Carbon Balance in Warming and Drying Tundra 2016


Now Archived! PolarConnect event with Karen Temple-Beamish and Marguerite Mauritz from Healy, Alaska. You can access this and other events on the PolarConnect Archives site:

What Are They Doing?

The CiPEHR study site in early summer. Photo by John Wood.The CiPEHR study site in early summer. Photo by John Wood. The carbon cycle is the means by which carbon is moved between the world's soils, oceans, atmosphere, and living organisms. Northern tundra, permafrost, ecosystems play a key role in the carbon cycle because the cold, moist, and frozen soils trap organic material and slow their decomposition. This very slowly decaying organic material has caused carbon to build up in the Arctic during the past thousands of years. Historically, the tundra has stored large amounts of carbon because soil decomposition in permafrost was very slow. Now, warming in the Arctic is causing the permafrost to thaw and the tundra to become warmer and dryer. As the earth warms and permafrost thaws, this previously frozen carbon is released as carbon dioxide and goes into the atmosphere, turning the tundra into a source of carbon, rather than a sink. We are using carbon isotope techniques to measure how much carbon comes directly from soil decomposition and how much comes from plant respiration. This will help us understand more about the source/sink dynamics of the tundra. Little is known about respiration in the arctic winter, but our winter sampling is improving. With more data we will have a better idea of how much carbon is lost during the long, dark winter. Together our summer and winter data will help improve global carbon models by adding a more realistic representation of the Arctic. Because carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, any additional carbon dioxide lost from permafrost ecosystems creates a positive feedback that leads to even further warming.

More information about the project can be found here:

Where Are They?

The cabin near Healy, Alaska in winter. Photo by John Wood.The cabin near Healy, Alaska in winter. Photo by John Wood. The research team is based at a remote cabin near the small town of Healy, Alaska, about 100 miles south of Fairbanks, Alaska. The cabin functiones as both a research base and living quarters. There is no running water and all supplies have to be brought in either by snow machine or on foot, depending on conditions. The cabin is also home to a team of sled dogs, so things get pretty noisy around meal times. The sampling site, (Carbon in Permafrost Experimental Heating Research—CiPEHR) is a tundra ecosystem warming experiment located in Alaska's discontinuous permafrost zone.

Expedition Map


Sandia Foothills
Land of Enchantment View of the Sandia Mountains on my morning walk Hit the Ground Running My flight home to New Mexico was smooth sailing, with a last glimpse of Mount Denali from the plane window, sparkling pink with the sun's setting rays. Denali Mountain viewed from the window of the plane School was already in session when I arrived to campus on Monday. My new students welcomed me and were eager to hear about my Alaskan adventure. In my absence this summer, the garden that I direct, has prospered in the capable hands of my garden manager and student employees. Vegetables,...
Dog Yard at Stampede Road
Farewell, Alaska Today is my last day here in the north country. As I walk for the last time along Stampede road to the research cabin, I am surprised at how quickly autumn has arrived here. Seems that in the span of the three weeks since my arrival, the midnight sun has been replaced with hours of dark and the tundra has turned from super-charged green to yellow, red and orange. Tundra Turning Orange with the coming of winter Rubus leaf turning the tundra red Midnight sun replaced by hours of twilight Alaska Life I cannot say that this land would continue to welcome a southerner...
Eddy Covariance Tower
Tundra CHICKENS! Ptarmagan showing her white feathers in anticipation for winter Seven lovely ptarmigans trotted through our site today. They are starting to show their little white bloomers! Winter is coming. Vegetation Survey View of tundra from vegetation survey site Collaboration With Swiss Researchers Marguerite Mauritz and I agreed to help with a Swiss project called "Disentangling Snow and Temperature effects on Plant Communities in Cold Biomes". The project's principle investigators (PI's) want to compare sites from alpine and arctic tundra from around the world, sites...
Friday Night Talk Marguerite Mauritz and I presented to Denali Park visitors on Friday night. Marguerite explained the CiPEHR project, and I talked about PolarTREC and my experience as a research flunky. Marguerite Mauritz presents to Denali visitors Saturday in the Park On my way to the research cabin, I stopped in at Henry's Coffee House. His espresso machine makes excellent lattes, and oh, the cinnamon roll! Karen Temple Beamish enjoying a latte at Henry's Coffee House After Marguerite fixed the LICOR instrument (the one that measures the carbon flux in the chambers),...
Close up of moss
The tundra - home to the cryptogams; moss and lichen Tangled Up in Classification Classifying and organizing living organisms helps us to understand patterns and functions in the natural world. However, the systems we create often get muddled and need to be revised as we acquire more knowledge, an acquisition which is speeding up with genetic sequencing. Cryptogam is a word that was once used to describe those "plants" that did not reproduce by seeds, but reproduced by spores and included lichen, moss, ferns, algae and fungi. But this classification system obviously does not work, as...

Expedition Resources

Project Information

24 July 2016 to 16 August 2016
Location: Approximately 8 miles off the Parks highway, near Healy, Alaska
Project Funded Title: Carbon in Permafrost Experimental Heating and Drying Research (CiPEHR and DryPEHR): understanding the effect of warmer, drier conditions on permafrost thaw and carbon cycling

Meet the Team

Karen Temple-Beamish's picture
Albuquerque Academy
Albuquerque, NM
United States

Karen Temple-Beamish has taught 8th grade Earth Systems Science and high school Environmental Biology at Albuquerque Academy for 18 years. In addition to teaching science, Karen is her school’s sustainability coordinator, environmental club sponsor and director of the Desert Oasis Teaching Garden. Karen has participated in the Woodrow Wilson Environmental Institute in Costa Rica and in the Japan Fulbright Teacher Exchange Program. More recently Karen has become an EE Capacity’s Community Climate Change Fellow, and a 2015 NOAA Climate Steward. Karen received the 2013 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Teaching. She has a B.S. in Biology from the University of New Mexico and a M.S. in Environmental Science from Indiana University.

Marguerite Mauritz's picture
Northern Arizona University
Flagstaff, AZ
United States

Marguerite's research is focused on understanding how warmer temperatures and permafrost thaw will affect carbon losses from arctic tundra. Arctic permafrost soils store large amounts of carbon, which could be released to the atmosphere, in a warmer climate. We expect an increase in carbon losses as warmer conditions promote decomposition of carbon stored in permafrost soils. However, warming and thaw also promote plant growth, which can increase short-term carbon storage. The experiments at the Carbon in Permafrost Experimental Heating Research project (CiPEHR) were established in 2009 to disentangle these opposing factors, and gain a better understanding of arctic tundra carbon dynamics.

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Latest Comments

Meghan had purchased an icecream machine! The rubus was devine. Thanks for all your help.
I felt so well taken care of by everyone on the arcus team and of course the wonderful research team. I will miss them.
Eloquently written Karen! How was the Rubus ice cream and how was it made? Safe travels home!
Karen, Thanks for the great journals, live event, and beautiful photos. It looks like you had quite the experience. Have a safe trip home and we look forward to hearing from you in the future! Janet
I would think it would be harder to measure out a circle quadrat than a square one. I wonder what advantage the circle gives over a square one, in the end. Nice ptarmigan, she will be warm and...