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Interdisciplinary Graduate Training in Polar Environmental Change: Field-based learning in Greenland


The objective of the NSF-funded Integrative Graduate Education Research Traineeship (IGERT) program at Dartmouth College is to develop a new cohort of environmental scientists and engineers with an interdisciplinary understanding of polar regions and their importance to global environmental change. The Dartmouth IGERT challenges Ph.D. students to consider the broader dimensions of their research and to collaborate with scientists from other disciplines, educators, and policy makers. IGERT students will focus on research questions that are relevant to the needs of local people experiencing climate change and on understanding the ethical responsibilities and benefits of conducting research in partnership with northern residents and institutions. Seven Ph.D. students from the departments of Earth Sciences, Engineering, and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Dartmouth College make up the first IGERT cohort for the five-year program. The Dartmouth IGERT curriculum will focus on three main components of polar systems responding to recent climate change: the cryosphere, terrestrial ecosystems, and biogeochemical cycles. The integrating experience of the core curriculum is the Greenland Field Seminar that will take place in Kangerlussuaq (terrestrial and aquatic systems), Summit Camp (snow and ice) and Nuuk, Greenland (human dimensions of change). In Nuuk, IGERT students will share their science and develop partnerships with students, educators, and policy makers at the University of Greenland, the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC), and other Greenlandic institutions. In summer 2009 the authors conducted preliminary fieldwork near Kangerlussuaq, Greenland to develop aspects of the science curriculum for the 2010 Greenland Field Seminar and to explore research topics for IGERT Fellows (Levy and Whitecloud). Examples of results presented here are designed to develop field-based learning activities. These include soil and vegetation relationships as a function of aspect, stable isotope ratios and hydrochemistry of lake waters, mapping of past glacial extents and sampling for berylium-10 surface exposure dating. Two IGERT investigators (Virginia and Grenoble) worked with colleagues in Nuuk (Holm) to develop the human dimensions curriculum including the recent political changes in Greenland, the role of traditional ecological knowledge in resource management and environmental research, and the interrelations between language, climate and subsistence lifestyles.