Ecosystems develop and change through interactions between living things and their physical environment. A shift in vegetation is one of the most important changes an ecosystem can experience, because it can alter exchanges of energy (originating from sunlight), water, and elements such as carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) between air, plants, and soil. In the Arctic, a widespread shift from tundra to deciduous shrub-dominated vegetation appears to be occurring.
This project will assess contributions of different shrub feedbacks to carbon and nitrogen cycling, and improve predictions of the consequences of shrub expansion in the Arctic for regional and global climate.
The research team will be 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 at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and has hosted hundreds of researchers and students every year since 1975. The team will drive to an additional field site ninety miles north of Toolik Field Station.
Kate Steeper currently teaches chemistry at Lennox Academy in Inglewood, California. She has previously taught biology and PLTW’s Introduction to Engineering and Principles of Biomedical Sciences in addition to biology. Kate received a B.Sc. Biology degree from Humboldt State University and a Masters in Teaching from the University of Southern California. Before teaching, Kate spent two years as a research technician in the Rando Lab at Stanford studying muscle stem cells. Standard features in Kate’s lessons include student inquiry, phenomena, and student discourse with the goal of inspiring student curiosity and awe about the world and science. She plans to bring her PolarTREC experience back into the classroom and local community to foster awareness about climate change. When she’s not teaching, Kate enjoys traveling and adventures with her husband and spending time outdoors with their two dogs.
Donie Bret-Harte is a Research Assistant Professor at the Institute of Arctic Biology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Dr. Bret-Harte is a plant community and ecosystem ecologist who examines how global climate change affects arctic vegetation composition and nutrient cycling.