â€œAll right. Right now, we are on the road, just leaving Fairbanks, and we are headed up to the town of Healy, which is right outside Denali National Park.â€
Welcome to Pulse of the Planetâ€™s Science Diaries, a glimpse of the world of science from the inside. Ted Schuur is an Assistant Professor of Ecosystem Ecology at the University of Florida. But he does some of his field research in the Alaskan tundra, studying the effects of a warming climate.
â€œAnd we are headed to a research site there called the Eight Mile Lake Research Watershed and what weâ€™re going to do is weâ€™re visiting a site that I have been studying for the last five years. And itâ€™s been studied since 1985because the permafrost in this area has been thawing, and weâ€™re interested in how that impacts ecosystemsplants and soils and especially the carbon that is in them.â€
Geologists define permafrost as soil that has been at or below the freezing point of water for more than two years. Well, because the research site at Eight Mile Creek has been studied for several decades, Ted Schuur can rule out other causes of permafrost thaw, such as soil disturbance, which are not related to climate change.
“When we went up there originally, I was very excited because, looking at the patterns of tundra vegetation, you could already see that there were changes that had been occurring to the ecosystems the plants and the soil. So, I thought, you know, this is a great site to study these effects of climate change because, you know, there’s very few locations where someone’s been there in 1985 watching it warm up, and then, you come along 20 years later to kind of document what happened.”
Thawing permafrost could release a lot of old, stored carbon back into the atmosphere, which in turn could speed up global climate change.
Pulse of the Planetâ€™s Science Diaries are made possible by the National Science Foundation. Iâ€™m Jim Metzner.