Kuril Islands Biocomplexity

What Are They Doing?

An international team of American, Japanese, and Russian researchers and students examined the 5,000-year history of human-environmental interactions in the Kuril Island chain of Russia. The team combined studies of archaeology, geology, paleoecology, oceanography, and climatology to investigate the records of human settlement and abandonment on the Islands. They also surveyed the geologic evidence of volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunamis, past vegetation and marine conditions, and climatological evidence of past temperature, sea ice, and storminess. The research team traveled by boat to a number of islands to dig archaeological pits, sample soils, and search for buried artifacts and clues to past activity on the islands. The objectives of the project include understanding the environmental conditions of the past and estimating the degree of human vulnerability and resilience to both sudden and gradual environmental changes.

Where Are They?

The research team traveled by boat to several islands in the Kuril Island archipelago. The Kuril Islands lie between the Kamchatka peninsula of Russia and northern Japan, in the northwest Pacific Ocean.

Expedition Map


This was my second year working with the KBP group. So when reflecting on this summer there are a lot of comparisons that I naturally make. Last year was a summer of transformation for me - I felt that I came home from a journey of both scientific and personal discovery. This year was more transitional - no big discoveries about myself and rather the opportunity to build upon the things that I had learned the year before. Last year, I arrived in Russia without clothes, without a single clue about Cyrillic or the Russian language, with little or no understanding of the culture, having only...
So we had the whole day in Seoul, Korea. Colby and Ben decided that they wanted to hang around the hotel for the day, while Mike and I decided that we would find out from the concierge how to get to downtown Seoul to do some sightseeing. We found out that it was pretty easy - take the hotel shuttle bus back to Incheon airport, runs every 15 minutes; catch the 601-2 bus to downtown, it stops at door 12A and runs every 20 minutes; get off at Gyeongbokgung station downtown. The trip would cost 8000 won, or about $8, and take about an hour each way. We set out at about 8 am, armed with our...
Did I say it was a trip of 40 hours...turns out to be a little bit longer (depending on where you call "home")!On the morning of Wednesday, August 22, Colby, Ben, Mike and I got up at our usual time of about 6:30 or 7 am. We ate up some of what remained of our food - oatmeal, some milk, dried fruit, cheese, sausage - and had some coffee or tea. Then we got to work getting ready to go. We had to finish packing and thoroughly clean the apartment. Our flight was at 4:40 pm, so we knew that we would be picked up sometime around 2 pm. We were still waiting for the paperwork, etc...
For my last journal from Russia, I thought that I would summarize a bit of my experiences and observations of living in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk for a week at each end of the expedition. Shopping In general, shopping is more tedious in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk than in the United States.  One reason has to do with transportation (see below), the other with the way that stores are organized here.   First, in all of the stores, things are behind the counters and you must ask the clerk for them.  This makes shopping more difficult when you don’t speak very much Russian…BUT generally the things that are...
Well, most of the work that we need to do before we head home for Seattle has been accomplished. Colby, Bre, Matt, Mike, Ben and I have spent the last three days at the Sakhalin Regional Museum counting, cataloging, organizing, sorting, checking, verifying, cleaning, photographing and making inventory lists of ceramics, wood, bone or lithic tools, faunal materials, lithic flakes, samples of carbon, sand and tephra and field equipment/gear, including tents, boots, tools, spare sample bags, life jackets, shovels, trowels and first aid supplies. Whew! We needed a finalized list/count of all...

Expedition Resources

Project Information

11 July 2007 to 23 August 2007
Location: Kuril Islands, Russia
Project Funded Title: Biocomplexity and Human-Environment Interactions in the Kuril Islands, Russia

Meet the Team

Misty Nikula's picture
Whatcom Day Academy
Bellingham, WA
United States

Misty Nikula has taught math and science at Whatcom Day Academy in Bellingham, Washington for nine years and in 2004 was awarded two Science Teacher of the Year awards. Ms. Nikula considers herself a scientist first, then a teacher, and encourages her students to see themselves as scientists as well. Ms. Nikula worked as a chemical engineer for five years before returning to school to get her Masters of Education. Ms. Nikula’s own high school science teachers helped her develop a love for learning—a curiosity that inspired her to seek out programs like PolarTREC where she can work in the field with scientists and bring her experiences back to her school and community. Ms. Nikula was a TREC teacher in 2004 (Barrow, Alaska) and 2006 (Kuril Islands, Russia).

Ben Fitzhugh's picture
University of Washington
Seattle, WA
United States

Ben Fitzhugh is a Professor of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Washington in Seattle. Dr. Fitzhugh’s research focuses on maritime/coastal hunter-gatherers in the North Pacific and addresses questions of cultural evolution and human-environmental dynamics. Dr. Fitzhugh teaches classes on Archaeological Method and Theory, North and South American Archaeology, Arctic Archaeology, and the Evolution of Inequality.

Mike Etnier's picture
University of Washington
Seattle, WA
United States

Michael Etnier received his Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Washington in 2002. A zooarchaeologist by training, he uses bones and teeth from archaeological sites to study changes in the ecology of marine ecosystems over the past several thousand years in the North Pacific. Dr. Etnier lives and works in Bellingham, Washington, where he operates a small business that combines his interests in archaeology, marine ecology, and science education.

Jody Bourgeois's picture
Department of Earth and Space Sciences, University of Washington
Seattle, WA
United States

Joanne Bourgeois is a Professor in the Earth and Space Sciences Department at the University of Washington. Her main research interests include sedimentary structures and tectonics. Dr. Bourgeois also teaches and researches the history of geology, believing that exploration of how science is done leads to better science. Dr. Bourgeois has also served a two-year term as a Program Director in the Earth Sciences Division of the National Science Foundation.