The Polaris Project Returns Home - Notes from the Trip
“This is our biggest yet. Thirty-three people are participating in what is almost certainly the largest international expedition to the Siberian Arctic.” ~ Dr. Max Holmes, June 2012
Maddie LaRue, College of the Holy Cross - I cannot describe my experience with the Polaris Project as anything but amazing. This summer has been an absolutely fantastic experience that has allowed me to grow so much as a scientist, and even more as a person. Traveling through Russia with a group of thirty-three people is a feat alone, but to do the science we did on top of it is mind-blowing. Getting the opportunity to work with professionals in a field you are so incredibly interested in, in a place like Cherskiy, is a rare and invaluable experience that I feel so grateful to have been able to participate in.
Miles Borgen, Western Washington University - Walking on to Western Washington University’s campus five years ago, I was sure that I was going to be a business major. I did DECA in high school, was good enough at math, and figured, “Why not?” My first class as a freshman was accounting 240 at 9 in the morning, and with forced, bursting enthusiasm – I slept through the whole lecture. I dropped the class two weeks later, and for the first time in my life had no idea what to do next. Five years later, I find myself jetlagged and tired after spending a month in the Siberian arctic.
Dylan Broderick, Clark University - After participating in Polaris for the last 2 years, I've found that when I return home I can't really give an accurate description of my experience to my family and friends. I can show them pictures, explain my project, and recount stories or notable days, but I can't recreate the everyday banter between students and PIs, the smell of deet and permafrost cores, the way the light looks at 1 in the morning, or the excitement of mapping the bathymetry of a lake for the first time. Some of these things seem insignificant at the time, but looking back I realize that they are what make this opportunity unique. While in Cherskiy I knew I was experiencing things that I would never forget, but even months after returning I still couldn't stop thinking about them - to me, this signifies something truly incomparable, extraordinary, and worthwhile.
There are many easier things to do in life than to lead a group of 33 people to the Siberian Arctic, so why do I do this? I’ve been asking myself that question this morning, intertwined with thoughts about missing my 6 year old son and 3 year old daughter, and facing the prospect of missing my wife’s 40th birthday on July 27. Fortunately, there is an easy answer: This is the most important thing I can imagine doing. The Arctic is at the epicenter of global climate change, and how the Arctic responds to warming will have a huge influence on Earth’s climate system (and therefore human society) over the coming years and decades. The permafrost of the Arctic contains vast quantities of ancient organic matter, and nowhere is it more concentrated or more vulnerable than in the region I’m looking at now through the window of the Barge. Though our group of 33 is huge in some senses (such as when thinking about re-booking flights across 16 time zones…), it is tiny when compared to the magnitude of challenges facing scientists – and society – as we grapple with trying to understand the Arctic. So, I’ll keep hoping that our flight departs as scheduled this afternoon, but if not, I – and the larger group – will rally and use our extra time here to pry a few more secrets from this remarkable, challenging, critical, and beautiful environment. ~ Dr. Max Holmes, WHRC
I’ve been working as a scientist for over 20 years now but this is my first trip above the Arctic Circle. Since my research almost always takes place in the rainforests of the Amazon River system I’m fairly sure that the experience here is as thrilling and new to me as it is to the students I am traveling with. I’ve had a great time getting to know this environment and several aspects really stand out in comparison to the Amazon. First, only the top 8 inches or so of soil is thawed in the summer and somehow large trees manage to grow and thrive. In the Amazon trees send roots at least 30 feet into the soil. Second, in the Amazon there are more than 200 species of woody plants in any given acre of land whereas in Cherskiy there are 4. The landscape is covered in vegetation but has really low diversity. And finally, even in July one needs more than a couple T-shirts up here – it snowed quite a lot and I had to borrow clothes from my colleagues to stay warm. ~ Dr. Michael Coe, WHRC
*Home page image courtesy of student Miles Borgen.
The Polaris Project expedition is a month-long component of the Woods Hole Research Center’s work in the Arctic.
For more information about the Polaris Project and related work please visit: http://www.whrc.org/education/polaris.html.
Read student and faculty blogs: http://www.thepolarisproject.org/journals/blog