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    National Park & Preserve Alaska

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  • Road Closure: Friday, September 26

    On Friday, September 26, a contractor will be working on a utility below the park road near Headquarters. Therefore, the road will be closed to all vehicle traffic at roughly Mile 3. The road will re-open on Saturday morning.

Fellowship Recipients and their Projects


There are 11 research fellowships awarded for 2011 (6 Discover Denali Research Fellowships and 5 Murie Science and Learning Center Research Fellowships).

Please scroll down to read the names of research fellows and brief descriptions of their scientific studies (listed alphabetically first by type of fellowship, then by researcher's last name).
Mac Campbell

Mac Campbell will determine if Denali blackfish share more genetic markers with fish from the Tanana or Kuskokwim drainages (based on past dispersal patterns)

Photo courtesy of Mac Campbell

Discover Denali 2011 Research Fellowship:

Matthew Campbell, University of Alaska Fairbanks
Denali National Park and Preserve
Population genetics of Denali National Park blackfish (Esociformes, Esocidae: Dallia)

Matthew Campbell, a graduate student in the Department of Biology and Wildlife at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, proposes to collect 20 to 30 Blackfish (Dallia pectoralis) from lakes near the headwaters of the Kuskokwim and Tanana Rivers. Campbell will use analyses of genetic variation to compare the sampled Blackfish to other populations of the species found in downstream areas of both rivers. By learning about living populations of Blackfish, a fish present in Beringia (an area encompassing eastern Siberia and most of Alaska that includes the Bering land bridge), we will better understand how Blackfish and other Beringian aquatic organisms migrated or dispersed among historic drainage connections in response to changes in climate, landscape, and drainage patterns.

Specifically, Campbell plans to sample fish tissues and whole fish from Blackfish Lake (southwest of Lake Minchumina) and Starr Lake (east of Lake Minchumina). In each sampled fish, he will examine genetic variation at 20 or more microsatellite loci, and at two regions of mitochondrial DNA to determine genetic profiles of each fish. Using analysis procedures that group fish according to their genetic makeup, Campbell can determine the number of genetically distinct Blackfish populations present in the two major rivers within the park. The genetic information can then be used to estimate past and current connectivity within and between the major drainage basins in the park. Historical changes in population size among defined populations of Blackfish can also be inferred from the genetic data.

Collaborative science

Tamara Harms (upper photo) and Michelle McCrackin (lower photo) will collaborate to study the impacts on nitrogen dynamics of thawing permafrost in the Stampede corridor

Photos courtesy of Tamara Harms and Michelle McCrackin

Discover Denali 2011 Research Fellowship:

Tamara Harms, University of Alaska Fairbanks
Michelle McCrackin, Washington State University - Vancouver
near Denali National Park and Preserve
Climate change underfoot: permafrost thaw and nitrogen dynamics

Dr. Tamara Harms, a post-doc at the Institute of Arctic Biology in Fairbanks, and Dr. Michelle McCrackin, a post-doc at Washington State University – Vancouver, are collaborating on a study of how climate change and thawing permafrost may be changing the dynamics of nitrogen (N) in tundra ecosystems. N is an essential nutrient for organisms, but increased N availability can have ecosystem consequences by changing the species composition and abundance of plants and aquatic organisms. Microorganisms in soil and water can also convert dissolved N to gaseous nitrous oxide (N2O), a potent greenhouse gas. Thawing permafrost is hypothesized to release N from previously frozen organic matter and increase N availability, with potential for increased N2O entering the atmosphere.

Drs. Harms and McCrackin will use several methods to investigate patterns of dissolved and gaseous N. Dr. Harms uses environmental tracers and stable isotope analyses in her research and Dr. McCrackin has expertise measuring denitrification and N2O fluxes in arctic and alpine ecosystems. They will coordinate a study in the Stampede Road corridor (near Denali National Park and Preserve) where permafrost has thawed to various degrees. The two researchers will use this gradient of permafrost thaw and stability to test hypotheses about what happens to nitrogen dynamics when climate change warms frozen tundra.

Studying tree expansion at treeline

Rachel Isaacs will be studying whether temperature or some other factors limit where tree seedlings establish in tundra near treeline--are trees unable to "move" upslope fast enough with a warming climate?

Photo courtesy Rachel Isaacs

Discover Denali 2011 Research Fellowship

Rachel Isaacs, The Pennsylvania State University
Denali National Park and Preserve
Rising temperatures and the influence of nonlinear thresholds on forest expansion in Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska

Rachel Isaacs, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Geography at the Pennsylvania State University, will be studying how rising temperatures and other factors (biological and physical) influence how trees "advance" upslope into tundra at treeline. Her project builds on previous research conducted in 2008 by Kirk Stueve and Rachel Isaacs in a 2000-ha (5,000-acre) study area near the East Fork Toklat River about 8 miles downstream from the park road. Isaacs will make plot-scale counts of seedlings, and infer tree establishment in the past from tree age, and offer predictions of future landscape dynamics in Denali based on climate change scenarios outlined in the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.

Rapidly warming temperatures may mean that the ability of a tree species (e.g., spruce) to "migrate" uphill via seedlings and new trees doesn't keep pace with where the conditions are newly favorable to the species. This study will address the following questions: (1) Does the altitudinal expansion of forests into tundra truly reflect a temperature limitation for trees? (2) What dominant controls inhibit or facilitate the successful establishment of trees into favorable locations? (3) Are pulses of establishment indicative of significant climatic events or long-term climate trends?


Justin Teisberg will field test a new combination of immobilization drugs, called dexMTZ, designed to maximize safety to bears and humans when attaching GPS- or radio-collars (bear recovery time is minimized among other things)

Photo courtesy of Justin Teisberg

Discover Denali 2011 Research Fellowship:

Justin Teisberg, Washington State University
Denali National Park and Preserve
Developing a more efficient and reliable immobilization protocol for grizzly bear managers and researchers

Justin Teisberg, a Ph.D. student at Washington State University, has been working to develop a more efficient and reliable protocol for immobilizing grizzly bears, which maximizes safety to both the bear and handlers during field procedures such as radiocollaring. A bear can be quite vulnerable to weather or injury from other bears when they are left to recover from anesthesia. Essentially, the new drug combination will shorten the time to recovery for captured bears while maintaining stable and safe cardio-respiratory values.

After Teisberg concludes pilot trials of a new drug combination, known as dexMTZ, on captive bears at Washington State, he plans to come to Denali in May to accompany Denali wildlife biologist Pat Owen during grizzly bear capture. During aerial darting of grizzlies prior to affixing or replacing VHF or GPS collars, the team will apply appropriate doses of dexMTZ to assess drug efficacy under field conditions.

Colby Wright

Colby Wright will study what the environment was like 70 million years ago (Late Cretaceous) by studying clues found in fossil pollen, fossil soils, trace fossils, and rock stratigraphy

Photo courtesy Colby Wright

Discover Denali 2011 Research Fellowship:

T. Colby Wright, University of Alaska Fairbanks
Denali National Park and Preserve
Paleoenvironmental reconstruction of the Late Cretaceous Cantwell Formation near Fang Mountain, Denali National Park, Alaska

T. Colby Wright, a Master's student in the Department of Geology and Geophysics at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, will spend a month near Fang Mountain studying clues (i.e., pollen, fossil soils, trace fossils, and sediment chemistry) found in the sedimentary rocks of the lower Cantwell Formation. His goal is to reconstruct what Denali was like in the Late Cretaceous (~70 million years ago--a time on the brink of a mass extinction event). In recent years, searches in the lower Cantwell Formation in Denali have yielded abundant plant and dinosaur trace fossils.

Specifically, Wright plans to measure and describe 10-20 stratigraphic (rock) sections in detail and photo-document the outcrops and any new paleontological finds. Within finer-grained rock strata (layers), he hopes to identify paleosols (fossil soils) and gather approximately 100 samples for making thin-sections in the lab (to look microscopically for trace fossils, microfossils, and mineral content) as well as bulk rock samples for isotope work and pollen study. Wright’s work will synthesize what is learned from each part of the study to model what the paleoenvironment of the lower Cantwell Formation was like in the Fang Mountain area. He’ll integrate his research with work done by other paleontologists.

Leif Anderson studies glaciers

Leif Anderson will measure the effect of glacier moraine debris on the melting rate of glaciers

Photo courtesy of Leif Anderson

Murie Science and Learning Center 2011 Fellowship:

Leif Anderson, University of Colorado - Boulder
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve
Contributions of sub-debris melt and ice wall retreat to the rapid deflation of the debris-covered Kennicott Glacier terminus

Leif Anderson is a Ph.D. student in the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research and the Department of Geological Science at the University of Colorado-Boulder. He is studying the ablation (melt) of the Kennicott Glacier in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. At the terminus, the Kennicott glacier is covered by rocky debris, which forms due to the coalescence of medial moraines. The warming Arctic climate is contributing to glacier thinning and retreat. To better understand glacier melt on debris-covered glaciers, Anderson will make extensive field measurements and develop an ice melt model.

His research will determine the current ice melt rates on the Kennicott Glacier in areas with and without debris cover, and relate these melt rates to the river discharge into the Kennicott River. To accomplish these goals, Leif will measure the thickness of the debris across the debris-covered zone, and will drill stakes with marked intervals into the glacier to measure the amount of summer melt. Anderson will also install data loggers in the debris and under the debris to measure temperatures and assess how melting may be slowed under the debris due to its insulating properties.

Studying glaciers

Seth Campbell will be studying how fast the Kahiltna Glacier is melting (thinning) and moving (surface velocity)

Photo courtesy Seth Campbell

Murie Science and Learning Center 2011 Research Fellowship:

Seth Campbell, University of Maine
Denali National Park and Preserve
Spatial and temporal melt and velocity variability of glaciers in Denali National Park, Alaska

Seth Campbell, a Ph.D. student at the University of Maine at Orono, proposes to collect measurements of ice flow velocity on the Kahiltna Glacier using GPS. He will also use snow pit measurements to quantify glacier melt.

The questions he is asking are: (1) Is the surface lowering and velocity increase of the Kahiltna Glacier a short-term anomaly or a long-term trend, (2) Are the velocity increases and thinning rates occurring regionally in Denali's glaciers, (3) What are the seasonal velocity fluctuations of glaciers in Denali. He will address these questions by comparing short and long-term velocities from a 12-month period as recorded by Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellite data, with historical velocity and melt data.

Banding a long-billed dowitcher

In 2011, River Gates will recapture dunlin (shorebirds) and remove the geolocators that were placed on the birds in 2010, in order to learn what migration routes dunlin use to get to their overwintering locations

Photo courtesy of River Gates

Murie Science and Learning Center 2011 Research Fellowship:

H. River Gates, University of Alaska Fairbanks
and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Cape Krusenstern National Monument
Migratory connectivity of dunlin breeding at Cape Krusenstern National Monument

H. River Gates, a Master’s Candidate at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, is continuing a project she began in 2010 to learn the migratory routes of dunlin (a migratory shorebird that breeds in western and northern coastal areas of Alaska, including Cape Krusenstern). To better determine potential threats to dunlin populations when they leave the park, it is critical to understand their migratory pathways. Dunlin breeding at Cape Krusenstern may have diverse migration routes leading them to their wintering grounds in either China, Japan, and Korea, or along the Pacific coast of North America.

In 2010, 268 dunlin were equipped with geolocators at 7 locations in Alaska and Canada. Geolocators are small devices attached to the bird that regularly record light intensity and can be used to generate geographic locations. In 2010, 30 Dunlin were captured at nest sites at Cape Krusenstern. In 2011, Gates plans to revisit the same nesting territories in the park to recapture any dunlin with geolocators that have returned. Once the geolocators are removed from the birds, the data can be downloaded and interpreted as estimates of distance travelled, stopover sites, and overwintering locations.

Jeffers is studying Spring Beauty

Stephany Jeffers will be studying Spring Beauty (Claytonia) at Feniak Lake in Noatak National Preserve. Is there a previously undescribed species growing there?

Photo courtesy of Stephany Jeffers

Murie Science and Learning Center 2011 Research Fellowship:

Stephany Jeffers, University of Alaska Fairbanks
Noatak National Preserve
A new species of Claytonia from Feniak Lake: assessing morphological variation, niche space, and genetics

Stephany Jeffers, a Master's student at the University of Alaska Museum Herbarium and the Department of Biology and Wildlife at the University of Alaska Fairbanks will be studying Spring Beauty (Claytonia) at Feniak Lake in Noatak National Preserve. There are several species of Claytonia reported to be present at Feniak Lake, and there is much confusion about species delineation.

Jeffers has three research questions: What species of Claytonia are growing at Feniak Lake (have some been misidentified in the past)? Are the differences in plant form at Feniak Lake due to genetic differences or the habitats they occupy? Do the populations of Claytonia that are growing on the serpentine barrens near Feniak Lake represent a new undocumented species? Through original field collection, habitat observation, molecular (genetic) analysis, and ecological niche modeling Jeffers will provide a more accurate description of Claytonia species found at Noatak National Preserve to aid land managers in making informed conservation decisions.


Ron Karpilo will assemble information (field notes, original photos, and repeat photos) to reconstruct and map the expeditions that Stephen R. Capps made in Denali in the 1910s and 1920s

Photo courtesy of Ron Karpilo

Murie Science and Learning Center 2011 Research Fellowship:

Ronald Karpilo, Colorado State University
Denali National Park and Preserve

Reconstructing and mapping the historic geoscience exploration of Stephen R. Capps in Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska

Ron Karpilo, a research associate at Colorado State University, will be reconstructing and mapping the 1910s and 1920s field investigations of U.S. Geological Survey geologist Stephen Reid Capps in the Denali area. Where did Capps go and what routes did he take to travel to those locations? Have these locations changed since he explored them?

Karpilo will focus on the trips that Capps made in 1916 (McKinley-Kantishna region), 1919 (Nenana-Toklat region), and 1925 (McKinley region) because the locations are accessible by foot from the park road and represent the time periods before and after the Denali area received National Park designation. Karpilo will study Capps’ field notes and photographs, consult with local experts, and conduct field forays to try to find Capps’ photo locations. The project will result in an organized set of field notes and historic images from Capps, and Karpilo’s repeat photography, which will make Capps’ expedition information more accessible for education, research, or management uses.

For additional information and project updates, visit Karpilo’s website: http://www.karpilo.com or follow him on Twitter: @RonKarpilo



Four research fellowships were awarded in 2010
(two Discover Denali Research Fellowships and two Murie Science and Learning Center Research Fellowships).

Please scroll down to read the names of research fellows and brief descriptions of their scientific studies (listed alphabetically by type of fellowship, park, and researcher).

Joe Bickley will study glaciers in the Kichatna Mountains of Denali

Joe Bickley will measure and photograph glaciers at their termini, as preface to documenting any changes over time

Photo courtesy of Joe Bickley

Discover Denali 2010 Research Fellowship:

Joe Bickley, Alaska Backcountry Consulting
Denali National Park and Preserve
Glacier terminus surveys and photo documentation in the Kichatna Mountains, Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska

Joe Bickley of Alaska Backcountry Consulting will be studying glaciers in the Kichatna Mountains of southwestern Denali National Park and Preserve. Specifically he will study the Tatina, Cul-De-Sac, and Shadows glaciers, taking accurate measurements of where the ice ends (glacier terminus) in order to begin monitoring these three glaciers over time--are they retreating and how fast? His study will complement other glacier monitoring in the park, because he will use the same protocols. Of special interest, in the face of a warming climate, is whether these three glaciers, which had a significant layer of Mt. Redoubt ash deposited on them, may have a higher rate of terminus retreat than other park glaciers without the dark ash layer. Bickley will establish photo points for photographing each glacier's terminus in order to document glacier retreat or advance over time. He will also reproduce any historical photographs taken of other nearby glaciers at their termini.

John Blong will conduct archaeological field research near the Savage River

John Blong wonders why some prehistoric sites are rich in stone projectile points while others are rich in stone microblades

Photo courtesy John Blong

Discover Denali 2010 Research Fellowship:

John Blong, Texas A&M University
Denali National Park and Preserve
Prehistoric upland use in Denali National Park: a proposal to conduct archaeological field research along the Savage River

John Blong, a graduate student at Texas A&M University in the Department of Anthropology, will be conducting archaeological field research in Denali National Park and Preserve in 2010. In collaboration with his advisor and two undergraduate field assistants, Blong plans to relocate and redocument nine prehistoric sites in the Savage River drainage, to systematically search for other unrecorded archaeological sites in the drainage, and to conduct subsurface testing of three buried sites along the Savage River to document what cultural artifacts they may yield. Embarking on this Savage River study will be the first step in a larger research project with the goals of piecing together the regional picture of prehistoric upland landscape use in the central Alaska Range, and of describing and explaining the geographic variation in stone-tool use (projectile points versus stone microblades) by prehistoric cultures over time.

Caitlin Hicks studies carbon cycles in thawing permafrost soils of tundra ecosystems

Caitlin Hicks will quantify the response of four components of ecosystem respiration to permafrost thaw in warming Alaska

Photo courtesy of Caitlin Hicks

Murie Science and Learning Center 2010 Research Fellowship

Caitlin Hicks, University of Florida
near Denali National Park and Preserve
Carbon cycle changes in warming Alaska: do plants or soil microbes drive changes in ecosystem respiration?

Caitlin Hicks, a graduate student at the University of Florida, will be studying thawing permafrost near Eight Mile Lake outside of Denali National Park and Preserve in the summer of 2010. As climate warms, the permafrost underlying tundra ecosystems is thawing, causing changes to the carbon cycle of tundra ecosystems. Permafrost thaw can increase the soil organic carbon being released as CO2 by soil microbes or can increase plant growth, which takes CO2 out of the atmospheric via photosynthesis. The relative responses of soil microbes and plants to permafrost thaw determines whether the ecosystem adds CO2 to the atmosphere (microbial response), a positive feedback to climate change, or whether the ecosystem takes CO2 from the atmosphere (plant response), a negative feedback to climate change. The main objective of her research is to quantify the response of four components of ecosystem respiration (aboveground plant structures, belowground plant structures, surface soil microbes, and deep soil microbes) to permafrost thaw in order to determine whether plants or microbes are dominating the tundra's changing carbon cycle. Hicks' research will investigate the relative contribution of soil microbes and plants to carbon fluxes by tracking the CO2 leaving the ecosystem using carbon isotopes whose values differ among plants and soils.

As part of her research about ceramic pottery used by late prehistoric peoples in northwest Alaska, Shelby Anderson will collect raw clay samples

Shelby Anderson will consider the distance of site pottery from its clay sources as a proxy for social interaction

Photo courtesy of Shelby Anderson

Murie Science and Learning Center 2010 Research Fellowship:

Shelby Anderson, University of Washington
Western Arctic Parklands
Late prehistoric social change in northwest Alaska: a study of ceramic procurement, production and distribution in the Arctic

Shelby Anderson, an archaeology graduate student at the University of Washington, is examining the emergence of social complexity in the peoples of Northwest Alaska over the past 2000 years. In this span of time, Northwest Alaska witnessed the development of organized whale hunting, aggregated coastal villages, wealthy burials, and warfare. On both sides of the Bering Strait, ethnic groups formed strong regional identities that led to marked differences in material culture styles from sub-region to sub-region. She is studying the changes in the social relationships and interactions of these groups through a study of the pottery found in archeological sites from the coast of Kotzebue Sound and the adjacent river corridors. In the summer of 2010, Anderson will collect geologic raw clay “source” samples from the Seward Peninsula and the Kobuk River drainage to compare to the pottery samples found at the archaeological sites. The degree of movement of the pottery from the sources of clay will serve as a proxy for social interaction and movement in the past. This research is also funded by a National Science Foundation Dissertation Improvement Grant. For more information, visit Anderson’s website: http://students.washington.edu/shelbya/index.html



Seven research fellowships were awarded in 2009
(four Discover Denali Research Fellowships and three Murie Science and Learning Center Research Fellowships).

The topics of the scientific or scholarly studies are listed below.

sampling near the terminus of a glacier

A 2009 Discover Denali Fellowship recipient studies soil and vegetation development after glacier melting

Photo courtesy Barbara-Lynn Concienne

The Discover Denali Research Fellowship Program is offered in cooperation with the Denali Education Center and is appropriate for researchers working in and near Denali National Park and Preserve.

Projects of Discover Denali Research Fellows in 2009:

* Remotely sensing the effects of permafrost thaw on tundra carbon balance

* Distribution and prevalence of the amphibian chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis) in the northern range of the Wood Frog (Rana [Lithobates] sylvatica)

* Microbial succession in newly deglaciated soils

*Ice on the edge: global warming and a new archeological/paleontological research frontier in Denali

Kurupa Lake, Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, Alaska

A 2009 MSLC Fellowship recipient studies prehistoric use of obsidian in Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

Photo courtesy of Chris Houlette

The Murie Science and Learning Center Research Fellowship Program is for researchers working in Denali or any of the other arctic or subarctic Alaska national parks.

Projects of Murie Science and Learning Center Fellows in 2009:

* Prehistoric obsidian procurement and use in Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

*Documenting genetic diversity in Oxytropis kokrinensis from Kobuk Valley National Park

*Understanding site formation and cultural activities at Teklanika West (HEA-001) [Denali National Park and Preserve]


2008 Research Fellowships

Andrew Brown, University of Alaska Fairbanks
Denali National Park and Preserve
"Developing a multi-year trend model for habitat use of wood frogs in Denali"

Barbara-Lynn Concienne, University of Colorado, Boulder
Denali National Park and Preserve
"Microbial succession in soils at retreating glaciers"

Hanna Lee, University of Florida
Denali National Park and Preserve
"Monitoring effects of climate change and permafrost carbon in Denali National Park"

Gretchen Roffler, USGS, Alaska Science Center, Anchorage
Wrangell - St. Elias National Park and Preserve
"Evaluating the genetic structure of Dall's sheep in Wrangell - St. Elias National Park and Preserve"

Dr. Patrick Sullivan, University of Alaska Anchorage
Noatak National Preserve
"Microtopographic controls on treeline advance in Noatak National Preserve, Alaska"

Andrew Tremayne, University of Wyoming
Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve
"Dating the Denbigh Flint Complex in Alaska's Brooks Range"


Discover Denali Research Fellowship Program 2007

Roseann Densmore, U.S. Geological Survey Alaska Science Center
Denali National Park and Preserve
"Long-term monitoring of restoration of placer-mined watersheds in Denali National Park and Preserve"

Michael Loso, Alaska Pacific University
Denali National Park and Preserve
"Trajectory and fate of human waste on the Kahiltna Glacier"

Robert Newman, University of North Dakota
Denali National Park and Preserve
"Population Biology of the Wood Frog in a Rapidly Changing Environment: Site 1-Denali National Park"

David Sunderlin, Lafayette College (PA)
Denali National Park and Preserve
"The floral ecosystem in the lower Cantwell Formation of Denali National Park and Preserve: Evolutionary, paleoecological, and paleoclimatic implications."

Martin Wilmking, Greifswald University (Germany)
Denali National Park and Preserve
"A shrubby future for Denali? Investigation on the effect of recent warming on alpine shrubs in Denali National Park and Preserve"

Did You Know?

a lake reflecting a tree-covered hill

The vast landscapes of interior Alaska are changing. Large glaciers are receding, permafrost is melting and woody plants are spreading. Comparison of "then-and-now" photographs and data from major vegetation monitoring should allow detection, understanding and potential management of these changes.