Research fellowships offered by Alaska Geographic and Denali Education Center through the Murie Science and Learning Center help scientists conduct field research in Arctic and subarctic Alaskan national parks.

Eight researchers received fellowships in 2013 to conduct studies in three arctic and subarctic national parks in Alaska. Many of these fellows are graduate students.

Geochronological Framework for the Cantwell Formation: Denali

Discover Denali 2013 Research Fellowship
Jeff Benowitz, University of Alaska Fairbanks
Denali National Park and Preserve

Jeff Benowitz plans to use a special radiometric dating technique to determine when volcanic ash beds were deposited in the ancient Cantwell Basin in the eastern part of the park. These volcanic ash beds were deposited at the same time as the paleoenvironmental features (e.g., fossil soils, mud ripples) of the lower Cantwell Formation. Thus, the date of the ash beds is a proxy for the age of these features and provides a date for key dinosaur, bird, and plant fossil sites in the park.

Jeff will separate out volcanic zircons (minerals that contain traces of uranium) from volcanic ash bed samples. Then he will analyze the ratio of uranium to lead in the zircons (the zircon ratio of uranium to lead is dependent on the original age of the volcanic eruptions and the time elapsed in which radioactive decay to lead has occurred). Benowitz hopes to better understand the deformation history of the Cantwell Basin.

And because, in geologic time, the lower Cantwell Formation is at the end of the Late Cretaceous period, one of the important questions Benowitz is asking is, Do the rocks of Denali contain a record of the time when dinosaurs went extinct (i.e., the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary.

Jeff is a faculty member in the Geophysical Institute of the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Photographic Monitoring of the Natural Viewshed of Denali

Discover Denali 2013 Research Fellowship
Ron Karpilo, Colorado State University
Denali National Park and Preserve

Ron Karpilo will use photo-monitoring techniques to document viewshed, ecosystem, and landscape changes in the park. There are three components to Ron's work.

(1) Create a visual record of the present-day Denali Park Road viewshed. Specifically, he will use cameras mounted on his vehicle to make an overlapping series of thousands of high-resolution images capturing both the views to the north and south from the 93-mile long road. The Park Entrance-to-Kantishna collection of images will establish a baseline for detecting future changes in the road viewshed. Such changes could be human-caused (e.g., infrastructure development, new social trails made by hikers) or natural (e.g., vegetation that blocks the view).

(2) Establish a series of new, repeatable high-resolution 360-degree photo monitoring stations along the park road and along several transects in the Denali backcountry. The monitoring stations will be used to document changes in the park's natural and cultural resources.

(3) Continue to locate historic photo sites and create matching modern images. The resulting photo pairs document the past century of changes in park features and processes such as vegetation distribution, stream dynamics, and glacier extent.

Ron is a research associate with the Department of Geosciences at Colorado State University.

Exploring the Relationship Between Wildlife Viewing and Wildlife Values in Denali

Discover Denali 2013 Research Fellowship
Christina Leshko, Michigan State University (Ph.D. student)
Denali National Park and Preserve

In this social science project, Christina Leshko will ask park visitors to volunteer to describe their wildlife-viewing expectations and wildlife-viewing experiences during brief and in-depth interviews. Christina also plans to observe visitors on buses when they are viewing wildlife. She wants to determine the relationship among values and wildlife viewing expectations, their actual experience of viewing wildlife, and their responses to some "what if…" questions about wildlife viewing and park visitation.

Christina is a graduate student in Sociology and Animal Studies at Michigan State University.

Warming Arctic Ecosystems: Consequences for Nitrogen Cycling

Discover Denali 2013 Research Fellowship
Verity Salmon, University of Florida (Ph.D. student)
near Denali National Park and Preserve

Verity Salmon's research focuses on one aspect of climate change in tundra ecosystems: How does a warming climate affect the nitrogen cycle in plants and soils? Her project will take place just outside of the park in the Stampede corridor near Eight Mile Lake. At this site, Verity will be working In conjunction several researchers from the University of Florida on an on-going manipulative warming experiment. This experiment uses snow fences to accumulate an insulating layer of snow that warms the soils by a few degrees in winter and increases thaw depth in summer. Verity will be documenting how the levels of soil nitrogen available for plant uptake change when a tundra ecosystem, such as the one at Eight Mile Lake, experiences these warmer soil temperatures and greater thaw depths.

Verity is a graduate student in the Department of Biology at the University of Florida.

Breeding Ecology and Migratory Connectivity of Beringian Shorebirds

Murie Science and Learning Center Fellowship
Megan Boldenow, University of Alaska Fairbanks (Ph.D. student)
Cape Krusenstern National Monument

In collaboration with other researchers across the Arctic, Meg Boldenow is studying the breeding ecology and monitoring the nesting success of several shorebird species that breed in Cape Krusenstern National Monument. The goal of her research is to help answer the question: Why are shorebird species that nest in Cape Krusenstern and other parts of the arctic declining in numbers?

As a first step toward understanding how conditions throughout the year may impact nest success, Megan will attach small tracking devices to individual Black Turnstones and Semipalmated Sandpipers at Cape Krusenstern. The tracking devices will allow researchers to identify the migratory pathways and wintering areas for these birds, which travel thousands of miles to wintering sites in North and South America. Also, Megan will compare historic (1990s) shorebird data from Cape Krusenstern to contemporary data, in order to identify changes in the shorebird community and project possible future changes.

Megan Boldenow is a Ph.D. student in the Biology and Wildlife Department at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Effects of Permafrost Thaw on Methane Production in Tundra Soils

Murie Science and Learning Center 2013 Fellowship
John Schade, St. Olaf College, Minnesota
near Denali National Park and Preserve

John Schade will work with three undergraduate students from St. Olaf College to study the impacts of changes in temperature and moisture on methane flux from tundra soils. They will be collaborating with Sue Natali (Woods Hole Research Center) and Ted Schuur (University of Florida), other researchers who have been studying the effect of climate change on tundra ecosystems just outside the park in the Stampede corridor near Eight Mile Lake. John and his students will test the hypothesis that land subsidence associated with increasing temperature and thawing permafrost will lead to increased soil saturation, stimulating methane production and net flux to the atmosphere.

This research will be conducted at the site known as the Carbon in Permafrost Experimental Heating Research (CiPEHR) project, where researchers have artificially warmed the soils in winter by using snow fences to accumulate an insulating layer of snow, and at nearby sites where the permafrost has begun to degrade. Each student will take leadership on one of three aspects of the research: (1) measurement of methane production and flux, (2) an analysis of soil carbon and nitrogen, and (3) a molecular analysis of the soil microbial community. Using their research experiences, John and his students will develop modules for K-12 teachers and provide information to PolarTREC, a program that links teachers with researchers.

John is a biogeochemist in the Departments of Biology and Environmental Studies at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota where he combines his interest in aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems with a passion for mentoring undergraduate researchers.

Dating the Arctic Small Tool Tradition Settlement of Coastal Habitats

Murie Science and Learning Center 2013 Fellowship
Andrew Tremayne, University of California, Davis (Ph.D. student)
Bering Land Bridge National Preserve

The primary goal of Andrew's project is to document and assess the timing of ASTt occupations along coastal areas of Bering Land Bridge National Preserve to better understand the timing of coastal settlement and maritime adaptation. It is still unclear how soon after arrival in Alaska that ASTt people moved to the coast, and also what precisely they were doing while living there. Tremayne's pilot study in 2011 at Bering Land Bridge suggests that there are likely dozens of ASTt sites that await discovery and evaluation.

Andrew is a Ph.D. student in the Anthropology Department at the University of California, Davis.

Local and Broad Scale Habitat Structure in Arctic Ground Squirrel Ecology

Murie Science and Learning Center 2013 Fellowship
Helen Wheeler, CIRCE, Århus University
Denali National Park and Preserve

Arctic ground squirrels are an abundant and important species in arctic ecosystems. They greatly influence tundra and alpine ecosystems because they are prey for many predators and they burrow extensively in soils. With a warming climate, the habitat structure of tundra and alpine ecosystems is changing in ways that may impact the ability of the arctic ground squirrel to detect predators and find suitable forage.

Helen Wheeler's study will investigate the relative importance of vegetation-as cover from predators and as forage-in determining the distribution and abundance of arctic ground squirrels. Helen will conduct surveys of arctic ground squirrel across a range of habitats from boreal forest to alpine tundra. She will use modelling techniques to associate where arctic ground squirrels are most abundant with respect to plant community composition and vegetation height. In addition she will compare the alarm-calling behavior used by arctic ground squirrels across habitat types. A few questions Helen hopes to answer include, Are new arctic ground squirrel colonies more likely to establish close to colonies that use substantial alarm calling? How does habitat affect colonizing and alarm-calling behaviors?

Helen is a postdoc at the Center on Informatics Research on Complexity in Ecology (CIRCE) at Århus University in Denmark.