Wendy Eisner, University of Cincinnati assistant professor of geography, and other researchers will return to Barrow, Alaska April 22-29 to drill soil samples from the frozen ground with an 800-pound drill called a "Big Beaver."
She heads a project that is examining Arctic thaw lakes and their descendants, drained lake basins. Thaw lakes, which form atop the ice-rich tundra, cover about 20 percent of the Arctic Coastal Plain. Their drained basins cover an even greater portion of the region. Both may hold important clues about global warming, but have been little studied until now. UC team members include geographer Kenneth Hinkel and graduate student Liz Wolfe.
Satellite images of the thaw lakes look a lot like Swiss cheese, blotted with dark holes randomly spaced. The images, from a satellite flying 438 miles over the Earth, are part of what Eisner and her team are studying. She and her fellow researchers also study the lakes and their drained basins up close. In August 2000, she trekked through mud, rain, snow and sometimes swarms of mosquitos, to learn more about them. This month, the Alaskan temperatures will be much colder.
"It is not known how much of the landscape is made of drained thaw-lake basins," says Eisner. "To date, no systematic examination of drained thaw-lake basins has been undertaken across the Arctic Coastal Plain. No one knows much about how the lakes form or how or why they change."
Eisner's three-year study also involves colleagues James G. Bockheim of the University of Wisconsin, Kim Peterson of the University of Alaska at Anchorage and Frederick Nelson of the University of Delaware. The interdisciplinary team is funded by a $454,849 National Science Foundation grant.
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