Carbon Balance in Warming and Drying Tundra 2012


PolarTREC Teacher expedition to Mt Kilimanjaro!
John Wood participated in a GLOBE Seasons and Biomes expedition to Mt. Kilimanjaro. The team was in Africa from 18 September - 3 October, 2012. The team also posted journals through the Globe Xpedition Page.

Webinars from Mt. Kilimanjaro
John Wood's Kilimanjaro expedition hosted two webinars - 26 September 2012 and 1 October 2012. All webinar archives are available on the PolarConnect Archives Page

What Are They Doing?

Setting up tundra experimentsSetting up tundra experiments The carbon cycle is the means by which carbon is moved between the world’s soils, oceans, atmosphere, and living organisms. Northern tundra ecosystems play a key role in the carbon cycle because the cold, moist, and frozen soils trap rotting organic material in the soils. This very slowly decaying organic material has caused carbon to build up in the Arctic during the past thousands of years. Now warming in the Arctic is slowly causing the tundra to become warmer and dryer. As a result, the trapped carbon leaves the soil as carbon dioxide and goes into the atmosphere.

The research team studied changes to the carbon cycle in northern forests by setting up experiments that simulate a warmer and dryer tundra. When they arrived at the field site they first removed snow from the research sites and then set up an automated carbon dioxide measurement system and warming chambers. After the set-up, the team took field measurements of carbon dioxide exchange between the soil and atmosphere, permafrost thaw depth, and water table depth. In addition, they took plant and soil samples and studied the timing of plant life events, also known as phenology. In 2012, the team also took methane and radiocarbon measurements.

The experiment was part of the Carbon in Permafrost Experimental Heating Research (CiPEHR) project. The results of their research will help in predicting how the warming and drying tundra will affect the carbon balance, and how the release of additional carbon dioxide will affect global climate change.

Where Are They?

Ptarmigan on the tundraPtarmigan on the tundra The research team was based at a remote cabin near the small town of Healy, Alaska, about 100 miles south of Fairbanks, in central Alaska. They traveled via four-wheel drive roads to various sampling sites in the boreal forest and foothills of the Alaska Range. The research sites were within the framework of the Carbon in Permafrost Experimental Heating Research (CiPEHR), an ecosystem warming experiment located in Alaska’s discontinuous permafrost zone.

Expedition Map


It is our first day on Kili and what a wonderful beginning to an expedition! We left the hotel this morning with great anticipation and a bunch of energy. When we arrived at the gate it was much more busy than I had imagined. Everyone needs to check into the park by signing the book. Of course Mike knew about all of this and took care of it all while the other groups were standing in line. We were in and out and on our way up the road to the starting point. One of the ways you know you have a good outfit company for the expedition, is by seeing how far their vehicles will take you up...
After a pretty good night sleep we were up at 6:30 to get packed, have breakfast, and hit the trail. The morning air was cool but you could tell it would probably warm up before noon. It did warm up which made some of the steep ridges down right hot! By the time we had finished lunch however, the clouds had moved in from over the mountain and we spent the next hour or two walking in the rain and hail. We moved from the rain forest biome into the heath zone. The line that divides these zones was very clear. In a matter of ten steps the large trees and vines of the forest were gone and...
I thought I was going to die!!! The hike today brought us from the heath zone into the moirlands zone. The vegetation continues to change as we gain altitude. From the Shira Plateau we slowly worked out way up the ridge and onto one of the lava flow areas that have since been glaciated and cleared. When we began this morning the peak of the mountain looked untouchable, but by the end of our hike it is amazing to see how far we have come and how much closer our goal is. We still have a long way to go and more elevation to encounter! During our one stop to collect water samples and take...
Elephants on the Serengeti
I want to thank everyone for their first postings and let you all know that I am having a little trouble with getting on line to answer all of the questions. I have started replying but it will be some time. You can hold your questions until I post from the mountain, which should be by Tuesday or Wednesday. My connection should be good then. In the meantime please look at my pre-thoughts about the expedition and the one photo I have up. There is so much to talk about, and I will get to it when I can get a good connection. Be patient and watch for more info! This expedition represents a...
After leaving California in the afternoon, and then an 11 hour flight to Holland, we are delayed and waiting for a plane to show up. I have met many of the members of the expedition now and it looks like a great group of folks. More to follow! I see a plane!

Expedition Resources

Project Information

5 July 2012 to 20 July 2012
Location: Approximately 8 miles off the Parks highway, near Healy, Alaska
Project Funded Title: Effects of warming and drying on tundra carbon balance

Meet the Team

John Wood's picture
Talbert Middle School
Huntington Beach, CA
United States

John Wood teaches middle school science at Talbert Middle School in Fountain Valley, California. I am so happy and proud of our district and students. I have been given the opportunity to visit and speak at every school in our district and I continue to be amazed at the positive response from the kids! They are excited to learn about the polar regions and the science that is being conducted there. I feel it is critical to our future that these children become motivated in understanding how the world works and the challenges they will face in the near future. The students have the imaginations and the energy needed to tackle STEM issues in an ever shrinking world. My goal is to connect my district and community with the current issues in cryosphere research that already affects us all.

Being able to teach children current, real-life science and make those connections between education and research has been a wonderful experience for me. By sharing the Erebus expedition while actually living and working on an active volcano has excited my teaching and my students. And then being fortunate enough to skype with students from the IPY Oslo Conference the following year really started a continuous dialog around our community that I am working to expand.

When I'm not teaching, I enjoy competing in triathlons and marathons and spending time with my wife and two daughters.

Susan Natali's picture
University of Florida
Gainesville, FL
United States

Sue Natali is an assistant scientist at Wood Hole Research Center (WHRC). Her research focuses on the interactions and feedbacks between plant and soil communities and their environment and seeks to better understand the impacts of environmental change on ecological processes and biogeochemical cycles. Dr. Natali conducts her research in boreal and tundra ecosystems in Alaska and Siberia. Learn more about Dr. Natali and her work at the WHRC webpage.