Professor and Graduate Student to Travel to Siberia on Research Trip
UTB graduate student Aaron White and Dr. Heather Alexander of the Department of Biological Sciences will travel in early July to Siberia for a month-long research trip.
Alexander will re-visit plots of land that she
created small fires on during her trip to the research facility last summer.
She set the fires to try and understand how an increase in hot fires will
affect the soil’s organic layer which has dead mosses and roots that is atop
the mineral soil.
“This layer is very important because it insulates
the underlying frozen soils (permafrost) and protects them from thawing,” said
Alexander. “It also provides a seedbed for trees and other plants. Most climate
models predict that as the world’s climate becomes warmer, fires will become
hotter. If this happens, more of this soil layer will be burned by fires. Less
insulation could lead to thawing permafrost, making carbon stored in these soils
available for microbial use. If soil microbes use this carbon for their growth,
they will release carbon dioxide as a by-product. Because carbon dioxide is a
greenhouse gas, this could amplify climate warming.”
Accompanying Alexander to conduct his own master’s
thesis research is Aaron White, 24, a second-year graduate student in biology from
Apple Valley, Minn. He will study how wildlife browsing on vegetation
influences the ability of forests to re-grow following disturbances, like fire.
White received a bachelor’s degree in wildlife biology in 2011 from the University of
Minnesota Twin Cities in Minneapolis.
“There are trips you dream of, and conducting
research in the Arctic has been on my list of dream locations for a long time,”
said White. “I’m really excited to meet other researchers and learn more about
how climate change is affecting the Arctic.”
Alexander and White are traveling with the The Polaris
Project which is funded by the National Science Foundation
and provides opportunities for scientists, students and academic instructors to
conduct arctic and global climate change research.
“For a master’s student to take this research
expedition across the globe, it really shows a dedication and a willingness to
try new things,” said Alexander. “It’s a great way to prove one has what it
takes to succeed in science.”
The Northeast Science Station was founded in 1989 by
scientists from the Pacific Institute of Geography of the Far East Branch of
the Russian Academy of Sciences. The research station receives funding to
operate from the National Science Foundation, the Russian Science Foundation
and the Soros Foundation and supports scientists from across the globe,
including the United States, Germany and Japan.
“There are housing quarters that are rustic,” said
Alexander. “All our drinking water and shower water is pumped up from the
Alexander and White will depart from
Brownsville-South Padre Island International Airport and fly through New York
City, Moscow and Yakutsk, Russia before landing in Cherskii. Cherskii,
Alexander noted, has one flight in and out of its small airport per week.
will travel to the Northeast Science Station in the summers of 2014-2018 as
part of a new National Science Foundation grant she recently received. The
grant will provide full funding for two university master’s degree students in
biology and offer a summer research experience to four university undergraduate
think it’s important for students to experience science in a hands-on way,” said
Alexander. “Participating in field research allows students to be part of the
natural ecosystem, to see firsthand how nature works. It’s a great way to get
funding also includes an educational outreach program to work with local
primary and secondary educators and students and provides funding for Alexander
and her graduate students to travel to the Ecological Society of America’s
conference each summer and present their Siberian research.
in an international conference is an incredible way of learning about what
others are doing and networking,” said Alexander. “It also teaches students how
to organize and present their research in a way that is accessible to a broad
has traveled to Siberia before, in 2010 and 2012, while she did National
Science Foundation post-doctoral work at the University
in Gainesville, Fla.