In yet another impressive chapter in her academic career, Arctic 2010 Alum Carolyn Gibson recently completed her Scientist in Residence program onboard Adventure Canada’s 2017 Arctic Safari. As an early career scientist, Carolyn found the expedition an incredible chance to research methane emissions in a beautiful, remote and vastly under sampled region of Canada and Greenland. With their ocean vessel being chartered immediately afterwards for this years 2017 Arctic Expedition, her journey came full circle when the new students arrived on the ship – a good reminder for us all that the Arctic never leaves you and you never know when you might return! We caught up with Carolyn after her expedition, to learn more about her academic pursuits and experience:
Did you ever expect you would return to the Arctic for research as a student in 2010? Tell us a bit about your Alumni experience and how you ended up back in the North.
Following my expedition in 2010 I knew I wanted to return to the Arctic so during my first year as an undergraduate student at the University of Guelph I became involved in Arctic research. I then spent the next four years working in Alaska and Northern Alberta studying Arctic Ecosystem Ecology. I completed and published my undergraduate research in Alaska where I explored the impacts of wildfire of vegetation composition and carbon stocks. This research experience lead me to begin my Masters at the University of Alberta where I studied the impacts of wildfire of permafrost stability and carbon cycling in the Northwest Territories. During this time I was actively involved in many northern outreach programs and conferences and represented Canadian youth as the Canadian Senior Arctic Official at the Model Arctic Council Meetings in Fairbanks, Alaska. I defended my masters at the end of August and will be beginning my PhD in Arctic Ecology in January.
Describe a feeling that you hadn’t felt since you were last in the Arctic.
One of the excellent things about being based in Edmonton for my research is that it is relatively quick for us to access our research sites so I have spent a lot of time up North all year long doing both summer and winter fieldwork. However, my research is contained to the boreal, interior parts of the Arctic so it was incredible to back out on the barren tundra. I love the vastness of the Arctic that you can experience in the high north.
What scientific understandings is your research contributing to?
The goal of our research was to understand methane dynamics in high arctic ponds. Arctic ponds are known to be emitters of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Methane is far more destructive in our atmosphere than carbon dioxide as it effectively absorbs 36 times more heat. It is widely agreed upon that atmospheric methane concentrations have undergone significant increases, and it is also widely accepted that this has occurred in conjunction with shifts in the global climate that is causing coastal permafrost to thaw. Coastal areas remain critically under sampled with all data coming from eastern Siberia and Svalbard, Norway. Numerical models of the Arctic methane budget are in desperate need of data points from the Canadian high Arctic, namely the areas in which the voyage traveled.
What are some of your upcoming career goals? What does this expedition mean for you as a young, female, early career researcher?
In January I will be starting my PhD research which focuses on how wildfire and permafrost thaw can affect food security in northern indigenous communities. My research will provide northern governments and communities, a sector of the Canadian population that is particularly vulnerable to climate-driven change, with spatial prediction tools for assessing thaw-sensitive areas and improved understanding of the consequences for infrastructure and subsistence resource access.
It means a significant amount to me that Adventure Canada selected me to be a Scientist in Residence on this expedition. At this early stage of my academic career it is incredibly empowering and motivating to have a prestigious company such as Adventure Canada support you and your research efforts and believe in you, and your skills/potential to carry out meaningful research.
You can read more of Carolyn’s insights on her blog
Adventure Canada has been a partner of the Students on Ice Foundation for the past 7 years. The foundation charters their vessel the Ocean Endeavour for it’s Arctic expeditions. Along with Carolyn, the 2017 Arctic Safari featured many Students On Ice Alumni including Alanna Mitchell, Gary Donaldson, Genevieve Cote, Jason Edmonds, John Blyth, Mike Beedell and Peter John Ewins.