Association of Polar Early Career Scientists
 

The APECS Education and Outreach Committee is starting up a new initiative to showcase outreach activities by scientists, researchers, research institutions and field stations in the Polar Regions and communities. We want to highlight ongoing outreach efforts as well as provide resources and examples of both successes and challenges for current outreach practitioners. If you have an outreach story you'd like to have featured or know of a Polar research institution or field station actively pursuing outreach, public consultation or community based research, please email your story or suggestions for a story to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.!

IPRN talk: What lies beneath the ice? - Role of Geologists in Antarctic Sciences

IPRN talk March 2017Indian Polar Research Network (IPRN) (APECS India) in collaboration with Department of Geology, University of Delhi organised a talk titled “What lies beneath the ice - Role of Geologists in Antarctic Sciences” on 24th March 2017 in Ram Lal Anand College, University of Delhi. This event was to mark the International Polar Week Spring 2017 celebration and followed this year’s theme of Polar week - People of the Poles: Human Use and Appreciation of Earth’s Polar Regions. The event was organised to introduce and popularize Antarctic sciences to the undergraduate geology students of Delhi University.

2 Prof. Pant explaining Why explore AntarcticaThe event commenced with an introduction of Association of Polar Early Career Scientists (APECS) and its national committee Indian Polar Research Network (IPRN) to the audience. I explained the significant findings about the melting of Antarctic ice sheet and subsequent predictions of sea level rise emphasizing the role Antarctica plays in regulating the global climate and oceanographic system. Prof. Naresh Pant, who has been working in Antarctic Geosciences from last 30 years, briefed the audience about the recently identified research priorities for Antarctic Earth Sciences. The introductory session brought out the key reasons for conserving and exploring Antarctica to the audience and initiated a dialogue.

3 Mayuri explaining her research workThe third component of the talk was to highlight the fields and disciplines through which geologists contribute to Antarctic Sciences. This was described by Ms. Mayuri Pandey who is a research scholar at Department of geology, University of Delhi and also an IPRN member. She has recently submitted her PhD in Antarctic sciences and has been a part of 36th Indian Expedition to Antarctica. Her work includes provenance studies of the Wilkes Land through IODP (U1359) sediments, paleoclimate studies through clay minerals and interpreting sub ice geology through different methods. She aptly explained different areas of geology in polar sciences that are: Glaciology, Climatology, marine sediments study and interpreting sub ice geology through indirect methods like geophysics and remote sensing with a glimpse of her research work as well. Study of micro-meteorites found in marginal marine sediments was also explained by her.

I concluded the talk with details of Indian Antarctic programme and the procedure to participate in it through the student participation scheme of National Centre for Antarctic & Ocean Research (ESSO-NCAOR), an Earth System Science Organisation under the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) - Government of India. Career opportunities in polar geosciences and the various information portals like APECS Jobs portal were also highlighted for students interested in polar research. The talk was attended by about 80 students along with the faculties of the University of Delhi. The feedback by the young students was highly encouraging and we plan to organise similar kind of event regarding Arctic sciences as well.

Shape the future of polar geosciences: Promoting polar science among young minds

Pic 1 Devsamridhi introducing her research in Antarctica copyA panel discussion titled “Shape the future of Polar Geosciences” was organised by Indian Polar Research Network (APECS-India) in association with Department of Geology, University of Delhi on 28th January 2017 on the special occasion of Golden Jubilee Celebrations of the department. The event was held to introduce polar geosciences to the undergraduate students and enhance knowledge of the postgraduate students. This panel discussion aimed at creating awareness among the students regarding the career opportunities in polar geosciences, the priorities of the polar research and their significance in the contributions to humanity.

The panel was chaired by eminent polar geologist Dr. Anil Joshi along with, Dr. Siddharth Swaroop(Himalayan glaciologist) and Mr. H. C. Khanduri(Himalayan projects expert). Dr. Anil Joshi, now retired, served as the Deputy Director General of Polar Division, Geological Survey of India. He participated in the initial years of Indian Antarctic Expeditions in 80s and led geological research in Antarctica later. Dr. Siddharth Swaroop, a celebrated glaciologist, has retired as the Deputy Director General of Glaciology Division, Geological Survey of India after working extensively in Himalayan glaciers for decades. Mr. H. C. Khanduri is a greatly admired engineering geologist associated with colossal Himalayan projects like Tehri Dam project and has a comprehensive experience of about 30 years in geotechnical research in Indian region of Himalayas.

Pic 2 Dr. Anil Joshi sharing his experiences copyThe event was initiated with the introduction of APECS and IPRN by Prof. N. C. Pant followed by presentations by research scholars of the department who are working in the Polar Regions. I introduced Antarctica and Arctic to the audience with a glimpse into my research in Antarctica. Abul Aamir Khan, also an IPRN member, introduced Himalaya and its importance as the third pole and conferred a talk on his research at Gangotri glacier, Himalaya. This was followed by a talk by Debojyoti Basuroy who focused on the adventures and eccentricity of working in Polar Regions by sharing his lively experiences of working in high altitude Himalayas and his research study on the Sutlej river reorganisation.

A special session on Geosciences in Himalayas was organized with a view to promote Himalayas as a third Pole and to highlight the fragility of the Himalayan social-ecological system. The Hindu Kush-Himalayan region, known as the third pole, stores more snow and ice than anywhere else in the world outside the Polar Regions and forms a daunting global ecological buffer. The third pole region is sensitive to climate change and directly or indirectly affects millions of people (about one fifth of the world's population). The session highlighted some recent studies suggesting a greater vulnerability of the cryospheric environment to rapid warming and climate change. However, there are many unanswered questions and their potential implications which indeed, should be the priorities of the future research work focused in Himalayas.

Pic 3 copyThe panel discussion was attended by about 100 students along with the distinguished alumni and the faculty of the department. The panel discussion was followed by an open forum Polar Quiz for the students. This was the very first time when students of department of geology, Delhi University were introduced to polar geosciences at a broad platform. This event provided them an opportunity to hear and interact with renowned polar scientists as well as early career polar researchers and get to learn about their personal experiences of working in extreme and pristine polar conditions. The response of the students was overwhelming with requests to add few more topics in our next events. Students expressed their desire to know about ways to get involved in polar studies and participate in Indian expeditions to poles. They requested to emphasize more on the various interdisciplinary research programs in Polar Sciences. Overall, this event was highly appreciated by the audience and was a successful icebreaker activity to plan up future APECS's events in University of Delhi.

ICECAPS Workshop 2016: highlighting the role of communication for a successful science career

rsessionIndian Polar Research Network (APECS-India) collaborated with Wildlife Institute of India-ENVIS centre on Wildlife & Protected Areas to celebrate the Antarctica Day by hosting ICECAPS 2016 (Improving Communication Effectiveness and Capacity Addition in Polar Science), a science communication workshop for early career researchers and graduate students. The workshop was attended by about 50 masters and PhD students from biology, geology, and environmental science disciplines. The theme of the workshop was providing orientation to the young minds towards a successful career in Polar Science and to equip them with key communication skills. Sessions on Climate change and Protected Area network in Himalayas, Trans-boundary biodiversity conservation and Antarctic treaty system with a focus on Madrid protocol were conducted to utilize this platform for outreach activities. These sessions also underlined the challenges faced by biodiversity conservation efforts in the Polar Regions and the need for sustained scientific data collection and publishing in achieving these goals.

First day into the workshop, the participants were introduced to the importance of communication in the day to day life of a researcher. The participants were given tips on writing emails to a potential research supervisor or an adviser, creating professional resumes and developing networking skills during professional gatherings. Participants were also exposed to effective presentation skills that would help them in getting noticed in a science conference. Interactive hands-on sessions on identifying appropriate funding agency, grant writing process and the process of developing a research proposal were conducted. Lastly, the participants were introduced to the document preparation system Latex for creating large documents with basic hands-on practice.

Amit talks about Himalayan plants on thennature trail icecapsDay two of the workshop was initiated with a field session on the plants of the Himalayan foothill campus of Wildlife Institute of India. Participants were taken around the nature trail to learn about the adaptive features of the plants and were also brought in close encounter with migratory and resident species of the campus. Later, an exhaustive session on the open source software R was conducted to initiate them into the world of ecological analysis. This session familiarized participants with basic working and simple statistical analyses with R. In the end, students were taught the concepts of effective sampling design, choosing variables in a study, determining the sample sizes, and experimental vs. mensurative approach.

Sixty percent of the applicants of the workshop were M.Sc. students, 27.5 % were PhD students while the rest were early career researchers with less than 5 years to complete their PhDs. Around 60% of the students were already working in the Polar Regions and the rest intending to do so in their future career. The toughest job in this workshop, with students from different disciplines and academic backgrounds, was to invoke the interest of participants to communicate. We played Polar Bingo in the beginning of the workshop to break the ice between the students and generate an interest in the workshop topics. Our team of resource persons also interacted continuously with them between the sessions. Feedback from the participants was encouraging as almost 93% termed it “very useful” for their research career. Participants responded to include popular science writing in the future workshops while giving A-rating to sessions on R program, Grant writing and improving presentation skills.

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Academics, Research and Jobs in the North: Perspectives from Early-Career Scientists

Polar Week YukonFor International Polar Week in the Yukon Territory, APECS Canada collaborated with Skookum Jim Friendship Centre to host ‘Academics, Research and Jobs in the North: Perspectives from Early-Career Scientists’. We had a panel of four northern early-career researchers who spoke at two events, one at Yukon College and one at Skookum Jim Friendship Centre, to a broad audience of students, teachers and interested members of the public on what it is like to work in science-related careers in Canada’s North. Many interesting points and perspectives came up, so as one of the organizers and panellists I will try to share and write up highlights from the panel discussion.

First off, there is a wide variety in the kinds of science-related jobs one can pursue in the North. One of our panellists, Stefan Gronsdahl, is a consultant for a environmental consulting firm. He spends approximately 20% of his time in the field and 80% in the office. In the field he works at contaminated sites and conducts spill response including sampling, monitoring, and supervising contractors, and in the office he spends a lot of time wrangling with data in excel and writing reports. Another panellist, Frank Annau, does similar work but from a regulation, investigation and compliance perspective with the Yukon Government. Jocelyn Joe-Strack is a sole-proprieter contractor and her job is science-related but mostly involves talking to people and gathering perspectives on what the best option for the people of the Yukon is. Lastly, I am a graduate student and contract researcher and I spend the summers doing field work and the winters writing. In summary, science-related jobs in the Yukon vary in size of office (many small offices), amount of field vs. office time, amount of consultation on multi-stakeholder issues, and much more.

There are different education and job options to pursuing science jobs and we are very lucky in the Yukon to have the opportunities we do. Experiential Science 11, Yukon Youth Conservation Corps, STEP and Gradcorps jobs were all mentioned by the panellists who grew up in the Yukon. These are exceptional programs to obtain experience as a Yukon youth. The level of education required differs for jobs, for example a diploma or degree is good for consulting techs and biologists, whereas a masters or phd may be required for government or NGO research in some cases. An additional consideration during education is whether a professional designation is important for the job you would like (i.e. RPBio, RPAg, RPGeo). Your education can be tailored to help you obtain this if so.

The career sectors these education and early-career job opportunities can lead to include university research, the private sector especially environmental consulting, government and NGO’s. A key point is to network and ask lots of questions to the people in the jobs you are considering, to build perspectives and insights into those careers. It is also important to apply to jobs even if they seem out of reach, and to work diligently to customize your application to the job and sector you are applying for. For example, in the private sector it is important to have a short 1-2 page punchy cv, whereas in government it is more important to hit all the points on the job description in your cv so lengthier is ok.

A main point regarding the application process in all sectors is to go in person to meet your potential employer and express interest and positive energy. Being persistent and not waiting for a job advertisement to come out, instead introducing yourself, making calls and visiting with your resumé in hand is how opportunities and positions have come about. An alternative way of viewing science-related jobs is to create your own. If you see a need or a niche where your skills and expertise could be utilized, there are opportunities to create your own employment by filling these needs. For academics, it is important to find a lab and a supervisor that you will work well with. This involves looking at their lab web pages and looking for evidence that there will be mentorship and support within that community, for example friendly group or field work photos. Other important research includes asking former or current students about their experience, verifying if the type of research aligns with your interests, and considering whether the place (or places) where you’d be living/researching are where you would like to live for a few years.

If you are interested in a particular subject or issue, there is space to specialize, whether it means pursuing a company that specializes in your interest, or courting a particular branch of government, or creating your own research program. As we build our scientific capacity, with both locals and newcomers, the North is a dynamic and rewarding place to pursue science-related careers.

Meagan Grabowski is a Yukoner and northern research, MSc Student with the UBC Department of Zoology, Jane Glassco Northern Fellow (2015-17), and APECS Canada Board Member.

Introducing the UKPN Social Science blog!

The UK Polar Network has a new blog which will feature essays and articles from the UK branch of APECS. For its inaugural post, Mika Laiho discusses 'Polar Social Science' and implications for the broader research community.


Mika Laiho is a former postgraduate student at the European Institute (LSE) and Arctic Centre (University of Lapland). Now political geography researcher at Durham University, Mika's ambition is to critique EU governance through a post-structural deconstruction of carbon (extraction and combustion) geographies of Arctic space. In his free time he acts as an advocate of Polar Social Science through UKPN and APECS (which are both organisations created and run voluntarily by early career scientists from around the world).

On travelling to the Earth’s largest ice sheet to look for its tiniest creatures

In addition to highlighting outreach efforts by polar researchers, this blog is also a place to highlight polar research projects by APECS members; written in a way that is compelling and accessible for a broad audience. Below is our first entry of this type, written by Trista Vick-Majors of Montana State University.

 

"Water, water everywhere. Nor any drop to drink." – The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

This classical description of the ocean could also be applied to Antarctica. If you were standing on the vast white Antarctic ice sheet, you would be surrounded by water. In fact, frozen water would likely be all that you could see, unless you were lucky enough to glimpse the tips of the Transantarctic Mountains, which divide Antarctica into East and West. Seventy percent of Earth's fresh water is stored, frozen, in Antarctica's ice sheets. What you could not see, however, would be the estimated 100 cubic kilometers (tens of trillions of gallons) of liquid water that are locked beneath Antarctica's ice, between it and the land of the Antarctic continent. The discovery of this water is relatively new. The first tantalizing verifiable hint of its existence, its scale and its potential role as a habitat, came with the final confirmation of the existence of Subglacial Lake Vostok in 1993. Vostok is the 16th largest lake on earth by area, and up to 1000 meters deep. During the following 20 years, nearly 400 other subglacial lakes were discovered under the Antarctic ice sheet.

The idea that liquid water existed beneath the ice was a major expansion in our understanding of the scale of Antarctic habitats. Before the discovery of the lakes, the interior of the continent was thought to be mostly inhospitable to life, save a few intrepid microbes making a living in the snow, or perhaps inside of the rocks where mountain ranges peeked out above the top of the ice sheet. Most of the action was in the Southern Ocean, which surrounds the continent, and in the lakes and streams of the handful of ice-free oases that dot its coast. Looking for life in a lake under the ice sheet (which can be up to ~4000 meters thick) was a step beyond looking for it in ice-covered lakes of the oases, where at only a few meters thick, the ice was thin enough for sunlight to penetrate to fuel the lakes' ecosystems.

As a student working on my M.Sc., I traveled to one of those ice-free oases, the McMurdo Dry Valleys, three times to study how heterotrophic bacteria, who depend on organic carbon produced by other organisms as food, responded to the setting of the sun. Sunset happens only once a year in the Antarctic, as the sun falls below the horizon in the fall, and rises again in the spring. The winter is total darkness. Without sunlight, phytoplankton (the plants of the McMurdo Dry Valley lakes) can't photosynthesize. I found that without them, the heterotrophs that depend on the phytoplankton as primary producers of carbon (food) essentially go on a winter diet. They shift their metabolisms from the active growth of summer, to maintenance mode until the sun rises. I wondered if there were heterotrophs in subglacial lakes that, in permanent darkness, lived in an almost permanent maintenance state.

In 2012, I got my chance to test that hypothesis. Now a Ph.D student, I am writing my dissertation on Subglacial Lake Whilllans (SLW). SLW is a small subglacial lake in West Antarctica, near the coast. It lies under about 800 meters of ice, is about two meters deep, and covers about 60 square kilometers. It is also part of a continuum of what are known as "active" subglacial lakes. Approximately once per decade, SLW drains downstream into the Southern Ocean. Neighboring lakes upstream drain into SLW, refilling it, and the cycle continues. Knowing that these systems impact the ocean, it is important to understand what exactly spills out of them when these lakes drain – nutrients? Microbes?

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Tents at Subglacial Lake Whillans (Photo: Trista Vick-Majors).

 

Before 2012, no one had ever retrieved a water sample from a subglacial lake. Doing so is not simple; it requires an array of techniques aimed at protecting these pristine environments from contamination. The team that I am part of enlisted the help of a hot water drilling team, who used a massive hot water drill to melt a hole through the 800 meters of ice above SLW. The drill used pressurized hot water instead of a drill bit and was equipped with filtration systems to remove microorganisms and particles from the drill water and with UV lights to damage or kill any that remained. It worked – we were able to retrieve clean samples from the lake! We camped out on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and had 96 hours to take samples from the lake and run experiments to look for and learn about the microbial life in SLW. Getting there wasn't easy, but more about that in my podcast.

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Trista collecting snow to cool incubations at Subglacial Lake Whillans (Photo: JT Thomas).

 

As a microbiologist and an ecologist, I wanted to know not only how the microorganisms that we found in SLW survived there, but also what their survival meant for the ecosystem. To answer those questions, I incubated samples of lake water with radioactively-labeled food sources (nucleotides and amino acids). By comparing the rates at which the microorganisms incorporated nucleotides (into DNA) and amino acids (into proteins), I could start to understand how they survived: were they thriving, or just maintaining like the Dry Valley lake heterotrophs during the winter? If they were thriving, they should be making about as much DNA as protein, because DNA production in a microorganism usually happens when a cell is going to divide. If lots of cells are dividing, then the population is growing. But, if the microorganisms are just in maintenance mode, they should be making more protein than DNA – not focused on growing their population, but rather just making enough cellular machinery to get by during tough times.

It turned out that the microorganisms in SLW incorporated about three times as much of the radioactively labeled substrate into protein as into DNA, which implies that they were actually doing at least as well as the microorganisms in the Dry Valley lakes and as those in the Southern Ocean, in spite of the fact that they are growing very slowly. Beneath 800 meters of ice, at half a degree below zero Celsius, not only was there life in SLW, but it was growing, not just surviving.

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A scanning electron microscope of a microbial scale from Subglacial Lake Whillans (round, center) next to a sediment particle (Image by Trista Vick-Majors at the Montana State University ICAL facility). 

 

Maybe the next stop will be to travel not to the largest mass of ice on Earth, but to a large mass of ice on one of Jupiter's moons to find the tiniest creatures beneath its frozen seas.

 

Trista Vick-Majors is a Ph.D candidate in Microbial Ecology at Montana State University. She has spent five field seasons in the Antarctic, studying microbes in lakes and the ocean beneath ice shelves and trying to understand their survival strategies and contributions to the carbon and nitrogen cycles.

Inspiring Young Minds to Pursue STEM Careers

When I was in 6th grade, I distinctly remember measuring rainfall in a homemade rain gauge hanging from a tree outside of my mom's house. Although I was always interested in science and nature, I wasn't taking rainfall measurements for fun; I was working on my science fair project. Obviously it wasn't the outcome of the competition that was important to me, because I can't remember how I ranked relative to my peers, it was the execution and presentation of the project that really stand-out in my mind. In fact, this science fair project may have unconsciously inspired me to attend my undergraduate alma mater, Lehigh University, because I still remember the trip to Lehigh's campus to present my project and tour the science and engineering facilities on campus. A colleague and friend of mine also recently shared that the Science Olympiad inspired him to work hard in high school and pursue a college degree!

I was recently invited to judge a science fair organized by a friend of mine who teaches 8th-grade at a local school. Of course I was excited to give her a hand, not only as a scientist interested in seeing what today's youth can think-up for science fair projects, but as a former science fair participant looking to give back to an activity that left strong impression in my mind. The students were tasked with designing their own experiment, collecting data, making charts and graphs to display their results, and thinking of sources of error and ways to improve their projects if they could be repeated. I was really impressed with the creativity of some of the projects, which ranged from determining which type of dance requires the most energy (and is therefore best for exercise) to quantifying saturation times for flowers sitting in dyed water. Some of the kids were obviously very nervous but everyone gave great presentations and hopefully had a great learning experience.

I was really pleased that my friend also asked the science fair judges to talk about our jobs so that her students would have an idea of potential STEM careers. Although I live in an area that was carved by an ice sheet during the last ice age, many of my friend's students didn't know how glaciers form or how they influence the landscape. I showed a number of pictures and videos from my fieldwork all over the world to really give them an idea of what glacier look like, where they are currently located, and how they are studied. When I received thank-you letters in the mail from the students, I found-out that most of the kids had no idea that you could study glaciers as a college professor or even that college professors got to conduct scientific research. Overall, based on this experience, I strongly encourage other academics to take every opportunity to get involved with local teachers; you may spark someone's interest in developing a science project, motivate them to attend college, or even pursue a STEM career!

 

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Ellyn Enderlin is a Research Assistant Professor at the University of Maine. Her research interests include glaciers, ice sheets, icebergs, and ice-ocean interactions. The photo shows Ellyn working with Gordon Hamilton, also faculty at the University of Maine, to collect GPS measurements from a helicopter in Antarctica in October 2014.

Seal Team 6

As a graduate student at the University of Alaska Anchorage, I am part of a six-person science team that studies reproduction and molt in Weddell seals. Having already spent almost two seasons at McMurdo Station in Antarctica, I appreciate the surreal nature of living in one of the world's most extreme environments, and realize that the experience is something most people can only dream of. With this in mind, I feel very strongly that our research should be integrated with education to the largest extent possible. When our field team arrived back in Alaska following our very first season on "the ice", a fellow graduate student, Amy Kirkham, and I collaborated with a PolarTREC teacher to develop a Weddell seal-themed outreach program for Anchorage School District K-12 students. We created a life-size, stuffed Weddell seal we affectionately named 'Patches,' and used it as a demonstration tool to show students how we collect morphometric data while in the field. We had the students conduct an activity in which the measure the seal's length and girth in order to estimate volume. The activity was meant to bring real techniques that we use in Antarctica into the classroom, giving students an idea of what their futures could look like if they became biologists. Patches traveled with us from classroom to classroom, receiving a fabric patch with each visit that displayed the name of each student that we interacted with – over 1200 students in one year. In the next few years, we plan to build on our hugely successful outreach program by visiting additional K-12 students in the Anchorage School District and in other parts of Alaska.

Photo: Roxanne, Amy and "Patches" (photographer: Rachel Lee)

Roxanne Amy Patches

Reddit AMA Polar Week Activity

As part of International Polar Week 2015, members of US APECS organized and held an AMA (Ask Me Anything!) live question and answer session on Reddit in the sub-Reddit r/iama (www.reddit.com/r/iama). The live session was held on 28 March, from 20:30 until approximately 22:00 Eastern Time. This was US APECS's first attempt at holding a live Q&A forum online. Participants for this AMA included Chelsea Thompson, who specializes in Arctic atmospheric chemistry and air-snow interactions; Jeff Bowman, who specializes in polar microbiology; and Alex Thornton, who specializes in Antarctic ecology and marine birds and mammals. Overall the AMA was a success and a very positive experience. We received a variety of questions, many of which were about our experiences working in the Polar Regions, what it is like to be a polar researcher, and how we got into this field of research. Penguins were also a very popular topic of discussion. We only received one silly question, but no rude questions or comments and overall everyone was respectful and genuinely interested in our research and experiences. Several of the people that we had exchanges with said they had students or younger family members who would be very excited to learn about polar research and one teacher expressed an interest in trying to incorporate this area of science into her class. From this first experience, this forum appears to be a good method for outreach to a potentially very large and diverse audience who otherwise would likely not be exposed to our fields of research. This activity was arranged on relatively short-notice so that we would coincide with Polar Week, but in a future AMA, we would like to involve even more researchers and schedule enough time in advance to better promote the session to get more public involvement.

Communicating conservation research to a young audience

Science has always been a fundamental subject taught in every curriculum beginning from an early age. It never ceases to amaze me, however, how much of an understanding of ecology and the environment these students seem to grasp at a much younger age than I can recall. Since environmental issues like climate change have been at the forefront of various media outlets, it is no surprise that students are being taught the basics of climate change, its effects, and where these impacts are most detrimental. Engaging in youth outreach with respect to environmental issues, and specifically the effects of climate change, must extend somewhat beyond these basics therefore, to help engage a younger audience and encourage them to always continue to ask questions.

As a PhD researcher focusing on polar bear diet and body condition in the Canadian Arctic, my research goes hand in hand with the potential negative effects of climate change. I have had the opportunity to write numerous blog entries for Earth Rangers - an organization that promotes environmental research and conservation while engaging and educating a young audience. Volunteering with Earth Rangers has allowed me step out of the mindset that I am most frequently in, which involves scientific journal writing in which the audience usually consists of experts in the field. Now, my goal was to write about my research in a way that not only children could easily follow, but also gradually introduce them to more complex topics that extend beyond the general facts about polar bears and climate change that they had previously learned. 

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My blog entries usually begin by describing a little bit about the fieldwork that we do to collect our data in Churchill, Manitoba. By painting a very vivid picture about our surroundings (the environment, climate), the type of information we are collecting (fat samples from the bears, morphometric measures) and how (tools used, helicopters to locate the bears), children can imagine these scenarios which can better help them to understand the actual reasons why we are doing this type of research. Following this, I then begin to discuss the actual questions we are asking and address how the collection of various samples from polar bears in the field can help answer these questions. Firstly, we are looking at polar bear diet over a broad time scale (twenty years) in a specific area (Churchill, Manitoba - the Western Hudson Bay subpopulation of polar bears). We use a small fat sample from the rump of each bear and are able to determine both diet (type of prey they are eating) and body condition (how much fat is in the sample which reflects the amount of fat in the bear). The actual details of the diet analysis are usually much more complex than I can provide in a blog for elementary school students, so instead of being bogged down by the scientific jargon I discuss the potential for polar bear diet to change due to melting sea ice which could affect how successful they are at hunting their seal prey. 

By writing for a younger audience, I have realized that keeping the information provided at the most basic level is not always wise. Elementary school students are learning so much more about our environment than in the past, and providing them with simple definitions will likely not keep them engaged. It is important firstly to know the age range of students you would be writing for and from there assume that basic definitions have usually already been covered in a classroom setting. We can then begin to discuss more complex topics that build on this previous knowledge, thereby allowing students to open their minds further to environmental and conservation based research and fully begin to understand how interconnected we truly are to our surroundings.

Luana Sciullo is a PhD candidate at York University in Toronto, Canada under the direction of Dr. Gregory Thiemann. Her research focuses on polar bear body condition in the Western Hudson Bay region and she is frequently involved in outreach activities.

Photo credit- Polar bear cubs, L. Sciullo 

The Ikaahuk Archaeology Project: Consultation and Outreach on Banks Island, NWT

Hello from London Ontario, Canada! I am an anthropology PhD student from the University of Western Ontario. In celebration of International Polar Week I am excited to write this blog post that discusses community-based archaeology in the Canadian Arctic and the consultation and outreach initiatives being undertaken as part of the Ikaahuk Archaeology Project.

It is no secret that the discipline of archaeology is rooted in European colonialism. Early archaeological research in the Canadian Arctic coincided with colonial exploration and expansion and had many negative effects on Inuit communities. Traditionally, archaeologists working in the North discouraged Inuit participation in archaeology and made little use of Inuit interpretations. They neglected to inform local communities about why they were conducting research as well as their results. Material culture and human remains were brought to the south without knowledge or permission from community members. These practices reinforced colonial power relations and alienated the Inuit from their material culture heritage. Community-based archaeology arose in the North as a response to Inuit concerns about archaeological research.

Community-based archaeology institutes more inclusive approaches, with community engagement and outreach at the forefront. There are many diverse Inuit communities in the Canadian Arctic and therefore no standard guidelines for northern community-based archaeology projects. Projects are tailored to meet the needs and research capacity of the communities. However, they share key elements including consultation with community members during the research planning and execution, the incorporation of Inuit knowledge, and the dissemination of research results to Inuit audiences in ways that are meaningful to them. In some cases the projects are initiated and fully lead by the community. In other cases the projects are initiated and run by archaeologists with a strong focus on community engagement and participation and outreach.

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Ikaahuk Archaeology Project team members working on an archaeology site on Banks Island, NWT.

The Ikaahuk Archaeology Project is a 5-year study led by Dr. Lisa Hodgetts that aims to combine archaeology with Inuvialuit knowledge to better understand the human history of Banks Island, NWT. The project is currently in its fourth year and involves working with people in Sachs Harbour to hear and respond to their concerns, incorporate their perspectives and develop outcomes that are meaningful to them. Sachs Harbour (pop. ~80) is the most northerly town in the Northwest Territories and the only town on Banks Island, or "Ikaahuk" the Kangiryuarmiutun (an Inuvialuktun dialect) word for it. My PhD research explores how perceptions of the past and archaeological research vary within the community, to determine how archaeology can best complement Inuvialuit understandings of the past. I conducted a preliminary field season in the summer of 2013, a three-month field season last summer, and I am headed back up North for a one-month field season in less than two months! My fieldwork involves interviewing community members about their family histories and the history of Banks Island and how historical knowledge is passed down within the community. I also ask them about their perceptions of archaeology, if they think archaeological research should be conducted on the island, and if so how they think the community should be involved in research and what future research should focus on. I also participate in activities that community members use to learn about or engage with the past and their heritage, such as sewing, fishing, and community events.

As the only community on the island, the community sees its fair share of researchers. There have been many previous archaeological research projects on the island and the community's feelings towards these projects range from indifferent to uncomfortable. Some community members feel that previous archaeological work had no effect on the community because there was no consultation and they were not well informed of research results. Other community members feel that some previous archaeology projects had negative effects on the community because their material culture was taken away from them, and to make matters worse, they are not even aware of what was taken. Many people in the community also told me that they were taught not to disturb old sites out of respect, as well as to avoid disturbing spirits. This did not necessarily mean that they were against archaeological research; it seemed that they mostly wanted archaeologists to be aware of this and for them to be respectful. Most community members I engaged with told me that they felt archaeological research should be conducted on Banks Island because they thought learning about its history could only benefit the community. The community has a deep connection with their heritage and it is important to them to be included in research projects that study their history. Based on the community input I received it is very important that archaeologists use community knowledge and hire and train community members.

The Ikaahuk Archaeology Project has been working hard to better engage the Sachs Harbour community based on community suggestions. Upon arrival in town for the field season and prior to leaving we hold community feasts where we explain our research and findings and ask the community for their input. We have an active Facebook page to disseminate research results and are currently working on a permanent website. Last summer the project hired two local youth to participate in the excavation of a Thule-Inuit winter house. In response to community concerns over previous archaeological projects that removed artifacts without community knowledge, the Ikaahuk Archaeology Project is working on ways to reconnect community members with artifacts. As suggested by community members, replicas of some of the artifacts uncovered last summer are being made by Tim Rast, and will be donated to the community. We are also currently gearing up for a trip this spring to the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre in Yellowknife, NWT with youth and Elders from Sachs Harbour to make digital 3D replicas of some of the artifacts from Banks Island that are stored there, as a way to virtually bring them home to the community.

 

 A 3D model of Kamik artifact from Banks Island, which is housed in the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre made by Colleen Haukaas.

Despite the progress being made in our outreach initiatives, we still have our share of challenges. Every researcher working in the North is more than aware of the limitations of time and resources. It does not help that the university system does not weigh outreach initiatives with the same importance as more "academic" ventures, so unfortunately they can often get put aside when other work needs to get done. Additionally, consultation has only been conducted with people willing to participate in our research. The Sachs Harbour community is small but diverse. I suspect that there are people in town who have many reservations about our project, to the point where they do not want to participate or engage. Unfortunately, their important views remain unheard and undocumented. Conversely, there may be people who want to be more involved in the project but do not have the time.

Unfortunately, contemporary archaeologists and Inuit communities are burdened with the legacy of previous archaeology projects that operated within a broader context of colonialism. By instituting a community-based approach through outreach and consultation initiatives the Ikaahuk Archaeology Project is working to better our relationship with the Sachs Harbour community to help ensure that our research is both of interest to the people whom it can impact the most and can also serve to benefit them.

Wishing everyone a happy International Polar Week! And remember to check out the Ikaahuk Archaeology Project on Facebook!

Engaging audiences with field biology

Each year, zoos around the world celebrate International Polar Bear Day on February 27th. This year, as part of the festivities at the Toronto Zoo, I was invited to give a public lecture on polar bear research and conservation efforts to zoo patrons, volunteers, keepers, and administrators. As a polar bear researcher, I was excited at the prospect of having a room full of people all keenly interested in polar bears, to not only share what I have learned in my doctoral studies, but to hear the perspectives and questions from the general public on the state of polar bear conservation.

It doesn't take an Internet super sleuth to find a whole plethora of information on polar bear biology online. Knowing that my audience was going to be full of polar bear enthusiasts and zoo professionals who have already memorized the basic tenants of polar bear biology, I worked with the Toronto Zoo outreach staff to bill my presentation as an insiders look into polar bear research.

On the day of the presentation, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that the maximum capacity of the room would be filled, with over 150 people in attendance. I engaged with my audience at the beginning of my talk by stating that my goal was for them to come away from this talk with some new information that they couldn't get by simply Googling 'polar bears' at home.

I began the talk with a very brief but specific overview of a few select aspects of polar bear biology that were pertinent to the more advanced topics I planned on bringing up later in my talk. Despite the risk of this information being repetitive to some, this was done to ensure that everyone in the room would understand the significance of the more complex issues I aimed to convey by the end of my talk.

I then moved on to an aspect of the talk is always very well received: an insider's look into the planning and implementation of fieldwork with wild polar bears. I've always found that audiences are extremely interested in learning more about the methods and challenges of working with wild animals. 

copyright Carsten2

I then concluded by applying the basic elements of polar bear biology discussed earlier in the talk to wider conservation initiatives in the North, both specific to polar bears as well as to the broader Arctic ecosystem.

There is a gap that exists between those in the general 

 

 

public with a keen interest in wildlife conservation, and researchers who conduct studies with wildlife in the field. I know this because it wasn't too long ago that I was an eager attendant at talks like this hoping to catch a glimpse into the work of field biologists. Many organizations are employing field biologist blogs to try to bridge this gap and connect those who are interested with those who are conducting the research. However, in my experience, the best forum to engage with interested parties is in-person presentations detailing the activities of field biologists followed by a lengthy discussion period where participants are free to ask questions. This format also allows for the presenter to address any welfare concerns the audience has with field methods, and to reiterate the importance of animal care protocols.

In the end, the talk was a great success and was very received by an attentive, inquisitive, and engaged audience. The Toronto Zoo did a great job in advertising this talk, as evidenced by the room being filled to capacity, an

 

d the high interest level of those in the room. I think it's important that your audience have a clear understanding of what they can expect to hear from a public lecture before they decide to attend or not, and that the advertising for public lectures focus on the unique aspects of the upcoming talk that differentiate it from other available media such as news stories, internet pages, and documentaries.

copyright GThiemann

 

Brandon Laforest is a PhD student in the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. His research is focused on the feeding ecology of polar bears in the Southern Hudson Bay subpopulation.

Image credits: 1) polar bear - Carsten Liesenberg; 2) fieldwork - Greg Thiemann

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