Tundra Nutrient Seasonality


Archived PolarConnect Event
PolarTREC teacher Susan Steiner hosted a PolarConnect event from Toolik Field Station on 7 June 2012.
The archive is for this event. Please visit the PolarConnect Archive Page

What Are They Doing?

Tundra plants and antlerTundra plants and antler Arctic soils have large stores of carbon and as the arctic environment warms, this carbon may be released to the atmosphere in the form of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane. The current understanding of tundra ecosystems and their responses to climate change is based on the idea that nitrogen limits plant growth, however nitrogen availability is strongly seasonal, with large amounts available early in the growing season but very little available later on.

Since nutrient cycling on the tundra changes throughout the season, the research team worked to understand how seasonal changes in tundra plants and soil dynamics are affected by changes in the timing of snow melt and warming. By experimentally manipulating factors such the timing of spring thaw and fall freeze directly on the tundra, the team could study how this affects the ecosystem directly. The team was engaged in a mixture of outdoor field sampling, experimentation, and laboratory work. Through this research the team aimed to better predict the impacts of changing growing season timing and duration on the carbon balance of arctic ecosystems.

Where Are They?

Tundra near Toolik Lake, AlaskaTundra near Toolik Lake, Alaska The research team lived out of Toolik Field Station, located in the northern foothills of the Brooks Range in northern Alaska. The team traveled to their field plots, located approximately 10 miles from Toolik Field Station, by truck. 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.

Expedition Map


Alaskan Fireweed in bloom
Alaskans watch fireweed as a sign of summers’ end much like we in Western North Carolina wait for the walnut trees to leaf out before planting warm season gardens. Fireweed is a beautiful pink flower that blooms from the bottom up. The natives say that when the blooms reach the top of the flower spike, summers’ end will soon follow. Fireweed in bloom in Denali National Park and Preserve, Can you tell how much longer summer will last? Like signs of the season, signs of climate change can be read and understood as you learn how to read the landscape. Just after the 4th of July weekend,...
Fall Leaves
One of my favorite things about fall has always been, and still is, the opportunity to look at the beautiful color changes in the mountains. Fall Leaves, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons With the advent of the first day of fall, I want to share with you a site where you can report fall leaf color changes, and help in a nationwide program that tracks the progress of plants as they change throughout the seasons. Called Project Budburst, this initiative enables us regular citizens to contribute data that helps scientists learn more about plants' budding, flowering, fruiting, leaf out, color...
view from Dalton Highway just North of TFS in late May
John Muir observed: "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe" This journal has been a little delayed, due to an early trip home. All is well, now, and it's good to be back in the lower 48. I always thought that phrase, "the lower 48" sounded kind of funny, maybe elitist, but it's simply being descriptive. The drive up to the Arctic Ocean, only 135 miles north of Toolik, really brought home the idea that living at the field station is living near the top of the world. In the tundra, the views are big, the plants are small, and...
Arctic Tern on fence along Dalton Highway near Atigun River
Over the course of my time here, I've run into several groups of birders, as well as had numerous conversations with the bird groups here at camp. I could show you great pictures they've taken of birds or ones I downloaded from the Internet, but I thought you might like to see them from my point of view! One bird I was really looking forward to seeing, the Arctic Tern, appeared on my second or third day here. A pair lives here at the lake and is likely nesting. The birds can be spotted hovering high above the lake; after a few moments of fluttering, they plunge dive in for a fish. It's too...
gravel bar jetty along the Arctic Ocean
My alarm going off at 4:30 am is not normally something I'm excited about, but today is the day I have reservations to go on the tour to see the Arctic Ocean! gravel bar access to Arctic Ocean I need to drive about 130 miles north of here to Prudhoe Bay, which can be a three hour trip due to conditions along the Dalton Highway. Toolik to Prudhoe Bay map courtesy of TFS I gave myself an extra hour and headed off to meet the tour at 8:45 am in Deadhorse. On the drive up, I was hoping to see some wildlife, and sure enough, just out of camp I spotted a yearling caribou. Yearling caribou...

Expedition Resources

Project Information

22 May 2012 to 1 July 2012
Location: Toolik Field Station
Project Funded Title: The Changing Seasonality of Tundra Nutrient Cycling: Implications for Ecosystem and Arctic System Functioning

Meet the Team

Susan Steiner's picture
Murphy High School
Franklin, NC
United States

Ms. Steiner grew up loving the outdoors, spending time exploring the backyard woods with her faithful Bassett hound Falstaff, enjoying family camping trips in the Rocky Mountains, and learning to canoe in the Ozarks of Missouri. A high school Biology teacher inspired her to learn more about the natural world, and early observations of endangered whooping cranes fed the curiosity that led her to major in Biology at the University of Central Missouri. A quest for adventure after graduation led her to the Nantahala Outdoor Center in Bryson City, North Carolina, where she spent a number of years canoeing, backpacking, and exploring rivers and trails around the country. She eventually returned to her biological training to work as a research technician at Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory in Western North Carolina. Besides helping scientists gather a variety of data about soils, forest health, and streams, she volunteered to become involved with a science program for students called the Schoolyard LTER (Long Term Ecological Research) program. She enjoyed teaching authentic science to the kids so much that she decided to return to school for her Master’s degree, this time in Science Education with an emphasis in Biology. After teaching a number of years at Macon Early College in Franklin, NC, she now teaches at Murphy High School in Cherokee County, North Carolina; guiding students to learn about and enjoy the natural world through courses in Earth/Environmental Science and Biology.

Michael Weintraub's picture
University of Toledo
Toledo, OH
United States

Michael Weintraub is an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences at the University of Toledo, where he studies terrestrial ecosystem and global change ecology. His research program is focused on understanding the mechanisms underlying basic ecosystem processes and how they are affected by impacts such as climate change and nutrient deposition. His overall research goal is to understand the controls on ecosystem processes such as decomposition, and transformations of both inorganic and organic soil nutrients. Dr. Weintraub uses a range of research tools in order study questions that range from the scale of microbial communities up to the ecosystem level. Learn more about Dr. Weintraub's research here [http://www.eeescience.utoledo.edu/faculty/weintraub/csas.htm]