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Hi! I'm Chris Donovan and I live in south western part of the US in Tucson, Arizona. The southern part of Arizona along with the northern part of Mexico make up the Sonoran Desert, a place which is the very opposite of where I am going, the arctic. While the arctic has some of the coldest temperatures on earth the Sonoran Desert has some of the hottest and that's just the beginning! Our plant and animal life here is about as unique as what I will be seeing up north and I can't wait. We have saguaro, cholla and ocotillo cactuses along with gila monsters, horned toad lizards and road runners...yes they really do exist!

I've lived here in Tucson most all my life and have been teaching high school science for 14 years. Presently I teach Ecology, Geology, Biological Systems and Earth Systems. I've also taught Oceanography and Environment Science. My school, Desert View HS has 1,500 students and we're situated on the southern edge of Tucson where we can look out our windows into the desert and the 9,000 ft. mountains in the background. It's a wonderful place to live.

I live with my two dogs and two cats and my daughter Megan who just started college at the University of Arizona this year (go Wildcats !) . Tucson is filled with lots of fun outdoors things to do and during the winter is filled with visitors trying to get away from cold and snow! I meet many of them on the trails around since I do lots of hiking. I love to travel and have adventures in the outdoors and if I can't do that I read a lot about other people who do. I hope you'll be reading along while I experience the arctic and all the exciting science which is going on there in the summer of 2001.

Regional Variability in Carbon and Energy Fluxes: Toward a Global Synthesis

P.I. Walt Oechel, PhD. San Diego State University, Department of Biology



The overall goal of this project, know as ATLAS (Arctic Transitions in the Land-Atmosphere System), is to better understand what role the Arctic terrestrial system (the mountains, tundra, lakes and plants or lack of them) plays in worldwide climate processes. This will help to predict how future warming may affect the arctic system and, potentially, the global climate system. The research includes data from four field sites; Prudhoe Bay, Barrow, Atqasuk and Seward Peninsula Alaska.

I will be part of a team, headed by Dr. Walt Oechel based in Barrow, Alaska. We will be studying carbon fluxes in the Arctic tundra. This will be the third full field season of measurements that the team has collected in the tundra ecosystem of the far northern coastal plain of Alaska. Of central interest are the cause and effect (positive or negative feedback) relationships between the terrestrial (land) system and the atmosphere in determining climate. The Arctic is a fragile ecosystem and any changes to the existing balance among all the spheres; lithosphere (land), atmosphere, hydrosphere (ocean, lakes) and biosphere (plants and animals) become more visible in a short amount of time. For this reason much research is conducted in the Arctic regions rather than in more temperate areas of the earth

The ATLAS project focuses on carbon dioxide processing in the Arctic. Increased levels of CO 2 in the atmosphere, produced mainly by human activities, trap heat in the atmosphere and contribute to an increase in the average global temperature. Studies have shown that tundra can either be a source (producer) or a sink (storage area) of CO2 in different seasons and different years. Because CO2 is one of the so-called greenhouse gases, increased knowledge about its emission and / or uptake in the Arctic will contribute to scientists understanding of regional and global climate changes.

Scientists believe that the Arctic tundra houses a large amount of stored carbon in its soils. During the short growing season, from July to early September, the tundra’s soil thaws enough to provide a growth environment for large amounts of low shrubs, sedges, reindeer mosses, liverworts, and grasses. Photosynthetic processes are a sink (absorber) of carbon. Plants take in CO2 gas to grow. The carbon is sequestered within the plants and when the growing season ends carbon is stored in the soil. It has been thought that the tundra is a primary sink for carbon. However, in the mid 1990’s Dr. Oechel and his research team found that the opposite was occurring. The tundra area was also a source of CO2. Plants were decomposing and releasing back into the atmosphere the carbon that they had taken in. With average global temperature increasing approximately 2 to 4 degrees over the past century it is thought that these stores, when released, may contribute significantly to atmospheric carbon concentrations.

Knowledge of the large-scale processes controlling carbon dioxide fluxes (changes) is crucial to predicting what will happen in the arctic tundra regions. Will the tundra release more greenhouse gases (in the form of carbon) if the climate warms or will more carbon be absorbed? We will be using field measurements (eddy covariance towers and monitored field plots), spectral measurements along three designated transects flown by the SDSU Sky Arrow aircraft, satellite data and modeling results in combination with other ongoing and related projects to determine the regional impacts of global changes on or by terrestrial (land) systems in the Arctic.

I depart Tucson, AZ. on June 4th and will stay in Barrow till the end of July. The rest of the team will be in Barrow through early September. Join us as we conduct this field season. E-mail questions, comments and thoughts to me while I’m in Alaska or after I return home to sunny, warm Arizona! I’ll be happy to respond to you each and every one of you.

To find out more about the Tundra Ecosystem follow the links below:



Barrow, Alaska taken from 7000 ft up by Joe Verfaillie

Be sure to check out the images in the journal entries!

July 2001

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