Poles Apart: From the Arctic to the Tropics

We’re not in Greenland anymore.

That thought has been passing my mind on a daily basis since I arrived in Costa Rica to do biological research in the tropics as part of Dartmouth’s foreign study program. For six weeks, we’ll be going  across the country, jumping from field station to field station as we conduct scientific research from the planning stage to the final paper. Having focused my research on the Arctic up until this point, I was both excited and curious to start my coursework.

The minute we got off the bus at our first station – the Palo Verde National Park – I immediately felt a wall of intense heat smack me in the face. This was an experience unnatural enough to be having in January, but do be doing research in anything but chill weather seemed alien to me.

  1. As I continued with my week, I was struck at the similarities I felt between my work in Greenland and the Tropics. These regions might not be that different after all.Soil research is deeply relevant to understanding both ecosystems – yet soils aren’t usually the first parts of the landscape that come to mind when people think of either the Arctic or the rain forest. I definitely wasn’t expecting to be doing more soil research upon arriving in Costa Rica – just as I wouldn’t have expected to be doing soil research in the tundra as Julia’s field assistant – and yet that’s exactly what I found myself doing.Here are Julia and I collecting samples in July 2013:998583_10201263848072499_1188912330_n

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    And here I am in Costa Rica, measuring soil moisture in the same way I analyzed our Greenlandic samples back in Hanover!

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  2. Both the Arctic and the tropical rain forest are incredibly beautiful. Research is pretty distracting when faced with these views:This photo was taken in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland at 1AM:DSCF3865And these ones were taken at sunset at Palo Verde, Costa Rica:DSC_0703

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  3. The vegetation types, while on opposite extremes, are entirely different from what you’d see back home. While in the tundra you can see miles and miles into the distance – and the immense span is shocking…DSCF3655… here in the tropics, the trees are bigger than I’ve ever seen anywhere – especially in primary forests. And you can barely see 100 feet ahead of you when the forest is thick:

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  4. Both regions are significantly affected by climactic changes. Arctic and tropical ecosystems are some of the most vulnerable to tipping points and thresholds, wherein global warming may cause irreversible changes to our environment. Interestingly, though, I haven’t heard talk of either region among both communities of researchers.I still have so much to learn about these regions and others around the world, all of whom contribute to a better understanding of climate change. (Stay tuned for more reflections as the weeks pass by!)As a budding climate scientist, I recognize how important it is to acknowledge that our world is deeply interconnected – from the poles to the equator. And I’m incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to conduct research in these places, hoping to gain the skills that will form my work as a scientist, understanding the world’s collective future.

    Pura Vida,

    Leehi

    B”H

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