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Earthwatch: Climate Change at the Arctic’s Edge

Last summer, a group of six teachers from across the country participated in the Earthwatch Expedition: Climate Change at the Arctic’s Edge. Through the Teach Earth program, teachers submitted applications to participate in an Earthwatch expedition. After thorough review by the selection committee, a group of very fortunate educators are trekking through Churchill, Canada with an experienced scientist to learn more about climate change through field research in this amazingly beautiful area of North America.

The Churchill Northern Studies Centre

Earthwatch engages people worldwide in scientific research and education to promote the understanding and action necessary for a sustainable environment. Each year, thousands of Earthwatch volunteers participate in expeditions and assist scientists by collecting data on climate change, ocean health, wildlife and ecosystems, and sustainable cultures.

Teach Earth identifies individuals who are ready, willing, and prepared to take an Earthwatch experience back to their schools, workplaces, and communities. Teachers are selected who will use their expeditions to gain research skills and content knowledge, raise awareness of the importance of encouraging local community involvement, and ignite passion and excitement for learning in their classroom.

The group of educators

This was a particularly special expedition for me personally as I was selected to serve as a senior fellow. Earthwatch will allow teachers to receive up to two fellowships. Having participated previously in Earthwatch: Small Mammals of Nova Scotia in 2012, this fellowship allowed me the opportunity to serve as the lead educator, deliver workshops throughout our expedition, create the blog for our team to utilize, and disseminate information to the other participants as necessary.

At 58.5 degrees latitude, Churchill is considered part of the Arctic’s edge. It is a pristine ecosystem for scientists to study and known as the “polar bear capitol of the world.” Also home to beautiful beluga whales, it is quite a popular destination for science researchers to study.

Preparing for pond sampling

Our lodging was at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre in a dorm-like setting. We had rooms with two bunk beds in each with common restrooms and showers for everyone to utilize. We ate very well in a cafeteria type setting, which was excellent since we were all starving after a lot of physical labor each day.

Our group of educators conducted pond sampling, mesocosm research, water filtration, data entry, attended numerous lectures on scientific research in Churchill, blogged daily, and learned more than I think any of us ever imagined possible. All of our outside research took place while we were being protected by polar bear guards.

Pond sampling through dip netting

At this time, Churchill is undergoing significant challenges as the rail was damaged and they are most dependent on supplies being delivered via the rail system. The town is adjusting to having supplies flown in much less frequently and prices skyrocketing. A gallon of milk was $10-12, a loaf of bread $7-8, and a pepper was $15! The town is resilient and working with government authorities to hopefully fix the rail but it doesn’t look as if it will happen anytime in the near future.

Mesocosm research

A huge thank you goes to Earthwatch for allowing me, as well as many educators over the years, to participate in scientific field research. Science comes alive for us through Earthwatch and helps our students understand the wide variety of roles scientists play while learning significant content knowledge.

Earthwatch and Churchill Information

Why Churchill, Manitoba in Canada for this Earthwatch site?

  • It is accessible to the Arctic
  • It has the Churchill Northern Studies Centre (CNSC)
  • Logistics are good
  • Transportation is accessible
  • Flights are available from Winnipeg
  • It is the edge of the Arctic and Boreal-pristine ecosystems/This area is the transition between trees and no trees in the tundra

Our Expert Scientist is…Dr. LeeAnn Fishback

  • LeeAnn has been working at CNSC for 15 years
  • She has over 25 years of Arctic experience
  • She grew up on a dairy farm
  • She is Canadian, eh!

Earthwatch

  • There have been more than 600 Earthwatch participants here in Churchill
  • Wonderful support is provided to CNSC
  • Earthwatch is critical in getting the public engaged with science
  • This collaboration with teachers and scientists would not be possible without Earthwatch
  • Our team objectives include natural pond sampling and mesocosm tank experiments-also known as “bucket” science

Interesting takeaways

  • “If you sink, you’ll eventually run into permafrost.” It does happen!
  • On our free day, we had many options to choose. Some of us went whale watching, some kayaking with whales, others visited the fort, a couple took the polar bear plunge in the Hudson Bay, and there was some down time to relax. We enjoyed dinner at the Tundra Inn, as well as open mic night.
  • We saw polar bears! A female polar bear with her two cubs were spotted at Eskimo Point eating lots of bird eggs. What a sight to see!
Andi Webb

Andi Webb is a teacher and mathematics coach at Alderman Road Elementary in Fayetteville. She is National Board Certified and is currently pursuing her Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership through East Carolina University. She is a Career Award for Science and Mathematics Teachers grant recipient through Burroughs Wellcome Fund.