SEFS Involved in Four Major NASA Grants

As part of its Terrestrial Ecology Program, NASA recently launched the Arctic-Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE). It’s a major field campaign in Alaska and western Canada—starting this year, and lasting 8 to 10 years—with the goal of better understanding the vulnerability and resilience of ecosystems and society to a changing climate in Arctic and boreal regions. In 2015, NASA awarded grants to 21 projects as part this campaign, and four of the proposals involve researchers at the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences (SEFS)!

A Dall sheep ram.

Dall sheep ram.

New faculty member Laura Prugh had two proposals funded, including one as the principal investigator (PI) and another as a co-PI. The first, “Assessing alpine ecosystem vulnerability to environmental change using Dall sheep as an iconic indicator species,” will involve synthesis and modeling of Dall sheep population and movement data throughout their range, developing new remote sensing layers of snow characteristics, and conducting fieldwork in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. The research will be funded for $1 million over four years.

The second project, “Animals on the move: Remotely based determination of key drivers influencing movements and habitat selection of highly mobile fauna throughout the ABoVE study domain,” will synthesize and model movements of moose, caribou, wolves and grizzly bears throughout Alaska and western Canada. Prugh’s role in this research will be to model the wolf and bear movements, and there is a $200,000 sub-award in the grant for her to hire a postdoc for two years to lead that work.

Professor David Butman is a co-PI on a third proposal, “Vulnerability of inland waters and the aquatic carbon cycle to changing permafrost and climate across boreal northwestern North America,” that focuses on changes to carbon biogeochemistry in lakes as a result of thawing permafrost. Specifically, the project aims to evaluate potential impacts in boreal and Arctic regions as permafrost thaw, climate warming and fire change the “plumbing” that controls water movement and distribution. The total award for this proposal is around $2.1 million, with $1.2 million coming from NASA and the other $900,000 coming from the U.S. Geological Survey. Of that total amount, around $110,000 will come to SEFS from NASA to fund a student for two years, and $30,000 will come from the USGS for summer support for Professor Butman.

The fourth SEFS project involves co-PI Hans-Erik Andersen, a research forester with the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station and an affiliate professor with SEFS. This proposal, “Fingerprinting Three Decades of Changes in Interior Alaska (1982-2014) Using Field Measurements, Stereo Air Photos, and G-LiHT Data,” will explore changes in vegetation cover and composition over time to characterize the vulnerability and likely future trajectories of these landscapes under projected warming and scenarios of future disturbances. The project is funded at $334,564 over three years.

To have nearly 20 percent of the funded proposals in 2015 involve SEFS is a fairly remarkable percentage, and we’re excited to see how these projects progress!

Photo by © Steve Arthur.

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