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Arctic Tundra Ecosystems

June 13 – 26, 2006 | Toolik Field Station, Alaska


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Tracy Alley Teacher
Tracy Alley
Madeira Middle School
Madeira, Ohio
Michelle Mack
University of Florida
Gainsville, Florida

Tracy Alley and researcher Michelle Mack visited the Toolik Lake Field Station located in the North Slope, Alaska. In its first field season, this project was focused on understanding the effects of increased shrub abundance on nutrient cycling in arctic tundra ecosystems. Nutrient cycling is the continuous cycling through an ecosystem of minerals, compounds, or elements that promote biological growth or development. In the Arctic, a widespread change from tundra to shrub-dominated vegetation appears to be underway. Winter could be critical to this tundra-to-shrub transition. Larger and denser shrubs trap more snow, which insulates the ground like a big blanket, leading to warmer soil temperatures during winter. This could permit greater breakdown of plant matter during the winter and release of nutrients normally trapped within the soil.

The Toolik Field Station (TFS) is located over 250 km above the Arctic Circle, and is administered by the Institute of Arctic Biology (IAB) at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF). The mission of TFS is to "support research and education that creates a greater understanding of the Arctic and its relationship to the global environment."

Tracy Alley teaches science, math, social studies, and language arts to 5th and 6th grade students at Madeira Middle School in Madeira, Ohio. In addition to teaching at Madeira Middle School, Tracy is also in her fifth year as a part-time college professor at the University of Cincinnati, teaching courses to pre-service teachers. Tracy is very excited about the TREC experience and engaging in the scientific process. She is thrilled to be able to share her personal stories, experiences, and pictures with students and teachers about a part of the world few understand.

Michelle Mack is an Assistant Professor of Botany at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Michelle is originally from Seattle, WA, so despite her current home in Florida, she is pre-adapted to the cold and wet weather that is often experienced during arctic summers. Michelle has been working on projects in arctic Alaska and Russia for the past five summers to better understand the effects of climate change on arctic ecosystems. Michelle’s research interests center upon understanding the impacts of plant communities on ecosystem and global processes such as nitrogen (N) cycling and climate feedbacks. Through her TREC experience, Michelle hopes to learn more about how to communicate her research to a non-scientific audience.

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