Tundra Plants in a Changing Climate


A PolarConnect live event was held with Keri and the research team on 16 August 2010. Access the archive of the event!

What Are They Doing?

The International Tundra Experiment (ITEX) is a network of science experiments set up to study the impact of climate change on plants that live in tundra and alpine ecosystems. Plants at each site are exposed to simulated warmer temperatures using an open top chamber, which acts like a mini greenhouse, trapping heat close to the plants. Research teams at more than two dozen circumpolar sites carry out similar experiments, allowing scientists to compare the plants responses to warmer climate conditions.

The research team visited two ITEX sites in Alaska, Barrow and Atqasuk, to collect data on the plant’s lifecycle and growth. They also observed the makeup of the plant community and other parts of the ecosystem. The knowledge gained by the network helps to increase the understanding of changes that may take place in tundra plant communities. The information also helped scientists better understand the exchange of carbon and water across the land and atmosphere in a changing arctic climate.

Where Are They?

The team worked out of the communities of Barrow and Atqasuk, both located on Alaska’s North Slope near the shoreline of the Arctic Ocean. Barrow is a small community of approximately 4,500 people, and Atqasuk has just over 200 people. The climate of both communities is arctic, with the daily minimum temperature dropping below freezing 300 days a year. Both communities are primarily inhabited by Inupiat Eskimos, and neither is accessible by road.

Expedition Map


I’m on the final leg of my 25-hour trip home and I’ll be landing in Columbus in less than a few minutes. Coming back to the “real world,” as we jokingly referred to the Lower 48 and home while on the Slope, has been quite an experience so far. We decided to leave the airport in Anchorage and venture downtown since we had an eight-hour layover. The city itself was just as beautiful as I had remembered it from my brief visit in July, only this time everything seemed so odd and foreign. I felt like an alien from another planet. It felt strange to walk on paved sidewalks and the cars drove so...
In a few short hours I will begin the 25-hour journey home. I'm leaving the Slope and I'm sad. I'm nervous about what it will feel like to drive 65 miles per gallon and being overwhelmed by the plethora of shopping when I get home. The 90 degree weather will probably feel like more than 100 degrees since I've been hanging in the frigid tundra (although it has made it into the 50's on rare occasions.) I hope that I can someday return to the Slope and learn more about the science that happens here to share with the world. The last two and a half months have been harder than I could have ever...
Today after we got back from the field, I continued the identifaction and pressing process of the plants I plan to take back to school to share with my students. I had started this a few days ago and now I wanted to finish up the process. It seemed simple enough: 1. Lay out plants in plant press 2. Identify plants 3. Create pretty labels 4. Laminate plants Unfortunately, I mixed up steps one and two...oops. It is much more difficult (if not impossible) to identify a pressed plant. I should have identified the plant first and then pressed it so that I could more acutely tell the plants. My...
So I was asked to talk about ITEX in five high school science classes... I was pretty nervous because even though I've been five for five weeks, the longer I'm here, the more I learn that I don't know. But, it went well and I think I learned more than the students. Barrow High School has over 200 students. They are called "the whalers." BHS is a lot like many other high school across the country. There are many sports including: football, volleyball, cheer-leading, cross country, basketball, and wresting. They have band and drama. There are vocational classes like auto-shop and carpentry....
Slicing Some Lichen
Jeremy and I spent most of the day collecting lichen in the tundra. Lichen is quite possibly my favorite type of organism in the tundra. It is so unique and unlike anything I have ever considered a plant, but it’s only part plant. (We’ll get into that later.) There were brief units in my science classes on them, but I had the opportunity to see, touch, smell, and take them apart...until now. Lichens come in all shapes and sizes. They are green, beige, black, white, brown, orange, eggshell, and grey. They are short, tall, wide, narrow, circular, stringy, tangled, and straight. They look like...

Expedition Resources

Project Information

16 July 2010 to 23 August 2010
Location: Barrow Alaska
Project Funded Title: Collaborative Research: Sustaining and Amplifying the ITEX AON through Automation and Increased Interdisciplinarity of Observations

Meet the Team

Keri Rodgers's picture
The Gateway School of Environmental Research and Technology
Bronx, NY
United States

Keri Rodgers teachers at and was on the planning committee of The Gateway School of Environmental Research and Technology since its inception in 2003. Using an interdisciplinary approach to learning that integrates math, science, history, art, language, and maintenance of the campus ecological garden, she has designed and implemented the Spanish and Environmental Studies curriculums used at the school.

Bob Hollister's picture
Grand Valley State University
Allendale, MI
United States

Dr. Robert (Bob) Hollister is a biologist and ecologist at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. He is interested in the interactions between humans and natural ecosystems, and his area of expertise is vegetation change. Dr. Hollister conducts his research in research in the wetlands of Michigan, on tundra in northern Alaska, and in tropical dry forests of Puerto Rico. To learn more about Dr. Hollister, please visit his faculty biography page (http://www.gvsu.edu/biology/index.cfm?id=01231D74-B48B-B025-D10ECE66ECEC...).