EU Scientists Head for the Cold

(July 1st, 2014) While most of their colleagues will be spending their summer walking around in flip-flops and eating ice cream, three researchers from the Czech Republic, Poland and Belgium will be ditching their beachwear and going North to study life in the Arctic.

This summer, three European scientists will embark on a journey half-way across the world for the opportunity to conduct research in the cold but striking Alaskan landscape. This adventure will be supported by INTERACT (International Network for Terrestrial Research and Monitoring in the Arctic), a network of 59 international field stations located along the Arctic Circle, and the US National Science Foundation.

Part of EU’s 7th Framework Programme, the INTERACT project allows European and Russian researchers to establish valuable links with colleagues in different field stations. Until recently, this freedom to travel between countries was not possible for European and US researchers under INTERACT’s Transnational Access Programme. Luckily, this is all about to change as the US National Science Foundation has agreed to sponsor European scientists to travel to Alaska this summer.

“We think it's great to support collaboration and better integration between scientists in the EU and scientists in the US and Canada, who are working on Arctic issues,” says Syndonia Bret-Harte, administrator at Toolik Field Station, part of the Institute of Arctic Biology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and destination for two of the European scientists. A third researcher will be heading to the Barrow Environmental Observatory, located at the junction of the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. “Everybody here is very excited. We're hoping it will lead to some exciting science and some good collaborations for the future,” says Bret-Harte.

Maintaining the tradition of wide research interests at both field stations - ranging from the impact of climate change and adaptations to cold temperature to habitat manipulation and long-term environmental monitoring across land and water – the areas of expertise of the three EU scientists are very different.

The first researcher visiting Toolik Field Station is Agata Buchwal, from the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poland, who will be looking at the morphology of shrub growth in the tundra, and how uniform it is along different parts of the plant. “Understanding how shrubs grow is a subject that a lot of people are interested in, including researchers working at Toolik already,” says Bret-Harte, “so there will be some good opportunities for her to collaborate with people who are already there.”

The second researcher, also visiting Toolik, is from Pierre Rasmont’s group, based at the University of Mons in Belgium. Rasmont runs a large programme assessing the genetic diversity of wild bumblebees across Europe, and he’s keen to expand further north. “My lab is currently working on the climatic risk of bumblebees and we hypothesise that the Arctic species are the most at risk. We hope to expand this project to deal with not only Alaska but also North Canada, Greenland and Russian Arctic,” says Rasmont. “We don’t have anybody working on bees at Toolik right now,” adds Bret-Harte, “so he's filling a gap, which is kind of exciting.”

Finally, the third researcher, Jakub Hruska, from the Czech Geological Survey in the Czech Republic, is travelling to the Barrow Environmental Observatory. Hruska is going to collect fresh water samples to test for the origin of dissolved organic carbon in different water bodies. “There are no big differences from Congo’s tropical rain forest to central European mountains and now we would like to get some samples from the real north, from Alaska,” says Hruska.

This interchange may only be a trial project for now, but Bret-Harte has high hopes for the establishment of long-term mechanisms allowing researchers from all field stations to maintain reciprocal links. This is “an exciting possibility and I think everybody has felt it's been valuable to exchange information from these different field stations,” concludes Bret-Harte. The idea is to “make our science much more collaborative and much more pan-arctic”.

Alex Reis

Photo: Peters

Last Changes: 08.29.2014