A new field season begins

April 10, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: CPCRW, Field Work 

Last week the field season started up again the monitoring the snow ablation out in the Caribou-Poker Creeks Research Watershed and making sure the sites are up and running. It’s been a fairly cold winter and the month of March was actually colder than February. However, April has been nice and it won’t take much for the snow melt to really take off!

I will continue to post pictures of our field work and data as it gets worked up. It’s been fantastic and good for the soul to be outside and away from my computer for a few hours every couple days! Definitely good for my soul.

What did you learn today?

February 28, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Outreach 

Today I helped judge the Anne Wein Elementary Science Fair. Today I learned about determining the optimal design of the blades on a wind generator (one of my favorites) and the compressibility of different kinds of cake. A fun morning.

Sponge cake (right) is more compressible than carrot cake (left).

IAB Life Sciences Seminar Talk

February 23, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
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Tomorrow, Jessie will be giving a talk for the Institute of Arctic Biology Life Sciences Seminar Series. The title of her talk is “Boreal Forest Ecohydrology: Integrative Modeling”. The talk will be at 2:30 in the Elvey Auditorium (in the Geophysical Institute on the UAF campus). Her abstract can be found here.

Judging a local science fair in Fairbanks

February 16, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
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We judged projects at a local grade school’s science fair. The projects we liked the best are those that are clearly done only by the students with little help from the parents.

Bob judging a 1st grader's project

Do Ecosystems Have a Memory?

February 16, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
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Black spruce ecosystem in the Boreal forest

Our memories shape who we are and how we perceive the world around us today. Did you know that ecosystems have memories too? It’s obviously not the same as it is for people. But, ecosystems can integrate information about the past into their soils and plants, and it shapes how they look and how they “act” in terms of responding to environmental conditions today.

As an ecologist, one of the things I do is measure the “memory” of ecosystem physiological processes for past environmental conditions. Ecosystems have a physiology, so just like us, they breathe in (photosynthesis), they breathe out (respiration), they grow (put on plant biomass), they break stuff down which makes nutrients available (decomposition).

One of the projects that I’ve recently finished is quantifying the memory of soil respiration (soils breathe out CO2too) for past soil moisture and temperature conditions in the desert. I did this work in the northern part of the Sonoran desert where shrubs are moving into grasslands. I wondered if the shrubs were changing the memory of soil physiology because of how shrubs dump a bunch of food into the soil for the micro-organisms to eat. Shrubs are also really different from grasses in ways that probably change the physiology of the whole desert ecosystem. I found that shrubs lengthen the memory of soil respiration for past soil water. This means that soil water two months ago can affect soil respiration today. Compared to the grasses which need soil water one month in the past, this is a pretty big change.

What does this mean? Imagine if change some part of your life and your memory suddenly gets much longer. Stuff that was going on two months ago is still affecting you today. How would that change your life? For the soil physiology, it means that rain in the past is still important today. So, if the patterns of rainfall change (less frequent events, more tiny events, etc), which is what is predicted to occur in deserts with climate change, then soil physiology will change if there are a bunch of shrubs on the landscape.

In Alaska, I’ve been studying the physiology of plants rather than soils. Instead of looking at respiration, I’m studying transpiration. Like us, when they breathe out, the plants release water vapor (transpiration). Stand outside on a cold morning and watch the puff of vapor come out when you exhale. The plants do the same thing (but in the summer). The amount of water that plants breathe out is related to how wet the soil is (they need to get water from somewhere) and how dry the air is. If you’ve spent time in the desert, you know how it feels to have water sucked out of you into the dry air. Likewise, in the humid southeastern US, water condenses on everything because the air is so wet. If the air is dry, then water is going to get sucked out of the plants more, so the plants want to control this by closing their leaf pores (stomata). The dynamics of stomata opening and closing is an entire field of ecology! This is basically plant physiology at its tiniest scale.

I study the memory of plant physiology for past soil moisture, soil temperature, and atmospheric conditions. So, I ask: how does soil wetness (or dryness), soil hotness or coldness, and the dryness of the air affect the physiology of a plant today? One of the big things I want to know is how changes in the environment, particularly permafrost thaw, affect this memory. This is a work in progress, so I’ll have more to say later on. So, the next time you step outside into nature, take a long look at the black spruce trees and imagine that they remember what was going on last week or even last summer.

Looking for a PhD student!

January 20, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Jobs 

Ph.D. position available in ecohydrologic modeling

Position Description

The University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) International Arctic Research Center (IARC) invites applications for a three year funded interdisciplinary, computer science oriented PhD assistantship commencing in Spring 2012 as part of the Department of Energy funded project, “Development of a Cold Regions Regional-Scale Hydrologic Model.” This project aims to develop a high-resolution, integrated ecohydrologic model to be used to help parameterize larger regional scale earth system models (e.g. RASM). The computational demands of the project will necessitate implementation of various model components on high-performance computing architectures at UAF’s Arctic Region Supercomputing Center (ARSC). Primary milestones to be tackled by the PhD student include: 1) assistance in the development and deployment of a hybrid ecohydrologic model for arctic regions on massively parallel computing systems, 2) use of parallel Markov Chain Monte Carlo methods to estimate system-wide uncertainties in the modeling process, and 3) coupling (via CPL7) of the hybrid, hydrologic model with regional earth system models.

Applicants should have an outstanding undergraduate and Master’s record. The ideal candidate will have significant computer programming experience (including Python, Fortran, or C/C++), particularly in a supercomputing environment, a demonstrated aptitude in math and statistics relating to Bayesian procedures for parameterestimation, and a strong interest, with some experience in the application of numerical computer models to real-world geophysical problems.

Work Environment
The work will be conducted at the International Arctic Research Center (http://www.iarc.uaf.edu) and the Arctic Region Supercomputer Center (http://www.arsc.edu) both located on the the University of Alaska Fairbanks (http://www.uaf.edu) campus.

To Apply
Graduate student assistants must apply and be accepted into an appropriate UAF Graduate School program (

Additional Information
For more information, please contact Larry Hinzman (lhinzman@iarc.uaf.edu), Bob Bolton (bbolton@iarc.uaf.edu), Don Morton (Don.Morton@alaska.edu) or Jessie Cable (jcable@iarc.uaf.edu). 


Welcome, but under construction

January 20, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Uncategorized 

Welcome to our little blog. This is currently a work in progress, but I think it will progress and develop pretty nicely in relatively short order.



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