Nutrient Transport in Arctic Watersheds


Melissa's PolarConnect event on 17 May 2012 is now archived. It is available in the PolarConnect Archives.

What Are They Doing?

Stream flowing through arctic tundraStream flowing through arctic tundra The research team evaluated how changes in water and nutrient cycles on land can affect stream networks in the Arctic. Changing climate in the Arctic may contribute to increases in the transport of nutrients to river networks and oceans by causing the release of nutrients from thawing permafrost, altering precipitation patterns, increasing rates of biogeochemical reactions, or expanding storage capacity in thawed soils. These changes may have far-reaching effects because flowing water connects land to downstream aquatic ecosystems.

Since the flowpaths connecting terrestrial ecosystems to stream networks remain poorly understood, the group focused on transport and reaction of water and solutes within water tracks, which are linear regions of surface and subsurface flow that connect hillslopes to streams and account for up to 35% of watershed area in arctic tundra. The research increased our understanding of the role of hillslopes in connecting terrestrial ecosystems to stream networks.

Where Are They?

Toolik Field Station, AlaskaToolik Field Station, Alaska The research team lived and worked out of Toolik Field Station, located in the northern foothills of the Brooks Range in northern Alaska. Toolik Field Station is operated by the Institute of Arctic Biology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and has hosted hundreds of researchers and students every year since 1975.

Expedition Map


I was finally able to get though some video editing. So here you go! This first video is from the day I spent in the helo with the Fishscapes project in the Kuparuk River Valley. The Fishscapes project is a collaboration between the Marine Biological Lab at Woods Hole and University of Connecticut and are studying the Arctic grayling (Thymallus arcticus) populations. The video will also give you a aerial view of the Water Tracks project that I was working on. The next video is a look at some of the wildlife I saw during my time in the Arctic.
Hot in Boulder
Leaving Alaska I boarded the plane in Anchorage with mixed emotions. I can’t wait to see my husband, but I will really miss the Alaskan mountains and tundra. My five weeks in the Arctic was an incredible experience. I feel very luck to be a part of the polarTREC program. I am so thankful for the opportunity and am really excited about creating lessons to share my new knowledge and understanding with my students. I will miss this view of the Brooks Range that I saw everyday for five weeks For now, I will have to rely on my fellow polarTREC teachers who are still at Toolik, Susan Steiner (...
Allie harvesting some greens for market.
The Homestead I just spent a week in Chickaloon, AK with my sister Allie and her husband Jed on their farm that sits between the Chugach and Talkeetna Mountains in the Matanuska Valley, about 1.5 hours northeast of Anchorage. These two (and their dog Dillon and 25 chickens) are truly living a sustainable lifestyle as they live off the land of their solar powered homestead. They have built everything on the land by hand including milling most the lumber themselves. The homestead they have created is truly impressive and consists of the main house (pictured below), two sheds, an outhouse, a...
Green up
Departing Toolik I have been at Toolik for almost five weeks and I sadly said goodbye this morning and headed south on the Dalton Hwy. I did have a little time to hang out with the two other polarTREC teachers Sue and Nick into the wee hours of the morning (who needs sleep anyway?). Green up has already happened on the south side of the Brooks Range. As we headed south, the tundra and forests came alive and so did the mosquitoes! I departed just in time to miss the legendary mosquitoes. There was a lot of construction as we drove the 357 miles down to Fairbanks. This flagger was...
The helicopter!
Today’s Journal Yesterday I spent the day riding on a helicopter! The helicopter! I tagged along with Cameron Mackenzie and Heidi Golden who are part of the Fishscape project, which is a collaboration between the Marine Biological Lab at Woods Hole and University of Connecticut. They are studying the Arctic grayling (Thymallus arcticus) populations in a few of the rivers around Toolik and trying to get a sense of how these fish use the landscape. Cam is focusing more on the individual movement patterns of the fish, while Heidi is using fish genetics to look at landscape differences over...

Expedition Resources

Project Information

6 May 2012 to 9 June 2012
Location: Toolik Field Station, Alaska
Project Funded Title: Climate-mediated coupling of hydrology and biogeochemistry in arctic hillslopes

Meet the Team

Melissa Barker's picture
Alexander Dawson School
Lafayette, CO
United States

Melissa Barker teaches Biology and Environmental Science at the Alexander Dawson School outside of Boulder, CO. She is in her 14th year of teaching science and holds a Masters in Natural Science and Science Education from the University of Northern Colorado. Ms. Barker strives to help her students connect biological concepts to their own lives and to experience and engage in the process of science. She loves to extend her students’ learning outside of the classroom. Her students have studied marine biology in Florida, snow science in the Colorado backcountry, and organic agriculture in their own backyard. Ms. Barker directs the experiential education program and founded Dawson’s cyclocross team. When not teaching Ms. Barker is an avid bike racer and enjoys getting into the wilderness on foot and skis with her husband.

Tamara Harms's picture
University of Alaska Fairbanks
Fairbanks, AK
United States

Dr. Tamara Harms is a research associate at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. Trained as an ecosystem ecologist and biogeochemist, Tamara conducts studies of nutrient cycling in watersheds, often focused at land-water interfaces. Her research in the arctic and sub-arctic has focused on the consequences of climate change for cycling of nitrogen, an essential nutrient to all living things. To study nutrient cycles, Tamara analyzes the nutrients present in soils and water, conducts experiments to measure rates of microbial processes that transform nutrients, and identifies how nutrients are transported from land to water. In particular, she is interested in potential consequences of thawing permafrost for nutrient cycles.

Sarah Godsey's picture
Idaho State University
Pocatello, ID
United States

Dr. Sarah Godsey is an assistant professor of catchment hydrology in Geosciences at Idaho State University. She is interested in studying how water resources respond to land use change and climate change, especially in mountainous and polar regions. She has worked in the Arctic studying how water and energy flows change in degraded permafrost for the past few years. To understand water resources in permafrost, she collects data on water flows, soil moisture, thaw depths, temperatures and water table depths.