The Faces of 2012 Research in Denali
Exciting research of many kinds happened in Denali in 2012. Scroll down to see the "faces of research" (and read about the scientific and scholarly projects) active in Denali in 2012. Projects are arranged in approximate order in which the researchers' field work began. The research projects carried out by the resources staff of the park are not included in the gallery below (seek this information elsewhere on Nature and Science and History and Culture web pages). Please note: 2012 research fellows and the researchers-in-residence for 2012 have their faces and projects posted on the following pages:
Greg Colligan, a wildlife technician in 2011 and a park volunteer last winter, initiated a pilot study to learn about wolverines in Denali. Individual wolverines can be identified from photos because of the distinctive markings on throats and chests. To "capture" wolverines non-invasively, Greg set up remote cameras at five stations (Riley Creek, Savage River (2), Teklanika River, and Toklat River) where alligator clips might also snag wolverine hair. During January to March 2012, over 5,000 pictures of four wolverines were collected, and hair from two wolverines. DNA from the hair will be analyzed for wolverine genotype. During part of the study, temperatures ranged from -46 to -25 degrees F. Greg and assistants traveled to the stations by ski (total 70 miles) and dog sled (313 miles).
Courtesy William Brumbaugh
To field test the use of devices that capture air pollutants as rain water flows through resin in tubes, Brumbaugh has set up eight collection devices on tripods (quadpods) at two sites near Park Headquarters. They are located near the air quality station, so the data from the two methods can be compared. The "passive station does not need electricity to operate any suction devices or pumps. If the devices work well at providing similar data, they will be deployed in remote locations in Alaska.
Courtesy Gretchen Roffler
U.S. Geological Survey, Alaska Science Center, Anchorage
Dynamics of the Denali Caribou Herd
Photo courtesy Seth Campbell
Karl Kreutz and collaborators
In this project, Karl Kreutz and several collaborators including Seth Campbell are conducting centerline and cross section ice-depth profiles using low- to mid-frequency ground-penetrating radar (GPR) on several Denali glaciers. In 2012, the field team created profiles of the Traleika and Muldrow glaciers. When the study resumes in 2014, the group gather profiles from other glaciers, i.e., the Kahiltna, Ruth, and Eldridge.
Courtesy Chris Jung
Christopher Jung, Ph.D., University of Alaska Anchorage, recruited climbers aged 18 to 65 to volunteer in a study to determine if melatonin, a hormone produced naturally by the body, can help climbers sleep better, so they can more safely perform tasks at altitude. Volunteers for the study participate for two nights while acclimatizing at the 14,200-ft Camp. They take a pill (either melatonin (5mg) or placebo) prior to going to bed, sleep while wearing a headband that measures sleep activity and a finger clip that measures blood oxygen. In the morning, participants take simple tests that measure cognitive function and reaction time.
Photo courtesy Scott McIntosh
Scott McIntosh, M.D. is conducting a study of two different doses of acetazolamide/Diamox, used to prevent acute mountain
Photo courtesy Cameron Wake
Since 2008, Cameron Wake and colleagues, including Erich Osterberg, Karl Kreutz, and Seth Campbell, have looked for sites in the Alaska Range to drill a deep ice core. The snow chemistry from the core will be a window into the climates of the past. The ideal site is where ice layers have not been rearranged. For the last four years, the field crews have dug snow pits, taken snow samples, installed temporary weather stations, and drilled shallow ice cores from several sites in Denali. Based on their reconnaissance, the preferred site is a saddle near Mount Hunter. In 2012, the researchers retrieved weather station data, repositioned the station for another year, dug one new snowpit, and set up a temporary GPS base. They are applying for a new permit for 2013 to drill the deep core.
Courtesy Charles Holmes
The National Park Service contracted with Charles Holmes to conduct a two-year inventory of cultural resources in the Lake Minchumina area. In 2012, the goals of the project included: investigate and map relic shorelines of ancient Lake Minchumina, and (2) identify archeological sites associated with ancestral Lake Minchumina (e.g., the lake basin, Muddy River flats, Muddy river and Foraker River drainage systems, Beaverlog Lakes region, and Seven Mile Hill region). During the fieldwork, Holmes and a small field crew collected sediment samples along the Muddy River and tested a historic/prehistoric site at Lake Minchumina.
Trey Simmons makes repeat visits to approximately a dozen streams along the park road each year, sampling macroinvertebrates, diatoms, and fish. He also installs temporary temperature probes to record the stream temperature over the summer. The second aspect of stream sampling is to sample streams that represent a random selection of streams park-wide. Some of these streams can be reached by hiking from the park road; more remote streams are sampled when Simmons can arrange helicopter access.
Langdon Smith, Laura Karosic
First, Langdon Smith and his research graduate student Laura Karosic gathered background information about National Park Service (NPS) policy about climate change (e.g., Climate Change Response Strategy). Then, while visiting Denali, they conducted a survey of visitors (those who had attended a interpretive program and those who had not) to determine the response of visitors to ideas about climate change, sustainability, and LEED; whether the NPS should teach park visitors about climate change; and how likely visitors are to incorporate "green" practices when they return home.
Courtesy Lisa White
Dragos Zaharescu (and mountain climber Lisa White)
Dragos Zaharescu collaborates with mountain climbers who collect small-size rock samples at several elevations, if they can safely do that during their climb of Mount McKinley (Denali). The rocks are placed in sterile plastic bags until they can be shipped to the laboratory. Samples are being collected around the world to determine what kinds of microbes may be contributing to rock weathering in extreme environments such as at high altitudes.
Courtesy of Derrick Taff
Peter Newman and Derrick Taff
In 2012, these researchers continued a project about natural and human-caused sound in the park. They conducted two types of surveys: (1) qualitative surveys of mountaineers returning to Talkeetna to inquire about the sounds (natural and human-caused) they experienced while climbing Mount McKinley (Denali) and what their perceptions of these sounds were; and (2) computer-based surveys of hikers on the McKinley Bar and Triple Lakes trails and hikers returning to the Backcountry Information Center, in order to determine what levels and frequencies of human-caused sounds interfered with visitor enjoyment of natural sounds.
Courtesy Corrine Knapp
Corrie Knapp, a graduate student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, is conducting 40 open-ended ethnographic interviews with rural community members (in Lake Minchumina, Telida, Nikolai, McGrath, Cantwell, Healy, and McKinley Village) and 20 interviews with National Park Service employees. The project goal is to understand what observations individuals have about climate change, how these individuals perceive the ecological systems (Denali park environment), and what data and information are being collected or have been collected that can answer some management-related questions about sustainable management and subsistence.
Photo courtesy Pascal Eusemann
Pascal Eusemann studied white spruce at treeline, in order to determine whether the enhanced or decreased growth at treeline is due to genetic and/or environmental factors. The researcher worked near the Rock Creek drainage to collect tree increment cores and DNA samples from a few spruce needles from a total of 500-600 adult white spruce trees in two plots.
Photo Courtesy Martin Schnittler
Martin Schnittler use the same two plots near Riley Creek that Euseman did to determine the spatial distribution of plasmodial slime molds that grow on tree bark. Schnittler collected slime molds from both plots by collecting dead wood and leaf litter in the plots, and by collecting bark samples from the 500-600 white spruce trees (that Eusemann took increment cores from for age). Schnittler wants to answer these questions: Do older trees accumulate a greater diversity of slime molds? Do all trees in a stand have slime molds (because their airborne spores get to all trees)? Is there any evidence of competition or niche exclusion in slime molds (i.e., are there some species that do not occur together)?
Courtesy Rachel Isaacs
Rachel Isaacs, a graduate student at the Pennsylvania State University, gathered seedling and sapling information in 5 meter x 5 meter plots along elevational transects at treeline in several park locations. She also took tree increment cores and recorded physical parameters at the plots. The goal is to determine the biological response of black and white spruce to climate warming at treeline.
Photo courtesy Sean Bemis
Seam Bemis (and Sara Federschmidt)
Seam Bemis and his graduate student Sara Federschmidt are studying the past seismic activity at the Hines Creek fault near the park entrance. This research uses temporary soil pits to expose the walls of layers of soil and gravel. By looking for disruptions in the layers of soil and gravel, they find evidence of past earthquakes that shifted the layers. Not only is it valuable to learn about past earthquakes for scientific reasons, but the findings will also be given to the Alaska Department of Transportation to make sure that the reconstruction of the Riley Creek Bridge (near the Hines Creek fault) can withstand the seismic activity that is likely to occur in the vicinity.
Photo courtesy of PBO
Kyle Bohnenstiel and Max Enders
Beginning in 2004, the Plate Boundary Observatory established an integrated network of Earth-measuring instruments in Alaska and the western coast of North American. Two of the 140 stations in Alaska were located in Denali (on Wickersham Dome and near the Tokosha Communications site) near existing park installations. Data from these stations helps answer questions about plate tectonics and determine rates and direction of movements along faults such as the Denali fault. The two researchers arrange periodic visits to the stations in Denali to make sure the stations are relaying data.
Kenelm Philip is finalizing a field guilde to the butterflies of Alaska and is illustrating the guide with photos he has taken of each species. His goal in Denali was to take a photo of Parnassius phoebus (or Phoebus Apollo, a kind of swallowtail) near Highway Pass where he has documented a colony in the past. Unfortunately, Philip did not see any of the butterflies that were expected to be freshly-emerged and in-flight in July during his park visit. Check the license plate of his vehicle.
Photo courtesy Tony Fiorillo
Tony Fiorillo has returned to the park each year since the first dinosaur track was found in 2005. His focus is to better understand the high-latitude terrestrial environments that supported Alaskan dinosaurs. In 2012, he focused his searches for dinosaur and other fossils in the upper Riley Creek and Tattler Creek/Big Creek/Sable Mountain areas. He has published his recent findings about the fossil bird diversity and tracks of a four-toed therizinosaur found in the park.
Photo (not taken in Denali) courtesy Kelly Goonan
Kelly Goonan used a social science visitor survey to learn about visitors and their connections to park places, their knowledge level about park resources, and their perceptions of a series of photos (e.g., photo at left) that were designed to show different levels of social trail development, resource damage, trail condition, and campsites in relation to vegetation cover.
Photo courtesy Rika Mouw
Rika Mouw was one of Denali's Artists-in-Residence in 2012. Her artistic creations usually incorporate needles, leaves, twigs, and other natural materials. During her residency at the East Fork Cabin and her hikes in the park, she gathered small amounts of these materials. Her donated art piece to the park is likely to include some of all of these collected items. One temporary art piece, she created while in the park, was a wreath of fireweed stalks. She photographed the wreath over several days to show the time sequence of how the wreath seeds and fluff emerged from the slender pods.
Photo courtesy Alexander Milner
Sandy Milner has returned to Denali for many years to sample the macroinvertebrates (mayflies, stoneflies, and caddis flies) in about a dozen rivers and streams, including large glacial rivers such as the Teklanika, rivers historically fed by glacial meltwater and seasonal snowpack such as the Savage and Sanctuary rivers, spring-fed streams such as Stony Creek, small stable streams such as Tattler Creek, small unstable streams such as Highway Pass Creek, and creeks previously affected by mining, such as Moose Creek. The macroinvertebrate communities reflect and provide an integrated picture of the watershed landscape, i.e., snowmelt, stream type, weather, and riparian vegetation, and respond to climate or other changes.
Victor Van Ballenberghe
Victor Van Ballenberghe has been studying the ecology of moose in Denali since 1980. In 2012, his research focused on the fall moose rut, and what variables determine individual reproductive success in moose. He is gathering data on the choice of mates by females. He has already documented that some female vocalizations can induce aggression among males during the rut.
Roland French and a field crew used seismic reflection techniques to learn more about the Park Road fault that runs near the Riley Creek Bridge. Along four transects, geophones were attached at 10-foot intervals to a long cable system hooked up to a seismograph. A field assistant used a post-pounder to create "earthquakes". The seismic waves travelled through the bedrock and overlying materials to the geophones. The goal is to provide sufficient information about the fault to the Alaska Department of Transportation, such that the new Riley Creek Bridge will be earthquake-safe.
Did You Know?
Warmer temperatures have led to dramatic thawing of permafrost. Thaw releases carbon, as once-frozen materials decompose, but allows increased plant growth. Researchers in Denali are studying whether thawing permafrost will increase or decrease world-wide carbon emissions.