Alaska Climate Variation 09

What Are They Doing?

The goal of this project was to reconstruct the behavior of atmospheric circulation, specifically the Aleutian Low pressure system, over the past 10,000 years and to assess how its variability relates to past shifts in climate. In the summer of 2009, the research team recovered sediment cores and conducted monitoring at nine lake sites in southern Alaska. They used the physical and chemical characteristics of the samples they collected to reconstruct a record of past climate in this area. The data was compared with records across the Arctic and sub-Arctic to better understand climate variation overall. Information gathered as part of this project helped researchers better understand modern climate warming in the context of the long-term climate changes that took place in the region.

Additionally, the research team discovered that two of the lakes visited contain unique sediment layers called varves, which provide a lot of information about past climate changes. These are among only a few varved lakes presently known in Alaska.

Where Are They?

The team visited several lakes in both south-cental and southwest Alaska. Allison Lake (in the south-central part of the state near Valdez) is a glaciated watershed where the team extracted sediment cores 3-4 meters in length. In the Ahklun Mountains, in southwest Alaska, they visited Upper Togiak Lake and retrieved previously deployed instrumentation and collected more sediment cores. Both regions are known for mountainous terrain, alpine lakes, and moist coastal climate.

Expedition Map


  The last email I received from Janet Warburton encouraged me to post a final journal entry to let folks know that I made it home safely and to wrap of the story of my research trip. She said, "Just let folks know what you learned, how you feel about the experience, and what your plans are now." The word that bothered me most was "final" so I have been putting the task off. Labor Day Weekend, the official end of summer break around here, has come and gone, so I guess it is finally time to put summer to bed.    I got home safely. I immediately tried to plunge back into the...
At James Monroe Elementary we work together to make sure students and staff follow the 3 R's: Be respectfull, Responsible and Resourceful.  On this expedition I have seen just how important those qualities are. I am here with a team from Northern Arizona University.  The team leader is Dr. Darrell Kaufman, a geologist who teaches and does research in paleoclimatology. Dr Kaufman is also a respected author of numerous scientific articles.  Darrell manning the motor as we headed out to remove a sediment trap from Cascade Lake as soon as the rain and wind died down. With him for the 5th...
I am in my tent, wet and bedraggled, working on thawing my fingers, drying my clothes, and writing yet another journal entry. It is raining again....still. I hung my rain suit on a line in my tent while I was working on the computer during a rainstorm at Allison Lake. It was a balancing act to keep drips from getting onto my clothes, sleeping bag, and equipment. 40 minutes ago the fog was so thick I could barely see the cook tent 15 meters away. Now the fog is gone, there is no wind, and I am trying not to get sleepy from listening to the rain patter on my tent. I am DRY! Heidi and...
We arrived at Allison Lake after a 6 hour drive from Anchorage. From Valdez it took 3 float plane trips (Cordova Air) to get all 5 of us and a lot of gear (really heavy gear) up to the lake. The first job was to set up our tents and then put together our inflatable motor boat and the raft that would be our coring platform. These will be indispensable for the tasks we need to accomplish at this location. Caleb, Megan, Heidi and Darrell work on getting the Banana Smoothie ready for working on long cores. Next jobs: retrieve temperature logger from the ridge at the south end of the lake...
An aerial overview of Southwestern Alaska reveals a concentration of natural lakes. For these to exist there need to be depressions in the landscape below the water table that allow ground water to accumulate. These topographic lows were created by the scouring action of glaciers which also form moraines that dam the glacial valleys to trap water.The attraction of a lake is that it is in the bottom of a drainage basin so it receives water, sediments and organic matter carried by precipitation and melting glaciers. These reflect the environmental changes within the watershed. Scientists use...

Project Information

21 July 2009 to 13 August 2009
Location: Southcentral and Southwest Alaska
Project Funded Title: Coupled Glacial and Lacustrine Evidence for Decadal- to millennial-scale variability in the climatologic Aleutian Low, southern Alaska

Meet the Team

Barney Peterson's picture
James Monroe Elementary School
Everett, WA
United States

Barney Peterson has been a teacher for 19 years and is currently a 4th grade teacher at James Monroe Elementary in Everett Washington. She currently teaches students in an applied learning program in which students use skills and knowledge from core areas to carry out projects in environmental science. In addition to studying native plants, each year, her students raise Coho salmon and maintain a webcam on their tank . Ms. Peterson is a National Board Certified Teacher, has been a Teacher at Sea and a Teacher in the Air with NOAA, and, in 2006, received a Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching. Her interest in paleoclimatology and the International Polar Year is what led her to participate in PolarTREC.

Darrell Kauffman's picture
Northern Arizona University
Flagstaff, AZ
United States

Darrell Kaufman is a professor of geology and environmental science at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. Dr. Kauffman's research focuses on paleoclimatology and the geologic records of past environmental changes and he has conducted climate change research in Alaska for over 20 years. He and his students are currently focusing on records of past climate change and volcanic activity using sediment cores from lakes across southern Alaska.

Caleb Schiff's picture
Northern Arizona University
Flagstaff, AZ
United States

Caleb Schiff is a Senior Research Specialist at Northern Arizona University where he manages the Sedimentary Records of Environmental Change Laboratory. This will be his fifth field season in Alaska, and his primary duties are to help coordinate the field season and laboratory work. Mr. Schiff has pursued climate change research in Alaska, Norway, and Indiana and has participated in three previous PolarTREC collaborations. His interest in outreach and mentoring stems from past research experiences and the advisors he has come to know along the way. When not working in the lab, Mr. Schiff enjoys hiking, baking pizza in his homemade wood-fired pizza oven, and basking in the wonderful Flagstaff weather.

Heidi Roop's picture
University of New Hampshire/ Desert Research Institute
Seattle, WA
United States

Heidi Roop grew up exploring the formerly glaciated landscape of Wisconsin, and today continues her love for studying glaciers and climate variability through research in Antarctica and alpine regions around the world. Spending the austral summer of 2010-2011 in Antarctica, it will be her second season working as a part of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) Divide project. When she is not in Antarctica, she works throughout the Sierra Nevada studying climate variability and hydrology for the United States Geological Survey.