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Project Description

Arctic regions are particularly sensitive to climate change and provide researchers with direct evidence of historical and geological climate change. Svalbard, one of the most accessible Arctic research locations, is located high in the North Atlantic (79° N lat.). Positioned on the north end of the warm Gulf Stream, the Svalbard archipelago has preserved proxy records of climate fluctuations throughout the late Holocene and into the 20th Century. This region has been marked by the retreat of glaciers, reductions in sea ice, and measurable warming throughout the Holocene and more specifically during the last 90 years. Svalbard serves as an optimal Arctic research environment as it has a wide variety of terrains to investigate. Terrestrial, lacustrine, fjord, and open marine systems provide many opportunities for research and comparison.

Research Goals:
In summer 2014, the REU project research  will take place at Konsgfjorden, a major west-trending glaciated fjord in western Svalbard. The group will be based at a marine laboratory in NyÅlesund, Svalbard’s northernmost community. Although significant work has already been completed at these locations to characterize sedimentation in these environments, the influence of modern processes on current sedimentation patterns requires continued documentation and evaluation. These REU studies can also provide late Holocene records from these locations to be used in developing a high-resolution record of climate change.

Map of Svalbard showing the locations of Kongsfjorden (red dot).

The over-arching questions that this extended project will address are:

1. What are the links in environmental processes between climate, glacial, fluvial  and fjord systems?

2. How are measured environmental changes expressed in the sediment records of the fjord  system? And further, how are they reflected in the glacier dynamics in the fjord?

3. Can relationships be derived from the current sedimentation and meteorological observations that will allow for the historic sedimentation record to be better interpreted?

Educational Goals:
As an REU program, our emphasis is on providing an outstanding educational experience for undergraduate students within the overall context of current national “science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)” goals. We often try to involve grade or high school teachers in the program to enhance the experience for the undergraduates so they can start to learn effective techniques in conveying science to others.

With this in mind, our stated goals for this program are to:

1. Provide active research opportunities and training for undergraduate students in scientific topics that are societally relevant regarding Arctic processes, Quaternary geology, and environmental and climatic change.

2. Find and support high-achieving undergraduate students from historically underrepresented student populations and ensure that these students receive a positive research experience in our program and the best STEM education possible.

3. Ensure that our participants complete meaningful research projects and a STEM undergraduate degree by providing continued mentoring after the summer research experience (i.e., during the academic year).

4. Enhance the STEM pipeline by communicating the benefits of STEM and Arctic research to a large and diverse population of non-participating students and teachers through personal visits and presentations to K-12 schools and community colleges. We also ask our students to do the same in terms of their local communities.

5. Provide K-12 teachers with direct and active research experiences through ancillary programs such as PolarTrec (http://www.polartrec.com) and the NSF Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) programs, where teachers within those programs are invited onto an REU expedition.

sorted circles near lake linne
Sorted stone circles in the permafrost near Lake Linné

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Svalbard - Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU)

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