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Home / Learning Our World / Member Stories (41) / Other (6) / Student (1) / Arctic (1) / Environments: Polar Regions (1)


Earthwatch in the Arctic

Volunteering to Study Climate Change

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The Churchill Northern Studies Center building, the team's Arctic home for several weeks.

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Earthwatch Institute
Climate Change at Arctic's Edge


Publisher's Note: We are grateful to Mimi for being one of the first contributors to the Journeys Corps of Storytellers.


Every two years I set aside time to participate in one of the many research projects the Earthwatch Institute offers to volunteers. The individual project provides participants with much more than just the experiences of the two weeks one spends at the different research sites. Last year, I chose Earthwatch's "Climate Change at the Arctic's Edge" research project based in Churchill, Manitoba, to experience the Arctic environment and ecosystem, learn about global warming and its impact, and to experience the area as the residents do.

I was part of the fourth Earthwatch team in August of 2001. We represented a number of different backgrounds and interests such as teacher, surgeon, zoo program director, nurse, lawyer, student, astronomer and more representing three different countries. We all arrived via small planes or a 36-hour train ride from Winnipeg traversing a dramatic landscape. We gathered at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, which we would call home for the next couple of weeks. Dr. Peter Scott, research coordinator, Churchill Northern Studies Centre, and Jen McCulloch, research assistant and project coordinator, were ready to get us oriented to our new surroundings and work.

Churchill is located on a peninsula that jets out into Canada's Hudson Bay and is most famous for its Polar Bears. The bear population swells in September and October waiting for the ice on the Hudson Bay to freeze allowing the large creatures to go out on the ice to hunt and feed on seals. The bears, although they are impacted by global warming changes like thinning ice and required our constant vigilance, were not the focus of our research.

Instead we concentrated on the flora, and ecosystem changes related to the peat accumulation and carbon deposits. Our work took us to five different identified research sites including: burned and replanted forest; burned forest; pristine forest; pristine arctic tundra; and, disturbed tundra.

From each of the sites we performed a number of different activities. Once we were oriented and briefed on bear safety and high points of the different areas we were given different field assignments. These assignments served to complete or compliment work done by previous teams. Each of the activities enables Peter and Jen to collect additional data to support research identifying global change trends related to carbon deposits and peat development. We were guided in studying, identifying and gathering plants and peat for later lab work plus measuring/ marking research areas, and tagging plants for future research.

Our collected plant material was then brought to the lab located within the Research Centre. There we spent a number of hours getting to know each other while we identified and grouped plants by established plots, measured and dried the plant material, entered data regarding our findings, and helped develop forms and document site maps.

The team's efforts supported research to not only establish the complement of study plots in both the forest and tundra, but also to collect and document a series of standardized measurements for comparison between the different areas. Changes in the areas will be monitored over time - 20 to50 years -- by future teams and researchers. Then other changes in the study plot areas, identification of resultant disturbances in the study communities, and the relationship of the disturbances to changing climate can be aggregated to explain and support goals of Dr. Scott's research.

During the Climate Change research expedition, I met the most wonderful group of people in the assembled team and researchers alike. Each and everyone contributed their own personalities, professional backgrounds, and humor to the activities. We all seemed to be open to the adventures of the trip and continue to keep in touch while we relive the trip through our pictures and continued correspondences.


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Have you ever thought of volunteering to join a research team to work in the Arctic?

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