Earth Sciences Division of the National Science Foundation.