- By Shari Sue Halik
Encased in permafrost and tundra, Toolik Field Station is a place where scientists from across the globe go to research the Arctic. One of these scientists was Rubenstein undergrad Genna Waldvogel, who lived there studying the changing seasons.
Genna's project focused on the extension of the "shoulder seasons" (spring and fall), and how they are influencing streams and the landscape. Warmer weather is persisting in the fall, and scientists have noticed an increase of nutrients in arctic streams during this extended fall season. They hypothesize that this increase is due to a mismatch of senescence (or shutting down for winter) between riparian plants and microbes. Plants use decreasing light as a cue to start senescence, while microbes respond to warm temperatures and keep functioning and producing nutrients. These nutrients can end up in stream waters, if plants are shutting down for the winter and no longer taking up nutrients. Genna monitored plant senescence and stream water chemistry to see if this was true.
"Day to day, I spent a lot of time walking out to our research streams and collecting water samples and observational phenology data and radiometer data with a machine called the UniSpec. The observational phenology sampling consisted of going out to the same six transects and counting the leaves and noting the color of leaves on each of seven plants along each transect. The UniSpec measures Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), which is basically the amount of greenness a plant is reflecting."
"I learned a lot while I was in Alaska—everything from identifying tundra vegetation to what to do if a bear attacks. I learned a great deal about how to set up a research project, how to come up with the different metrics that need to be measured, how often you need to measure each of these variables, and what to do with all the data after it is collected."