Kuril Islands Biocomplexity 08

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, 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 searched for buried artifacts and clues to past activity on the islands. The objectives of the project included understanding the environmental conditions of the past and estimating the degree of human vulnerability and resilience to both sudden and gradual environmental changes. For more information about the Kuril Biocomplexity Project, check out the project website here.

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


Here is one final "Mystery Sound" posting, of something we heard quite a bit this summer. If you've ever been camping in the Pacific Northwest, then you've probably heard this at one time or another yourself! Mystery Audio http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=okeJdoeWv_U As with the other "Mystery Sounds" I've posted, the video feed can be accessed by clicking this link:  Mystery Sound Video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KGj7_j9YO70 ---Dr. E 
At the time I am writing this, I am safely back at my home in Bellingham. All the other team members have also either returned home or moved on to their next field season (Jody, Bre, and Andy are now in Sicily!). And most of us, by now, should have about recovered from jet lag and the 18 hour time difference!First, I wanted to apologize to all the "Ask the Team" askers: sorry it took me so long to get to your responses. Our final few days in Y-S were pretty hectic getting all of our samples ready to ship home. And then, once we started on our return trip, I didn't have the time...
Here is some audio of something we got to see on a recent field trip on our single "day off" in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. Can you guess what it is? I'll give you a hint: it is cold and slippery. But it might not be what you think it is! Mystery Audio http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4MBgBgkle3g Mystery Sound Video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y9cZSLNgULU I'll be making a more detailed journal posting tomorrow about the field trip (which was very neat) and our final days in Y-S. Which is to say that we have all departed Y-S, and are on our way HOME (with all of our samples)! ---...
Since my last posting a few days ago, we have successfully (and safely) returned to solid ground. We steamed 670 km (415 miles) across the Sea of Okhotsk from our last field site (Kompaneskii, north Urup Island) back to port at Korsakov, and then by vehicle/s north up the highway to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. We were told to expect 2.5 days for the crossing. But for lots of reasons-lighter loads of fuel, food, and water; a steady tail wind; and the motivation of heading home - Iskatel made great time, and we were back in Korsakov after about 1.75 days.So it was an easy crossing. But it wasn't...
We are steaming across the Sea of Okhotsk under sunny skies, making good time with the help of a gentle tail wind. This time we are headed west, on our return to Korsakov. I'll hopefully make a couple more posts from Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. But this will be my last posting sent via satellite phone. After this, I will be able to send postings from the internet café in town.Throughout the summer I have talked a lot about how we find sites, how we decide where to dig, and what we do when we make that decision. Well, lest you think that we always know exactly what we're doing, I think I should...

Project Information

9 July 2008 to 1 September 2008
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.