Course focuses on unique challenges of Arctic field research

Monday, February 6, 2023
People bundled up in winter gear hold a long white tube to measure soil frost amidst a snowy forest.

Wearing their warmest winter garb, graduate students from UNH and the University of Maine, along with three UNH faculty members, braved the extreme cold and perpetual darkness in the heart of Fairbanks, Alaska this winter to learn how to measure the depth of soil frost — a crucial measurement to keep tabs on the impacts of climate change, which is disproportionately affecting Arctic communities.

The workshop was part of the UNH J-term course, Arctic Research Methods II, that explored ways in which students can use a variety of measurement and monitoring techniques in collaboration with local and Indigenous community partners. Alix Contosta, research assistant professor in the UNH Earth Systems Research Center, notes that the course emphasizes reciprocal research to decolonize science in Arctic systems.

Contosta, who helped develop the workshop, explains, “We make similar measurements in New Hampshire, but the permafrost in Alaska offers unique challenges, like having to install the tube at least three meters deep to be able to detect changes in the depth of the active layer across seasons.”

The workshop and course are part of the graduate student CARPE National Research Traineeship, which is funded by the National Science Foundation.